x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emirati driver Al Helei hopes to make grade and join FIA Academy

Wednesday is judgement day for the 16 drivers taking part in this week's FIA regional selection event at Yas Marina. Emirati Mansour Al Helei discusses his experience so far.

Mansour Al Helei attended a session on sponsorship, ‘the best thing I have ever heard,’ he said. Courtesy FIA Institute
Mansour Al Helei attended a session on sponsorship, ‘the best thing I have ever heard,’ he said. Courtesy FIA Institute

ABU DHABI // Mansour Al Helei will learn Wednesday afternoon whether he has the motorsport X-factor as the FIA Institute’s Young Driver Excellence Academy’s four-day regional selection event draws to a close.

Sixteen participants will be whittled down to five by a panel of judges before an afternoon time trial and a round of interviews will help determine the successful driver set to join the Academy next season.

Al Helei, son of Emirati endurance racer Yahya, has been undergoing a variety of physical, psychological and driving training sessions at Yas Marina Circuit over the past three days. Alongside other participants from the Middle East and Mediterranean, he yesterday underwent a session that involved recovering a car while aquaplaning on a sprinkler-soaked track.

“The FIA institute are giving us the major things to be successful in this career,” Al Helei, 21, an amateur cross-country rally driver, said.

“Almost all of the group are professionals in either karting or track racing, so it has been difficult. But even though I am a relative beginner compared to some of these guys, I am willing to learn and to work, and I have done well.”

Another session the group attended was regarding sponsorship and how to make yourself marketable. Al Helei called it “the best thing I have ever heard” and intends to put his new knowledge into practice as soon as possible.

“I started as a child being taken on rallies with my dad, but earlier this year, I was the only Arab to cross the line in my category of the Desert Challenge,” he added.

“Of this I am proud and happy, but there is a difference between being happy and being satisfied. I always want to be at the top and leading my cross-country rallies, but I also eventually want to get to the World Rally Championship and information like this can help me achieve that.”

Last night, the three judges held a meeting to discuss which of the 16 drivers would make up five-man shortlist to take part in today’s final shoot-out. Their decision will be made public today before the chosen drivers take part in a timed lap of the circuit and a series of interviews to determine the winner.

Previous graduates of the Academy have gone on to hold positions in Formula One and Kate Robson, Fund Programme Manager of the FIA Institute, concedes that while a driver being amateur is not necessarily detrimental to their chances, if they can provide sponsorship, the likelihood of them being selected is greater.

“We certainly look at a driver’s ability to move their career forward,” she said. “If they have sponsorship, we will take that into consideration. We are trying to produce the stars of the future, so if a driver already has a sponsor, that definitely helps.”

Al Helei brings little in terms of sponsorship, an issue continually raised by his father, who was one of the first Emiratis to compete in the UAE Desert Challenge. Regardless, Mansour is remaining upbeat.

“I am here to challenge, but it will be difficult because they are professional,” he said. “I have tried my best and we will see what the judges say. If it is not me, the feedback will still be invaluable and rally is in my blood, so I will keep going.

“I have big plans.”

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae