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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

Rashid Al Dhaheri taking his show on the road to new destinations

'Little Alonso' travelling to compete in Italian kart events to continue pursuing his dreams of motorsport glory

Having completed his racing season in the UAE, Rashid Al Dhaheri will travel to Italy to take part in karting competitions.
Having completed his racing season in the UAE, Rashid Al Dhaheri will travel to Italy to take part in karting competitions.

It has been an exciting few weeks for Rashid Al Dhaheri.

On Thursday, the boy nicknamed “Little Alonso” celebrated his sixth birthday with his family, friends and team as a guest of Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi. On Saturday, he was standing on a podium at Al Ain Raceway.

A week earlier, he, along with his father, Ali, had been invited by Ferrari to watch the Bahrain Grand Prix in Sakhir. There, he was reacquainted with his hero, Fernando Alonso, having met him at Yas Island last November.

“Rashid adores Ferrari and Fernando Alonso but doesn’t talk much about his visits. He keeps them inside his heart as a special secret,” his father said. “He says thinking about Ferrari and Alonso while karting gives him extra speed.”

Over the weekend, Rashid was back behind the wheel of his custom-made red kart on the last day of Al Ain Raceway’s UAE Rotax Max Challenge racing season.

When there were two days of racing left, Rashid trailed the Bambino class leader by 10 points, a considerable achievement considering he had begun competitive karting just six months earlier and had been up against rivals almost two years his senior.

In his previous race at Yas Marina Circuit, Rashid finished second despite an incident that bent his chassis, maintaining his overall ranking of second behind Harry Hannam, who had participated in every round.

Considering school commitments, it is a testament to Rashid’s dedication that he has completed seven of eight rounds. Hannam stood on 252 points, Rashid on 242, a healthy 24 points ahead of third place.

On Friday, Rashid won two races in extremely warm conditions, leaving him eyeing the championship. On Saturday, he again finished first twice but missed out on the title by two points.

It has been a year of excellent progress by Rashid.

“I never thought that a six-year-old boy could have been so mature,” said his instructor, Paul Chatenay. “He is able to absorb all the info and tips I explain to him instantly. Honestly, I speak to him same as I would speak to kids of 12 or 14.”

In the past six months, Chatenay’s intensive training programme has also seen a development in Rashid’s stamina and strength.

Some trained eyes see him as potentially a future Emirati F1 driver, perhaps the first.

“Rashid definitely has the talent and dedication to carry the UAE flag,” the three-time world champion David Terrien said in Al Ain. “He is the best hope of having a UAE national reaching the highest level, internationally, in motorsport.”

His father said sponsorship is needed to unlock his commercial, as well as sporting, potential. Rashid’s new website has him backed by Mid-Ship Cargo, a US company, but more is required if he is to be exposed to the competition most likely to help him become a top-class international driver.

Already, his knowledge of karting has surprised his team.

“Rashid listens to the engine and chassis vibration and can tell you if there are problems,” said Carlo Passeri, Rashid’s Italian mechanic. “This sensitivity is of great use for the mechanics.”

The season in the UAE is over but, for Rashid, another is just about to start in Italy.

“We will be flying over on the weekends to take part in the Italian championship,” his father said. “Occasionally, he might miss a school day, but there is no danger of him falling behind. He is one of the top students in his class and is dedicated to his studies.”

His Gems American Academy teacher has no doubts, either.

“His success on the racetrack complements his success in school,” Ann Godley said. “He excels academically and has strong role models in his parents. With all of his success, he is still a humble and fun-loving boy who cares about others.”

Racing in Italy should see him step up his development to a new level.

“It will be a great experience for Rashid,” Chatenay said. “Having 30 bambino karts at the same time on a new track, moreover often on wet tracks, will be challenging to us, but I have no doubt that Rashid will succeed and will win races.”

His first Easykart 50 race will be on April 27 at the international circuit of Viterbo, in Rome.

“Rashid must fight like a lion among 30 to 40 children with identical instruments,” Passeri said. “I believe he will make it.”

That is high praise from the experienced Italian.

“I thought that after 25 years in karting nothing could surprise me any more, but Rashid has,” he said. “He has shown me that with intelligence, passion and love for motorsport, you can achieve exceptional results.”

akhaled@thenational.ae

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