x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

UAE karting team side set for Rotax Max Grand Finals

Four drivers chosen to compete in New Orleans in November, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Philippe Valenza, the 18-year-old Spaniard, wants to make the most of his selection to race in the United States. Courtesy Al Ain Raceway
Philippe Valenza, the 18-year-old Spaniard, wants to make the most of his selection to race in the United States. Courtesy Al Ain Raceway

DUBAI // The annual end-of-season awards dinner for the UAE Rotax Max National Championships was held almost within braking distance of the world's tallest building, and yet the overriding theme of an evening attended by drivers both little and large was that size does not matter.

Sam Zian, a 32-year-old winner of the Honda Challenge support series, summed things up in one short sentence: "It doesn't matter how old you are, karting is the best thing you can do."

Evidently, he is not the only person to live by such a maxim as the country's karting community came together on Thursday night at the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Sheikh Zayed Road to reveal the four drivers who will travel to New Orleans to represent Team UAE at the Rotax Max Grand Finals and also recognise the Emirates' top performers.

When nine-year-old Sem Knopjes stretched his arms out to collect his silver vase for winning the Micro-Max category, the announcer teased him that "the trophy is bigger than you". And when Pasqual Pook, 14, approached the stage to accept his award for finishing top of the standings in the 125 Junior category, a young voice from the crowd squeaked: "He's taller than my dad!"

Pook, born in Wales but resident in Dubai for the past five years, was one of a quartet of drivers who will travel to Louisiana from November 13-16 to compete in the 15th iteration of the RMC Grand Finals. He was also the tallest. He will be joined by Philippe Valenza, Oliver George and Arnaud Bouf.

"I'm ecstatic to go to New Orleans to represent the UAE," said the blonde-haired Pook, who revealed he will travel to England over the summer to gain further experience ahead of his Grand Finals debut. "It's a bonus that it is in America, as I have always wanted to go there and it's a great opportunity to race against the best in the world. I expect it to be very tough – a lot of bumping in the corners and bumper-to-bumper racing – but I'm looking forward to it."

Valenza, 18 years old and from Granada in Spain, said he has a similar plan to return to Europe to gain additional experience after showing promise in what was his first season karting.

"It will be interesting to represent the UAE too. It is quite strange because there is no local driver in the team, but there are good local drivers, they just didn't complete the whole season. Their absence means I get my chance though and I plan to make the most of it."

Guy Sheffield, general manager of the Al Ain Raceway, said the four drivers were selected not simply for being quick on track, but also because each is capable of representing the Emirates with dignity and respect. Size may not matter, but dignity does.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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