x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Motorsport driver Saeed Al Mehairi is wiser after his GP3 stint

Along with Sheikh Hasher, the UAE duo ready to make home debut for SkyDive Dubai Falcons while Rotax Max Challenge visits its home venue in Al Ain, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Driver Saeed Al Mehairi, above, and Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum will drive for SkyDive Dubai Falcons on Thursday. Lee Hoagland / The National
Driver Saeed Al Mehairi, above, and Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum will drive for SkyDive Dubai Falcons on Thursday. Lee Hoagland / The National

DUBAI // Driving can be a pain in the neck — just ask Saeed Al Mehairi. The racer was one of two Emirati drivers to last month take part in a GP3 test at Yas Marina Circuit, and the experience proved a real eye-opener in regard to the physical challenge of racing at the top level.

GP3 is the feeder series to GP2, which is the feeder series to Formula One and the trial took place a few days after the F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Al Mehairi, 26, and compatriot Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum each drove a six-cylinder, 3.4-litre single-seater at speeds of close to 300kph.

And they felt the after-effects.

“It was the fastest, most powerful car I have driven,” recalled Al Mehairi, who said he could complete only four of five laps flat-out before having to take a break. “You cannot imagine the physical power required to drive that car. The physical fitness required is incredible. I had to put ice on my neck afterwards, that’s how bad the muscle pain was.”

With that experience in tow, both men have been training more intensively. Al Mehairi now carries out a series of exercises to strengthen his neck, including one that involves strapping weights to the sides of an old helmet and slowly turning his head at 90-degree angles.

On Thursday, he makes his home debut for SkyDive Dubai Falcons in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, again alongside Sheikh Hasher.

The two men made their first appearances in the series two weeks ago in Bahrain, with Hasher finishing on the podium, and both men are looking to build on what proved a solid, if not spectacular, start.

“We are ready to fight and try to get another podium,” Al Mehairi said yesterday after finishing third-quickest in the morning practice session at Dubai Autodrome, seven places ahead of his teammate.

“But driving-wise, the GP3 experience won’t help, because in GP3 you must be more aggressive, whereas here you must be smooth, soft and relaxed or you will eat the tyres.”

Walter Lechner, the series organiser, tipped Sheikh Hasher to continue to perform well after the Emirati collected 40 points from a possible 50 to take third place in the overall standings. Al Mehairi sits four places further back on 28 points.

“I followed Sheikh Hasher when he was in Speedcar and he did very well there,” Lechner said. “It took some time to get him with us, but now we are very happy to have him and Saeed in our series.”

Saturday event at UAE Rotax Max Challenge will add a few wrinkles

The UAE Rotax Max Challenge visits its home venue, Al Ain Raceway, for a two-day double-header this weekend.

Tomorrow, Round 5 will be held on the International Circuit layout, the raceway’s longest configuration, and will follow the conventional qualifying-type format where drivers aim to set competitive times to determine their grid positions.

Saturday’s event has something different in store, because, for the first time this season, the random-grid format will apply. After practice, drivers will compete in a sequence of heat races, where their starting positions are determined in advance at random by a specialised programme.

To make things even more interesting, the flowing Grand Finals layout will be used, meaning plenty of overtaking opportunities for the competitors.

Oliver George leads the premier DD2 class, but he will be very aware of the threat posed by close rivals Maurits Knopjes and Pier Pakenham-Walsh.

Last year’s vice-champion, Sanad Al Rawahi, also makes a welcome return to the grid after missing the last few races and will be looking to make up lost ground.

In all, there are seven different classes competing this weekend, from the DD2 Masters Class to the Bambino Class, which features drivers as young as five.

Practice starts at 10.35am on both days with heat racing running throughout, before the finals at around 3.50pm. Admission is free.

Race schedules can be found at www.alainraceway.com.

Al Qubaisi and company want to prevent Italian treble at Gulf 12 Hours

The UAE’s Khaled Al Qubaisi will lead Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon as they try to prevent a third Italian win in succession in the Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina Circuit.

Sharing driving duties with Germany’s Bernd Schneider and Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen in the lead AMG SLS GT3, Al Qubaisi hopes to lay the foundation for the team’s attempt at a third success in a row in next month’s Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai.

First, the team face a tough task as the Italian AF Course team, LMGTE Pro title winners in this year’s FIA World Endurance Championship, aim to add to their Gulf 12 Hours triumphs in 2011 and 2012.

Dutchman Klaas Hummel, Britain’s Adam Christodoulou and Sweden’s Andreas Simonsen will drive the second Team Abu Dhabi car.

The race has attracted 32 entries from Italy, Germany, the US, France, the UK, Switzerland and the UAE. Qualifying is Thursday and race starts at 9.30am on Friday.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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