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.


UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
Updated 7 sec ago

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs

UAE golfers get shot at big time in Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship with place at Masters, Open up for grabs
  • Local players will hope course knowledge of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club can secure passage to 2 Majors in 2022

DUBAI: Five leading UAE-based amateur golfers have a chance of claiming a once-in-a-lifetime place at both the Masters and the 150th Open championship, at St. Andrews next year, as they line up for a winner-takes-all four days at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Nov. 3-6, 2021 at the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.

The AAC was created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A to further develop amateur golf across Asia, and the 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries.

To mark the latest golfing first for the UAE, five of the country’s leading amateurs have been invited to take their place alongside Asia’s finest in the four-round shootout.

The UAE’s No. 1 Ahmad Skaik has secured a spot along with compatriots Khalid Yousuf, Khalifa Al-Masaood and Rashid Al-Emadi. Arkesh Bhatia, another big name on the UAE scene, will be representing India.

“The Dubai Creek championship course is a world-class venue befitting of this prestigious tournament, and the event offers a wonderful opportunity to the top-ranked amateur golfers from across Asia, including some of our top UAE talent,” said Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, chairman of the Emirates Golf Foundation, the sport’s governing body in the country.

“The course provides players with a true test, the home players know it well, so we are set for an intriguing four days of golf and a potentially life-changing opportunity that is sure to bring the best out of the leading UAE players on home soil.”

The UAE players will be hoping that course knowledge will give them an advantage as the AAC champion will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament at Augusta in April 2022 and The Open, two of the four Majors on the global golfing calendar, with the runner-up gaining a place in final qualifying for The Open.

Winning the four-day event will be tough ask, however, as the field includes China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin, who is aiming for an unprecedented third AAC title, and in-form Japanese world No. 1 amateur Keita Nakajima, who has secured two victories in his last three starts.

Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard for some of the world’s top players today, including current Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Australia’s Cameron Smith, Korean Kim Si-woo, Thailand’s Jazz Janewattanond and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.


Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
Updated 3 min 25 sec ago

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 

Maria Fassi off to a flyer with nine-under 63 on opening day of Dubai Moonlight Classic 
  • The 23-year-old from Mexico carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a career-high round to lead Lee-Anne Pace by one stroke

DUBAI: Mexican sensation Maria Fassi carded a course-record equalling nine-under par 63 to hold a one-stroke lead over South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace after the first round of the Dubai Moonlight Classic presented by EGA at Emirates Golf Club.    

Rising star Fassi, 23, starting on the 17th hole in the day-to-night competition, carded eight birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in a thrilling career-high round. The round, her personal best as a professional, included a run of three straight birdies on holes four to six, another trio of consecutive birdies on holes 13 to 15, and a chip-in eagle on hole 16.

Pace led the field for most of her blemish-free round of 64, which featured an opening birdie on hole four that was quickly followed with twin birdies on 8 and 9, an eagle on 10, and further birdies on holes 14,16 and 18. Pace was only usurped at the leaderboard summit by Fassi’s closing eagle, while her playing partner, Germany’s Olivia Cowan, carded a bogey-free seven-under par 65 to sit one stroke ahead of Sweden’s Jessica Karlsson.

“It was pretty flawless today out there,” Fassi said. “It was my first time playing in the dark but it was awesome. I enjoyed it a lot and the course was great. Shooting 63 is a personal best; it’s awesome to tie the course record on the Faldo course, it’s a pretty big deal in my opinion. Now I’ve tied it, I want to beat the course record, but the reality is I just have to keep doing what I did today.”

Pace was happy with her performance and admitted some aspects of night golf were a real positive: “I’ve never played under floodlights before and I struggled in the Pro-Am, but it was a lot easier today — I’m glad I played the Pro-Am now. I like the tournament format, the night golf, it’s nice to sleep in in the morning.”

Welshwoman Lydia Hall and England’s Alice Hewson finished with five-under par rounds of 67, with Hall satisfied with the flat stick after carding 29 putts.

“It was a solid round tee to green. I only missed three greens today and that’s what cost me my two bogeys, but it was a good start to the tournament,” Hall said. “I always start a bit apprehensive as we’re not used to playing in the dark, but it’s a good start. I shot 29 putts today and that’s been my goal all year, to stay under 30, and it seems to be working.”

Two-time Major winner Ariya Jutanugarn, making her Dubai debut and first ever professional round under the floodlights, carded a four-under 68 to stay in touch with the leaders. Jutanugarn is in a chasing pack that includes England’s Bronte Law and Spaniard Carmen Alonso, the trio one ahead of Ariya’s sister Moriya in tied 10th. 

Dame Laura Davies and Solheim Cup-winning captain Catriona Matthew had to settle for one under par rounds of 71.

