x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Late bloomer Simmonds is making up for lost time

The Briton, now based in Dubai, won the GTB Championship last season and aims to add more to his trophy collection.

Jon Simmonds held off the challenges to be crowned Cytech UAE GTB champion at Yas Marina Circuit.
Jon Simmonds held off the challenges to be crowned Cytech UAE GTB champion at Yas Marina Circuit.

The gravel has only just settled on the 2010/11 Cytech UAE GTB Championship but already two of the top drivers appear to be on a collision course for next season.

Jon Simmonds was crowned champion in the final round of the series last month, but he could not bite his tongue over an incident that almost wrecked his title celebration.

"[It was] the final race of the season at Yas, where our main competitor's teammate used his faster car to block and slow me for two laps in the race in order to allow his teammate to gain ground and escape," Simmonds said.

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"It was one of the most unsportsmanlike, dangerous and unbelievable spectacles ever seen in our sport but fortunately the governing bodies of our sport took definite steps to address the issue and dish out justice." Karim al Azhari, the other driver, vehemently defended his manoeuvre, believing his integrity was never in question as he was not punished.

"What I would like to say is that this is only his opinion of my driving on the track that day," al Azhari said.

"It is only his side of the story and it's coming entirely from his limited and restrictive view from his own cockpit.

"The authorities have made investigations into his concerns, shall we say, and the official hearing had the opportunity to hear all the facts about this supposed incident. They have ruled that there was nothing out of the ordinary that day and took no action against me.

"Jon Simmonds should have kept his frustrations to himself. Motorsport is a very intense and emotional sport, but it is important for him to respect the authorities' investigation and stop publicly airing his views as facts. Simmonds is new to motorsport and should recognise it is important that we differentiate between frustration and fact."

The passion of Simmonds, who has called Dubai home for the past five years, is borne out of his desire to be successful in a sport he get involved far later than most.

"I was a very late starter," he said. "My first taste of competitive motorsport was as a 35 year old, when I entered the 2002 Caterham Academy Championship in the UK. After this I raced a Renault Clio in several rounds of the Britcar Championship between 2003 and 2005, securing multiple class wins and podium finishes before moving to Dubai in early 2006.

"Since arriving in the UAE, I have competed in all five 24-hour races at Dubai Autodrome in a variety of cars, including a Golf GTi, Clio, Aston Martin N24 and Seat Supercopa, and have taken a class win and podium against the toughest international competition."

Simmonds is one of the seven drivers who raced in the first UAE TCC event back in 2007 and competed for three seasons, winning Class A and overall UAE TCC crown in 2010 before moving to the UAE GT Championship last year, where clinched the title driving a Porsche GT3 Cup car."

Simmonds, who shared his No 22 car with his co-drivers Tarek Elgammal and Phil Quaife, won three races in the Alex Renner Motors-prepared Porsche, which was one less than Mohammed al Mutawaa, his title rival, in the House of Portier Corvette, but the Briton's consistency and speed, paid off. It was a tough season for Simmonds and he recalls the highlights: "December 17, 2010, at Yas Marina Circuit, where my team, MSW racing, took an unprecedented triple win on the day winning GTA, GTB, with me driving, and Touring Car race.

"Seeing my team's three cars resplendent in team livery in the pit lane with all drivers and crew grinning for Darren Rycroft [the official photographer] as he took our picture was amazing."

Simmonds also cherishes his team's performance in Dubai Autodrome's biggest international race, and he said: "In the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai in January 2011, we raced our hearts out in our Seat Supercopa and finished on the same lap as Sunred7, who are the WTCC champions, Spanish Supercopa champions and winners of both 24 Hours of Barcelona and Dubai. We took the fastest race lap in the process."

But motorsport comes with highs and lows. For Simmonds there were a couple of the latter: "Race 6 at Dubai Autodrome where we tested, and qualified fastest and were supremely confident of taking a win only to be mistakenly given the wrong tyres. It was like a bad dream."

The list of people who have a hand in the success is long.

Simmonds said: "There are so many people involved in our racing programme that I'm indebted to that I can't possibly mention them all. Obviously Alex and his ARM team, and my amazing co-drivers Tarek and Phil deserve special mention, but thanks also to everyone who provided financial, technical, product or moral support throughout the season and believed that I could take this championship against such formidable opposition."

* Compiled by Neil Cameron with agency