Susie Wolff enjoying rush of Formula E as team principal of ROKiT Venturi Racing

Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Susie Wolff enjoying rush of Formula E as team principal of ROKiT Venturi Racing

Susie Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the Formula E campaign when it kicks off in Diriyah, on the outskirts of Riyadh later this month. (Supplied)
  •  Former karting champion and Formula 1 test driver will lead her team at season-launching Diriyah E-Prix on Feb. 26

DUBAI: Not many drivers in motorsports have CVs that can match Susie Wolff’s.

She was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the Year in 1996, aged only 13. She was the top female kart driver in the world, with a professional racing career in the British Formula Renault Championship, claiming three podiums and two nominations for the British Young Driver of the Year award. She had a stint in Formula 3 and huge success at Mercedes-Benz in DTM, the German touring car championship, between 2006 and 2012. The highpoint of her career was joining Formula 1’s Williams Racing, first as a development driver, and then in 2015 as a test driver.

And, from 2018, she has been team principal of Formula E’s ROKiT Venturi Racing.

“I think I was incredibly lucky that I chose to stop my career; I’d come to what I felt was the end of the road,” said Wolf. “I’d always known that I was going to take the decision to retire when I felt that I couldn’t go any further. And I wanted to make sure there was something else in my life. I didn’t want to be known just as an ex-racing driver. I’m very ambitious to make this team successful.”

On Feb. 26, the 2021 Formula E season kicks off with Diriyah E-Prix - organized by Saudi's Ministry of Sports -  on the outskirts of Riyadh, and Wolff is looking forward to a successful start to the campaign.

“We saw from last year it was a fantastic event and this year it’s going to be more of a spectacle because it’s a night race,” the Scot said. “It’s a double-header, so a fantastic way to kick off the season.”

Wolff calls the track “challenging,” leaving the drivers with no room for error in their exclusively electric cars.

“How the track develops from the first time they drive to the point where qualifying and (the) race come, there’s a huge development on the speed of the track,” she said. “With it being a double-header, the drivers will have that extra challenge but it’s been so long since we’ve been racing, and I think everyone is very eager to get there and to get the season started.”

Like all sporting competitions, Formula E was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, with the organizers still facing challenges that other motorsports do not.

“Formula E has certainly been hit harder with the pandemic because of the fact that we race in city centers,” Wolff said. “It makes it more challenging to get a calendar set because obviously we’re not racing at a purpose-built site, which can be quite isolated. We’re actually in city centers, and I think that’s an important part of what Formula E is — we bring the races to the people.

“But I think Formula E have done a good job, I look forward to the second half of the calendar and being announced,” she added.

ROKiT Venturi Racing had a poor end to the truncated 2020 Formula E season, eventually finishing 10th out of 12 teams. Wolff, however, has high ambitions for the team this time round with the duo of Edoardo Mortara and Norman Nato, who replaced former Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa, in the driving seats.

“We didn’t perform well at the end of last season in the six races in nine days, which in the end dropped us in the team table,” she said. “But we have a new driver line-up this season, and we don’t underestimate the challenge ahead of us. Formula E is very, very competitive, and unlike other championships it’s very close. We know if we do a good job on any given day we have the chance of a podium if not a win. It’s about minimising the errors and maximising the opportunities.

“Certainly we’re going to Riyadh very determined to show what we’re capable of, but also realistic that in order to be successful at the end of the season in the team championship you simply need to be consistent, you need to be scoring points at every race, and not making mistakes,” she added.

Wolff believes that the next few years are crucial if Formula E’s profile is to continue rising to the point where it is attracting some of the best drivers in the business. Any comparisons with Formula 1 are, for now, too early.

“What I love about Formula E is that we are racing with a purpose,” she said. “We are showcasing new technology in the automotive industry, and the automotive industry is going through a huge change, one that doesn’t happen very often. We’re moving into electrification, we are at the cutting edge of that technology. The championship is only six years old, and what they’ve achieved in six years is to be respected, but we need to develop in the next few years. We’re attracting top drivers, we’re attracting larger audiences, we’re racing in iconic cities. You’ve got to keep that development curve.”

Having been in the driving seat herself, Wolff says she is determined to help more female drivers make the grade, but only on merit.

“In the end it comes down to performance, about finding the girl that is able to perform out on the track, because everything in motorsports is about performance,” she said. “Performance is power. And I think I’m passionate about making sure we get more talented women rising up the ranks because if the talent pool is bigger, you get women rising up to the top.” 

Physicality will always be a major factor in motorsports, and while Formula E is less demanding than Formula 1, it remains hugely competitive in its own right.

