x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Sulayem elected to motorsport body

The UAE rally champion, the first Arab elected, takes pole position to lead motorsport body ahead of the F1 season.

The newly appointed member of the World Motorsport Council, Mohammed Ben Sulayem looks over a map of the new Formula One Race Track that is being built in Abu Dhabi in this file photo from Oct 16 2008.
The newly appointed member of the World Motorsport Council, Mohammed Ben Sulayem looks over a map of the new Formula One Race Track that is being built in Abu Dhabi in this file photo from Oct 16 2008.

The UAE rally champion, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, has become the first Arab to be elected to the ruling body of world motorsport. Sulayem, president of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE (ATCUAE), was elected vice-president of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and co-opted on to its World Motorsport Council during the general assembly in Paris. "I'm honoured and very happy to have been elected to the FIA World Motor Sport Council," said Sulayem. "I'm looking forward to playing my part in shaping the future of motorsport, and there are some exciting, and challenging, times ahead."

The World Motorsport Council meets at least four times a year to decide on rules, regulations, safety and development of motorsport at every level, from karting to Formula One. Headed by Max Mosley, the FIA president, its membership is chosen by the general assembly, which contains representatives from national automobile clubs throughout the world. Mosley is expected to step down in the near future, leaving Sulayem in pole position to take over as president, possibly in time for next year's Formula One programme, the climax of which will be the Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next November.

In a remarkable rallying career, Sulayem won 14 FIA Middle East Rally Championship titles and more than 60 international rallies. In 1991, he launched the UAE Desert Challenge, and quickly established it as the Middle East's first world championship motorsport event. The Desert Challenge, staged for the 18th time last week, was admitted into the FIA World Cup for cross-country rallies for cars in 1993, and two years later was welcomed into the cross-country rallies world championship for bikes. When Sulayem took charge of the ATCUAE two-and-a half years ago, only 90 competitors in the UAE had official licences to compete in motorsport, most of them in rallying, and there were fewer than 20 official events staged each year. Now, the ATCUAE has more than 1,200 licensed competitors and oversees a calendar of 140 events. It is the sole official representative of the FIA in the UAE and will have an important role to play in the staging of the first Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix next year. Emphasising his regional influence, Sulayem was an adviser behind Bahrain's bid for a place in the Etihad FIA Formula One world championship. After the first Bahrain Grand Prix in 2004, he was awarded a Medal of Honour by King Hamad bin Isa of Bahrain. He was also a strong supporter of Jordan's successful bid to break into the World Rally Championship. This year he played a pivotal role in the formation of the Arab Council of Touring and Automobile Clubs, which was set up to unite the FIA Clubs of the Arabic-speaking territories. mwalker@thenational.ae