x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Dreaming of becoming the next Grand Prix champion? UAE may be the answer

Abu Dhabi Racing and Daman insurance company have partnered to establish a racing academy to help aspiring Emirati racing drivers become the next Formula 1 champion.

Abu Dhabi Racing managing director Khaled Al Qubaisi announces the academy with Daman executive Sven Rohte. Christopher Pike / The National
Abu Dhabi Racing managing director Khaled Al Qubaisi announces the academy with Daman executive Sven Rohte. Christopher Pike / The National

ABU DHABI // Fancy your chances of becoming the next Sebastian Vettel? Your time may have arrived, as a racing academy has opened with the aim of producing an Emirati Formula One champion.

As the UAE gears up for the F1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix this weekend, Abu Dhabi Racing has linked up with Daman, the national health insurer, to launch the Daman Speed Academy.

It is hoped the academy will produce a new generation of drivers who will compete at an international level in motorsports from karts to single seaters, Grand Tour, endurance racing and rallying.

“The main objective is to offer a very high level of training to develop the training skills of young UAE nationals, and prepare them for careers as professional racing drivers,” said local racing legend Khaled Al Qubaisi, a board member of Abu Dhabi Racing.

But Mr Al Qubaisi said the “ultimate goal” of the academy was to find and nurture the first Emirati F1 driver.

“As part of this progress, we will be grooming them to become junior ambassadors for their country and role models for other young Emiratis, working to promote the leisure, sporting and business attractions of the UAE, as well as its culture and heritage.”

Proving that talent runs in the family, Mr Al Qubaisi’s daughter Amna, 13, is one of the seven UAE nationals – and the only female – to be chosen for the first batch of students.

They will start an eight-month training programme after the GP concludes on Sunday.

“My dream is to race like my dad and to fulfil it I am going to try my best,” said Amna.

Mr Al Qubaisi said he hoped his daughter would follow in his footsteps.

“I am very proud,” he said. “Amna has been asking me for the last couple of years about going into a motorsports career.”

His daughter was the inspiration behind the initiative, Mr Al Qubaisi said, and had “nagged” for a special racing academy in the emirate.

“I owe it to her,” he said. “She is very committed and she has a lot of talent.”

The other Emiratis chosen are Abdalla Al Noohi, 17, Mohammed Karmostajji, 16, Sheikh Khaled Al Nahyan, 15, Mansour Al Suwaidi, 13, and Ahmed Al Hameli, 13, all from Abu Dhabi, and Saeed Al Ali, 14, of Dubai.

They were chosen from 40 candidates aged between 13 and 17, who were first identified through their karting results over the past two years.

“This is a great programme, a programme that will lay the right foundations for the development of future great Emirati motoring stars,” said Mr Al Qubaisi.

“We want them to represent and promote our country, and help fly the UAE flag high and proud.

“Of course, our long-term goal is to deliver the first Emirati F1 driver. But this should not be underestimated. It will take a lot of effort to make this a reality.”

A prize fund is being set up to enter the drivers into race meetings and championships.

Depending on age and performance level, they will compete in karting and single-seat events.

The most advanced will be allowed to take part in selected races in this season’s FG 1000 Formula Gulf Championships run between the UAE and Bahrain, with the prospect of a full championship campaign the following season.

Sven Rohte, chief commercial officer of Daman, said the insurer was delighted to be associated with Abu Dhabi Racing.

“As a national, socially responsible company we pride ourselves on helping create a bright future for the nation, through actively supporting UAE youth across a range of initiatives designed to help them unleash their true potential,” Mr Rohte said.

Each of the first seven candidates have been given commemorative, custom-made Daman Speed Academy helmets in the colours of the UAE national flag.

The seven will next week start intensive, twice-weekly sessions on the karting tracks at Yas Marina Circuit, Al Forsan International Sports Resort Abu Dhabi, Al Ain Raceway and Dubai Autodrome.

Mr Al Qubaisi said the training schedule had been designed to not interfere with their schoolwork. All must keep good grades at school to stay in the academy, he said.

The programme has been designed by Saeed Al Mehairi, an instructor at Yas Marina Circuit and one of the UAE’s most experienced GT racing drivers, and Samiha Zammouri, programme manager at Abu Dhabi Racing.

It will help the younger drivers to become “the full package” on and off the track, said Mr Al Qubaisi.

It consists of on and off-track coaching to develop skills, physical fitness sessions, advice on a healthy lifestyle, media training and instruction on safety and rules.

After training, the seven are expected to head for Europe in June for a series of sessions at different French race tracks.

The extended F1 race weekend at Yas Marina Circuit begins on Thursday.