“In my first season in Formula E, there were nine different winners from 14 races and it’s just very, very tight, which means the driver makes a huge difference,” said Wolff. “Every team will make sure they have the best driver line-up they could possibly have. For me, it’s not about picking a woman because she’s a woman, it’s about picking the best person to go in the car. In order for that to be a woman, we need to make sure that talented young female drivers are rising through the ranks and getting the opportunity to join the very top of the sport.”

Similarly, she believes that producing young talented drivers in the Middle East is a long term project. Several initiatives she is involved in, as well as the hosting of major events in places like the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, will no doubt help the process as the emergence of one Saudi driver has already proved.

“You have one very prominent female driver, Reema Juffalli, who I’m supporting and I’m quite close to,” Wolff said. “I think definitely these things take time. I started ‘Dare to be Different’ which is now the FIA Girls on Track Initiative, to inspire the next generation and get more women into the sport, not just on track but off track. It was never going to be a project that was going to take one, two, three years. In order to see real change you need to wait five, 10 years because these sporting events can inspire, they can create role models.”

Wolff has several busy weeks ahead of the season’s start in Saudi Arabia. Her role at ROKiT Venturi Racing means that she has barely missed driving since her retirement. 

Being on the track come race day still brings a rush of adrenaline and Wolff considers herself lucky to experience the benefits of everything she loved about racing.

“When I see the challenges in Formula E, I sometimes look at my drivers and think I’m really happy I’m not in the car today. So from that perspective, no I don’t miss driving at all. I had a great career that I’m very grateful for but I’m happy with my new challenge.”

No doubt when Mortara and Nato take to their cars at Diriyah, they will be just as happy knowing Wolff is watching over them.


Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out
Updated 33 sec ago

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out

Pakistan battling isolation as cricket host after New Zealand pull out
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan cricket began confronting its worst fear Saturday, with the national side staring at another era of isolation from hosting international matches after New Zealand abandoned its tour, citing a security threat.
The All Blacks called off their first Pakistan series in 18 years with Wellington’s backing on Friday just before the first one-day international was due to start in Rawalpindi.
The decision has left cricket-crazy Pakistan reeling, with the nation still recovering from the 2009 militant attack on the Sri Lankan team in Lahore that wounded six players.
Already struggling to convince foreign teams to tour, Pakistan were forced to play home matches at neutral venues — primarily in the UAE — following the assault.
The decision left a generation of cricket fans growing up having never attended a live game.
Prime Minister Imran Khan, a former international cricketing hero, and the Pakistan Cricket Board will now have to work overtime to avoid another period of exile.
“With the administration they now have in place at the PCB and how closely linked to the PM it is, there’ll be a real push to ensure they have to play as little as possible in a neutral venue,” cricket writer Osman Samiuddin told AFP.
Their first task will be to convince England, who decide Sunday whether to send their men’s and women’s teams for a scheduled tour to Pakistan next month.
Those tours are to be followed by a series against the West Indies in December and Australia’s first visit since 1998 in February next year.
“England are now likely not to tour. Australia... will also probably not come. So that will be a hit,” Samiuddin said.
“And for fans too, they’ve only just started getting used to going to big games again so for the prospect of that being taken away, it’s going to hurt.”
The newly elected chairman of the PCB Ramiz Raja admitted Saturday that Pakistani cricket was facing “a lot of pressure,” though not for the first time — and that the nation was resilient.
“Your pain and my pain is the same, it’s a shared pain. Whatever happened was not good for Pakistan cricket,” he said.
The PCB bled $200 million in losses during the country’s cricket exile.
Now, alongside the upcoming tours, its bids to host six international events — including the World Cup and Champion’s Trophy between 2024-31 — could also be in jeopardy.
Former players say keeping international cricket in Pakistan is the key priority.
“All cricketers are with the PCB and we have to find ways to avoid further isolation, for the sake of our next generations,” former captain Rashid Latif told AFP.
New Zealand would have been the highest profile team to play in Pakistan in more than a decade.
Pakistan have only hosted South Africa, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since the 2009 attacks.
Ex-player Naushad Ali said his country needs to restore the confidence of the cricketing world.
“Pakistan will have to prove that New Zealand’s decision was wrong and I think only that will earn them sympathy,” said Ali.
“We should not give up our hosting rights and should lobby with other countries.”
But former captain Shahid Afridi believes they have sacrificed a lot over the years and deserve “a better deal.”
“We have done more than enough for them,” he said.
“We toured England and New Zealand (last year) despite fears of pandemic and we want them to reciprocate.”