“I played really well to be honest, it’s a shame I bogeyed the last (17th),” Davies said. “I drove really well, hit a few ropey irons a little bit left, but they were hitting the greens so two putting for par. It was quite an easy one-under par, could have been two or three, but I gave one back at the last.”

Davies also spoke of her delight at the progress Dubai is making in encouraging junior female golfers after participating in a special Emirates Golf Federation clinic with local youngsters. “It’s lovely seeing Dubai grow in the golf world. I did a junior clinic this morning and you wouldn’t have seen that 15 years ago, young girls from the area and all around the UAE coming for a bit of coaching. It’s lovely how Dubai is growing, but also how the game is growing,” Davies said.

One Dubai-based youngster making the headlines earlier this week was Chiara Noja, the 15-year-old who turned pro on the eve of the tournament. After a promising start, Noja finished on one over par after three bogeys in her last six holes.

“I made it a little bit difficult for myself at times, shot some birdies but also a couple of unnecessary bogeys,” Noja said. “I had some really good shots and was two under at one point, but lost it a little bit. I still had a great time. To be honest, this is the most relaxed I’ve been in a long time. I went out there, tried to focus on the game and not really think about the pressure of being a pro. The course was incredible, and the greens were great. I loved it.”


Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
Updated 11 min 8 sec ago

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup

Saudi Arabia draw 2-2 with Uzbekistan in opening qualifier for 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup
  • Match result will not affect qualifiers as next year’s tournament is in Uzbekistan meaning hosts already have spot

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Wednesday drew 2-2 with Uzbekistan in the opening match of the qualifiers for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup, a tournament that will also act as a qualification campaign for the Paris Olympics in 2024.

The result of the match, however, will not affect the qualifiers as next year’s tournament is being held in Uzbekistan, meaning the hosts have already secured their spot.

The young Falcons scored through Hamid Al-Ghamdi in the 40th minute, and Abdulmohsen Al-Qahtani two minutes into the second half, while the hosts twice equalized on 45 and 79 minutes.

The Saudi team is playing in Group D alongside Uzbekistan, Kuwait — who will meet Saudi Arabia in the second round matches on Saturday — and Bangladesh, who they face on Nov. 2.

The non-hosting trio will be vying for the two qualification spots for the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup which will take place from Jan. 6 to 24 next year.


Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in
Updated 28 October 2021

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in

Koeman sacked as Barcelona coach with Xavi the favorite to come in
  • Koeman was dismissed after Barca was relegated to ninth place in La Liga after a loss to Rayo Vallecano
  • He spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend

MADRID: Ronald Koeman has been sacked as coach of Barcelona, the club announced on Wednesday, with former midfielder Xavi Hernandez the favorite to replace him.
Koeman was dismissed after a 1-0 defeat by Rayo Vallecano left the team sitting ninth in La Liga.
Barca have won only two of their last seven league games under Koeman, a run that included losing to Real Madrid in Sunday’s Clasico at Camp Nou.
A poor start to the season has raised the possibility of the team failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, which would have enormous consequences for the club’s already dire financial situation.
Xavi, who is currently in charge of Qatari club Al Sadd, is considered Koeman’s most likely successor.
Barcelona B coach Sergi Barjuan could take charge of the first team on an interim basis, with games against Alaves, Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, and Celta Vigo to come before the next international break.
River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag have also been linked with Barcelona but might be reluctant to leave their respective posts mid-season.
A club statement released after midnight in Spain on Wednesday read: “FC Barcelona has relieved Ronald Koeman of his duties as first team coach.
“The president of the club, Joan Laporta, informed him of the decision after the defeat against Rayo Vallecano. Ronald Koeman will say goodbye to the squad on Thursday at the Ciutat Esportiva.
“FC Barcelona wishes to thank him for his service to the Club and wishes him all the best in his professional career.”
Koeman spent six years at Barcelona as a player and is considered a club legend after scoring the winning goal in the 1992 European Cup final against Sampdoria.
He was appointed coach by Barca’s previous president Josep Maria Bartomeu in August 2020 and enjoyed some success in his first season, winning the Copa del Rey and bringing a disillusioned Lionel Messi back onside.
But a disappointing finish in La Liga and a convincing defeat by Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League last 16 cast doubt over Koeman’s ability to navigate the biggest games, a criticism that was aimed at him again last weekend following the loss to Real Madrid.

