x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A career steered by chance encounters with karting

Mohammed Al Dhaheri is competing for a title at Al Ain this weekend in the Rotax Max Grand Finals, and yet he only just happened upon the karting scene.

A couple of chance encounters with karting has led to a possible motorsport career for Mohammed Al Dhaheri, who has won a pair of titles in the DD2 class of the Rotax Max Challenge.
A couple of chance encounters with karting has led to a possible motorsport career for Mohammed Al Dhaheri, who has won a pair of titles in the DD2 class of the Rotax Max Challenge.

Considering that he is spearheading the home challenge at the Rotax Max Grand Finals in Al Ain this weekend, it is surprising to learn that Mohammed Al Dhaheri's entrance into the world of karting was almost accidental.

The 24-year-old Emirati first got behind the wheel of a kart when he was 15, while on holiday in Germany. The experience was a fleeting one and a career in karting was not pursued until the Al Ain resident drove, by chance, past the raceway in his home city in 2008.

"I actually saw it and I had no idea it was there," Al Dhaheri said. "So I went in and I did a very fast time, and from there I started to push myself. I just went there for fun and I had competitive times and from there the team actually pushed me forward, teaching me, training me step by step."

It has been a rapid ascent since. Al Dhaheri has twice won the DD2 category of the UAE Rotax Max Championship and he is leading this year's series after two rounds.

He and Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa, the two Emiratis competing in the event, are racing in the DD2s this weekend as part of a world event that has seen 264 drivers, ages 13 and above, descend on Al Ain Raceway for this week's grand finals.

It is the second time that Al Ain has hosted the event and the second time Al Dhaheri has represented the UAE in the finals; he travelled to Italy and La Conca 12 months ago to compete in the DD2. Although he failed to reach the final, he believes the experience stands him in good stead this year.

"I qualified 15th in total and didn't go as well as I expected," he said. "It was a new track for me, totally different conditions for me.

"I am used to racing with 10 to 15 drivers over here. When I went there were a total of 72 drivers; all of them are completely professional drivers.

"I learnt a lot of things and I think with that information from last year, and all my training, I will do better this year."

Guy Sheffield, the general manager at Al Ain Raceway, has worked with Al Dhaheri since he began taking karting seriously. He has been impressed with his rise.

"I remember he came along a few times with his mates and he was pretty quick, so we invited him to try out a race kart and it just went from there," Sheffield said. "We are very proud of him. He has worked hard and done a great job, and the way he carries himself makes him a great role model, I think."

Al Dhaheri is certainly in better shape physically for the rigours of a busy weekend of racing against the world's best karting drivers.

He and Mohammed Al Mutawaa were selected to take part in the inaugural UAE Motorsports Star programme.

In September, the pair went to the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, where they were given training on key elements in helping improve a driver.

The experience opened Al Dhaheri's eyes.

"It was good," he said. "We went to do extensive training in fitness, mentality and health.

"Before that I thought these things did not matter, but it has proven that little by little, whatever you do, the time you eat, the type of exercise that you do [makes a difference]."

He said he also learnt "how to keep a calm mental condition" while racing.

In a recent competition, Al Dhaheri has put what he learnt in Northern Ireland to good use and combined it with the lessons he learnt from the experience.

"I was under pressure in my last race," he said.

"I kept my calm in the race and did not make any mistakes, and I was able to finish first, so I do think it has made a difference."

Interest in karting is developing, with tracks not only at the Al Ain Raceway, but also at Dubai Autodrome, in Abu Dhabi at Yas Marina Circuit and the Al Forsan track.

Al Dhaheri believes more can be done to target the next generation of racers in the UAE so that their participation does not start as late as his did.

"I think awareness should be targeted at this point," he said.

"I think people should go into schools and introduce karting to young people.

"I am young, but there are younger people and there is a lot of talent out there."

This weekend, Al Dhaheri is one of the two Emirati drivers carrying the weight of expectations of his country on his shoulders, and he is aiming not to disappoint.

"My main goal is to win and to do my country proud," he said.