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win
Updated 18 September 2021

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win

Salah strike helps Liverpool to top of the table with Palace win
  • Defending champions Manchester City drop two points at home to Southampton
  • Arsenal beat Burnley and continue climb up table

LONDON: Martin Odegaard scored his first goal since his permanent switch to Arsenal on Saturday to further ease the pressure on Mikel Arteta as Sadio Mane helped fire Liverpool to the top of the Premier League.
Defending champions Manchester City dropped two points at home to Southampton after a 0-0 stalemate while struggling Wolves lost their fourth match in five against 10-man Brentford.
Arsenal were rock bottom of the table before last week’s fixtures but wins against Norwich and now Burnley lifted them to the relative comfort of 12th spot before the late kick-off between Aston Villa and Everton.
Odegaard, who signed from Real Madrid last month after spending part of last season at the Emirates on loan, broke the deadlock in the 30th minute, curling home a free-kick to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at Turf Moor.
Arsenal breathed a sigh of relief when VAR overturned a penalty awarded to Burnley in the second half after Matej Vydra tumbled to the turf following a challenge by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.
Liverpool forward Mane continued his eye-catching run against Crystal Palace, netting in his ninth league match in a row against the London side to send Jurgen Klopp’s men top of the table with a 3-0 win.
Mohamed Salah’s glancing header from Konstantinos Tsimikas’ corner was kept out by goalkeeper Vicente Guaita but Mane pounced to lash home his 100th goal for Liverpool in all competitions.
Salah doubled the Reds’ lead in the 78th minute before Naby Keita sealed the win with a sweetly struck volley.
Liverpool, champions in 2020, have made an impressive start to the season, scoring 12 goals in their opening five games and conceding just once.
Manchester City will rue their inability to beat Southampton at the Etihad after consecutive 5-0 home wins.
It could have been worse for them after referee Jon Moss pointed to the spot when Kyle Walker bundled into the back of Adam Armstrong in the area, showing the England international a red card.
But the incident was reviewed by VAR and Moss eventually decided to overturn both decisions.
The build-up to City’s match was dominated by a row over attendance levels at the Etihad, with manager Pep Guardiola urging fans to fill empty seats in comments that irritated some supporters.
But fans were frustrated by battling Southampton, who kept City’s attackers at bay despite relentless pressure.
The home side thought they had snatched victory in the dying minutes after goalkeeper Alex McCarthy saved a Phil Foden header and Raheem Sterling tucked in the rebound but the flag was raised.
Watford beat Norwich 3-1 to condemn the newly promoted Canaries to their fifth consecutive defeat.
Watford took the lead in the 17th minute through Emmanuel Dennis but Teemu Pukki equalized before half time. Ismaila Sarr put the visitors back in front in the 63rd minute and scored again with 10 minutes to go.
In the early kick-off, Ivan Toney scored a goal and created another as 10-man Brentford beat Wolves 2-0 to maintain their impressive start to their first Premier League campaign.
The 25-year-old striker won and converted a penalty before setting up Bryan Mbeumo as the Bees prevailed at Molineux despite Shandon Baptiste’s red card in the second half.
Tottenham host Chelsea on Sunday while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United travel to West Ham.


Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy

Saudi jockey saddles up for Endurance World Championship in Italy
  • Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi will ride Despe Du Fonpeyrol in competition on island of Sardinia

RIYADH: Saudi jockey Hamoud bin Saleh Al-Badi is set to take part in the Endurance World Championship for junior horses currently underway on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Al-Badi, who will be riding Despe Du Fonpeyrol, booked his place at the championships after winning a qualifier in France in July and has recently been on an extensive training camp to ready himself for the competition.

He said: “We have completed all preparations to participate in this global forum, and I feel proud to represent and raise the flag of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in this tournament. God willing, I can put in a performance worthy of the name of the Kingdom.

“I would also like to extend my thanks to Prince Abdullah bin Fahd, president of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, for his continuous support, and God willing, these efforts will bear fruit through high-level performances,” Al-Badi added.


Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
Updated 18 September 2021

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with

Meet Mitt Queen Ann Najjar, the boxing coach athletes and celebrities want to work with
  • The first generation American of Iraqi parents shot to worldwide fame thanks to viral Instagram videos during the pandemic

Ann Najjar has fast hands.

So fast she can keep up with boxers twice her size. Boxers who, over the last few years, have lined up to work with her.

Najjar is the Mitt Queen, a coach at Bomber Squad Boxing Academy in her native San Diego. Thanks to an Instagram account (@mittqueen) that has almost 610,000 followers, she has become an online sensation.

She is in Dubai as the coach of Josh Bridges, who on Saturday night will fight on the undercard at the MTK Global boxing CoreSports Fight Night 3 at Sport Society, where the main event sees Hafthor Bjornsson, The Mountain from “Games of Thrones,” take on Devon Larratt in an all-Strongman battle.

Bridges is a CrossFit athlete and the 32-year-old Najjar has overseen every step of his boxing journey.

But becoming a boxing coach happened to her by accident after she joined her brother, an MMA fighter, for training sessions when she was 20.

It turned out she had a gift few others could match.

“When I did take my first MMA class because of my brother, all our classes in San Diego had mitts included, a lot of gyms don’t have that,” Najjar told Arab News. “And everyone always wanted to be my partner because I was good at holding the mitts, and in reality it’s not that easy to hold mitts. Eventually I became the one everybody wanted to partner up with, and then year and years went by and I just got better at it.”

Though she had been a trainer for almost a decade, it was only during the last two years that Najjar’s profile skyrocketed, thanks to a video on Instagram.

“When the pandemic first hit in the US, I decided to post my first video of me holding mitts and just messing around, because I knew everybody was on their phones at the time looking at Instagram,” she said. “And then my first video went viral, about 100,000 views, and I kept posting and posting and posting until one of my videos hit over 18 million views.”

Najjar is a first-generation American, born and raised in San Diego to parents from Baghdad. Her Instagram account proudly bears the Iraqi flag.

“The thing is, it’s not only me, but my fighters also are very quick, or very big, so seeing a female holding the mitts behind it is really what intrigued everyone to want to follow me and watch what I was doing because there’s not that many females who can hold for someone so quick or someone so huge, double my size,” she added.

Najjar, aka the Mitt Queen, has become a boxing coach for athletes and celebrities in her native San Diego. (RBO)

“In reality, I have to thank Instagram, because it’s what really got me out there and everyone saw what I was doing.”

Soon celebrities started seeking her out, as did leading athletes in other sports. Her profile grew organically, she said.

“Honestly, it was one word after the other and they or their managers would contact me through Instagram,” said Najjar. “And because boxing cardio is great for all athletes, a lot of them on their off season like to box. It helps them with their footwork in their sport.”

Is Najjar ever tempted to swap the mitts for gloves and get in the ring?

“Honestly for me, at the age I’m at, the answer is no,” she said. “In the past I did think about it, I did spar all the time, but the older I’m getting I’m realizing coaching is the way for me, I love to teach, to watch people grow from the beginning."

The pride she gets is from seeing her fighters succeed, and from their appreciation of the role she plays in their preparation.

“There are moments for me that I can’t believe are true, like when Ryan Garcia calls me to hold mitts for him. Anderson Silva called me to tell me he won his fight,” Najjar said. “These guys, I sat behind the TV set and watched them fight, and that now they are calling me is unreal to me.”

Najjar was holding a training session at Real Boxing Only gym in Dubai’s Al-Quoz, but she has also had time to enjoy the sights, which were more familiar than she expected.

“It’s like Las Vegas for me, I feel like I’m at home, to be honest,” she said. “I went to the sand dunes and that was wild, I was scared out of my mind. I was in that car holding on for dear life. But culture and everything is very Americanized. Seeing everything in English and Arabic, I’m like ok, I know what I’m doing here. I feel very comfortable here.”

On Saturday night, Najjar will be ringside at Sport Society cheering on Bridges when he takes on fellow American Jacob Heppner in a bout between two CrossFit athletes.

“What people don’t know is that Josh started with me from day one, when he threw his first punch and didn’t even know what a jab was,” she said. “To see all the pieces of the puzzle come together, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I want to prove to the world that, yes, I can start someone from day one, not knowing how to punch, and turn them into that fighter.”


Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
Updated 18 September 2021

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe

Saudi Arabia to host world’s top handball teams at IHF 2021 Super Globe
  • Tournament organized by Saudi Handball Federation will take place in Jeddah on Oct. 5-9

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Sports has announced that Jeddah will host the 2021 International Handball Federation Super Globe from Oct. 5 to 9.

It will be the second time in a row that the tournament, held in coordination with the Saudi Handball Federation and part of the Quality of Life Program, has been staged in the Kingdom.

Ten clubs from different countries will participate in the competition taking place at King Abdullah Sports City, with the Al-Noor and Al-Wehda teams representing the Kingdom.

They will be joined by Asian champions Al-Duhail of Qatar; European champions Aalborg of Denmark; Oceania champions the University of Sydney; San Francisco CalHeat, champions of North America and the Caribbean; Brazil’s Pineros, champions of South and Central America; African champions Zamalek of Egypt; reigning champions of the competition Barcelona; and German team Magdeburg, participating at the invitation of the IHF.

Saudi Minister of Sport and chairman of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, said: “We are happy once again to host the largest handball club championships, and with the participation of the continental champions for the second time in a row, which is an extension of the championships and events hosted by our country.”

Dammam hosted the previous edition of the tournament in 2019, after the Kingdom won the hosting rights for four consecutive editions from that year.