Saudi Arabian driver Yasir Seaidan looking for podium finish in Dubai rally race

Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan is competing this weekend in the Dubai International Baja. (Screenshot)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi Arabian driver Yasir Seaidan looking for podium finish in Dubai rally race

DUBAI: Be it brakes, bones or personal bests, cross-country rally drivers are accustomed to breaking things. Saudi Arabia’s Yasir Seaidan, however, is out to break something else this weekend at the Dubai International Baja.
Seaidan, who is competing in his third season of the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, is intent on breaking the cycle and escaping from the fifth-place ranking that has come to be his own.
Fifth overall in last year’s championship, the 40-year-old finished fifth again in the opening round of the season in last month’s Baja Russia — Northern Forest. When he lined up on Thursday for the opening ceremony at Dubai Autodrome in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive — seeded fifth, naturally — he will be thinking only of the podium.
“Dubai is the only Baja with dunes and I’m good on dunes,” said Seaidan ahead of the three-day event that runs through the unforgiving Al Qudra desert. “The weather is perfect there at this time of year so I can be quite confident. Last year, I competed in the T2 category and finished third, so although I’m competing in T1 this year, I hope to do that again.”
His highest finish in the T1 category is, somewhat predictably, fifth. “I really hope I’m not stuck in this position,” he added.
According to organizers, the event will feature 88 drivers from 19 countries, competing in a range of vehicles, from T1 and T2 to quads, bikes and buggies. Seaidan, who started racing quads in 2002 before switching to cars in 2012, balances his racing career with senior roles in real estate, tourism and a motorsport company.
“To be racing all the year round for sure makes me need to work harder when I go back to the office,” he said. “But I’m trying to do my best to balance racing and working. My colleagues take some interest, but most believe that racing is too hard for them.”
The same cannot be said for Saudi Arabia’s newly-empowered female population. Soon to be permitted to drive unaccompanied, Saudi women are starting to show an interest in racing too. Seaidan says he will not be surprised if one day in the not-too-distant future, he is preparing to race in a field that includes women from his native country.
“Some girls in Saudi Arabia have already started asking how they can be a rally driver, so I believe in a few years you will see Saudi girls racing, yes,” he said.
It would be another milestone in what is proving a burgeoning motorsports industry in the Kingdom. Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal, a 34-year-old racing driver and Red Bull athlete, has been given the role of vice-chairman of the General Authority of Sport and last month Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium hosted the annual two-day Race of Champions. Although it was incorrectly billed as the country’s first international motorsport event, it was the first time in the event’s 30-year history that it had taken place in the Middle East.
“Everybody in Saudi Arabia loves motorsport, so the Race of Champions is just one more thing we can be proud of,” said Seaidan. “We currently have three rallies and the Saudi Motorsports Federation plans to increase this to five by next year. In 2008, the country hosted the Hail Baja (the opening round of that season’s FIA International Cup for Cross-Country Bajas), so I’m sure with the way things are going the federation will be planning to bring it back to the calendar soon.”
Saudi also has the Reem International Circuit on the outskirts of Riyadh.
“I think the future is bright for Saudi motorsport,” said Seaidan, “But first I need to do a good job in Dubai and get that podium.”

60 SECONDS WITH SEAIDAN
Favorite Driver: Jean-Louis Schlesser, French racing driver who has competed in touring cars, sports cars, cross-country and Formula One. Although he only competed in one F1 grand prix, he is renowned as the driver who stopped McLaren completing a perfect season in 1988. While being lapped by Ayrton Senna, Schlesser locked his brakes, crashed into the Brazilian and ended the race leader’s afternoon.
Jean-Louis Schlesser


Favorite Race: Rallye Oilibya du Maroc. One of the most visually stunning races on the FIA World Cup for Cross-Country calendar, the Moroccan event is often cited as Africa’s greatest rally race. First held in 2000, the event is set amid the Atlas Mountains and has been won a record four times by Schlesser. Qatari Nasser Al Attiyah equalled the Frenchman’s record last year and is expected to return this October to try and claim it for himself.
Rallye Oilibya du Maroc. (AFP)