Laporta was re-elected as president in March and while he allowed Koeman to continue as coach this season, there was never much trust between the pair.
Laporta told Koeman in the summer he wanted two weeks to look for a replacement while Koeman reacted badly last month to Laporta suggesting coaches do not have all the power.
“He spoke too much,” Koeman said.
No replacement was found or could be persuaded to take over, perhaps in part because of Barcelona’s perilous financial problems.
The club is 1.35 billion euros in debt and had to watch Messi join PSG in August after failing to renew the Argentinian’s contract.
Other key players like Antoine Griezmann also departed without being adequately replaced as Sergio Aguero and Memphis Depay both arrived on free transfers and Luuk de Jong came from Sevilla on loan.
“The team has lost balance in the squad, lost very effective players, which shows,” said Koeman after his last game in charge against Rayo. “In recent years other clubs have strengthened every season and we haven’t, which also shows.”
Koeman’s honest approach was largely accepted and even appreciated last season but his downbeat assessment of his squad this term was seen by many as counter-productive and not befitting of a Barcelona coach.
Youngsters like Pedri, Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Sergino Dest and Ronald Araujo have all benefitted from Koeman’s faith but more established players have suffered a drop in form.
Frenkie de Jong, who knew Koeman from his time in charge of the Dutch national team, has endured a particularly disappointing few weeks.
There was criticism of Koeman’s style of play, which became increasingly direct, while the board were reportedly irritated by his straying from the club’s traditions of playing 4-3-3.
But results were the key factor, as consecutive 3-0 defeats by Bayern Munich and Benfica in the Champions League were followed by losses against both Atletico and Real Madrid in the league.
Laporta said before the international break Koeman “deserved the benefit of the doubt,” moving to end speculation that he would lose his job after the defeat by Atletico.
But faced with an early exit in the Champions League and the possibility of failing to make the top four in La Liga, Laporta, who was at Vallecas on Wednesday night, decided to act.


Falcao rolls back the years to pile on misery for Barcelona

Falcao rolls back the years to pile on misery for Barcelona
Updated 27 October 2021

Falcao rolls back the years to pile on misery for Barcelona

Falcao rolls back the years to pile on misery for Barcelona
  • Memphis Depay missed a penalty in the second half at a bouncing Vallecas
  • Falcao continues to roll back the years at Rayo, this his fourth goal in six games for his new club

VALLECAS, Spain: Radamel Falcao’s remarkable return to La Liga took its most dramatic twist yet on Wednesday as the 35-year-old fired Rayo Vallecano to a surprise 1-0 victory over Barcelona in La Liga.
Memphis Depay missed a penalty in the second half at a bouncing Vallecas as Barca’s miserable start to the season under Ronald Koeman took another turn for the worse.
Falcao continues to roll back the years at Rayo, this his fourth goal in six games for his new club and surely the sweetest, coming against Barca, whom he last scored against in 2013.
After losing the Clasico at home to Real Madrid on Sunday, Barcelona now sit ninth in La Liga, six points off the top and, most concerningly for the board, the gap growing between them and the top four.
Barca president Joan Laporta was squeezed in among the home crowd and cannot have been impressed by another limp display that hardly suggested this team’s form is about to improve.
Rayo stay above Barca, and only two points off fourth, maintaining their perfect record at home this term with a fifth win out of five.
Falcao joined on a free transfer in the summer and after shirts with his name on the back sold out, he has so far lived up to the hype.
Only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have better goals per game ratios in La Liga than Falcao, who replaced Sergio Aguero at Atletico Madrid in 2011 after the Argentinian left for Manchester City and now faced him again.
The last time Aguero and Falcao were on the same pitch together they scored two goals each in a 5-3 win for Manchester City against Monaco, but this was Falcao’s night.
At 35 years and 220 days, he is the oldest player to score four or more goals in his first six games for the same club in La Liga this century.
Aguero was making his first start for Barca on the back of his first goal for the club against Madrid and he was sent through early on by Nico Gonzalez, only to topple over without enough contact for a penalty.
Falcao went closest for Rayo too in the 19th minute as a deflected shot from the edge of the area dipped just wide of the post but the Colombian was more precise for the opener.
Sergio Busquets was at fault for the goal, robbed of the ball in midfield and giving Oscar Trejo the opportunity to free Falcao, who looked to have let the moment pass, only to twist past Gerard Pique and finish into the far corner.
Barcelona had been sloppy, with Philippe Coutinho and Depay particularly wasteful in possession, but they should have levelled when Depay’s cross found Sergino Dest six yards out but he ballooned over.
Dest missed a similar chance in the Clasico on Sunday.
Rayo came under pressure in the second half. Nico fired wide and then Aguero blasted just past the post. Coutinho skewed a close-range finish after some quick footwork from Busquets.
With 20 minutes to go, it looked like Barca finally had the breakthrough as Depay had the back of his leg clipped by Oscar Valentin.
Depay put the ball under his arm, despite interest from Aguero, but Marko Dmitrovic dived the right way and pushed away the shot.
Barca squandered more chances late on.
Aguero missed after being allowed to stroll through when the Rayo defense thought the flag had gone up.
Luuk de Jong miscued an attempted lob and Gavi mishit a simple finish in injury-time.