 


Tunisia take heart out of England defeat with Belgium match looming

Updated 19 June 2018
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Tunisia take heart out of England defeat with Belgium match looming

VOLGOGRAD: At the end, there was just emptiness. The Tunisian players sat hunched, contemplating a dramatic 2-1 defeat against England in their World Cup opener in Volgograd.
They had been the masters of their own downfall, defending set pieces laxly, allowing England’s star striker Harry Kane to score twice.
For Tunisia coach Nabil Maaloul the result came as a big disappointment, losing both goals to set pieces was not in the script for a side that came into the tournament well organized and confident.
But Maaloul is staying calm and backing his players to learn from the setback and take that into Saturday’s all-important clash against Belgium.
“We learn every day, every day — that we are still far from the elite level,” Maaloul said. “We have to work, in particular physically. We practically did not win a duel against the English, who are known for this. The match was won on the set pieces.
“Height is very important in the game, in spite of the Spanish having revolutionized the game, but they have a lot of technical authority. They succeed in mastering every game and keeping up the pressure, but when you don’t have that same skill then you can’t compete.”
Belgium are ranked third in the world behind only defending world champions Germany and Brazil. On the evidence of Monday, it is likely the North Africans will struggle to impose their game against Roberto Martinez’s team and in the absence of the injured Youssef Msakni, Wahbi Khazri has been tasked with scoring the goals, but against England he endured an indifferent time.
The battle against Belgium is one the Eagles of Carthage cannot lose. Maleoul is all too aware of that and and is under no illusions as to the size of the task his side face.
“We have to score goals,” Maaloul said. “We no longer have a choice, we have to attack and we have to hit the net. Belgium are one of the favorites, the favorites in this group.
“We will try to take them on, with players like Mertens, Hazard and Lukaku up front, who are able to make the difference at any given moment.
“They also have Kevin De Bruyne a bit deeper and he is practically the best midfielder in the world at the moment, then you have two exceptional wing backs in Meunier and Carrasco — so they are an exceptional.
“We will try to play the game, we no longer have a choice. We will try to attack and to score, and to compete with this Belgian team.”
For the players the defeat to England was a case of what might have been. Having got back into the clash after England’s brilliant, energetic start to lose in the 90th minute to a set-piece strike was a bad blow to take.
“It was a cruel scenario,” said captain Wahbi Khazhri, who was substituted in the 85th minute for Saber Khalifa. “We sat back too deep in the second half and didn’t cause any problems for England in attack. We defended too much. We conceded from set pieces and they were dangerous in those situations.”
Previously, Morocco, Egypt and Nigeria had conceded all their goals in the World Cup from set pieces and Tunisia showed the same vulnerability as Africa’s losing streak continued in Russia. Twice, Kane was left totally unmarked in the Tunisian box and the Tottenham striker duly obliged, opening his World Cup account with a match-winning brace.
“These set pieces are things that you can correct, easily correct,” midfielder Ellyes Skhiri said. “When you concede a goal like that at the very last minute, it’s a blow, because we would have been satisfied with a draw,” said Naim Sliti, who disappointed on the night and was taken off on 73 minutes.
“We have to regroup and even try to win the next game. A World Cup is played over three games.”
On Saturday, Tunisia will have their backs against the wall against heavily fancied Belgium. At the last World Cup in Brazil, the Belgians entered the tournament as dark horses, but disappointed with a lacklustre 1-0 quarterfinal exit against Argentina and an underwhelming style of play. They opened their Russia World Cup with a comfortable 3-0 win against Panama in Sochi, with two goals from Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku.
“We have to maintain our own style against Belgium,” said Fakhreddine Ben Youssef. “It wasn’t easy against England. They played their game and we had to play the long ball, which is not our strength. In the next game we have to play our own game.”