Catie Munnings embracing Extreme E’s electric racing as she plots path to glory in AlUla desert

Catie Munnings embracing Extreme E’s electric racing as she plots path to glory in AlUla desert
Catie Munnings will be racing for Andretti United Extreme E at the new rally series' inaugural race taking place at AlUla, Saudi Arabia. (Charly Lopez/Extreme E)
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Updated 30 March 2021

Catie Munnings embracing Extreme E’s electric racing as she plots path to glory in AlUla desert

Catie Munnings embracing Extreme E’s electric racing as she plots path to glory in AlUla desert
  • The British driver and her Swedish team-mate will be representing Andretti United Extreme E at the first of five global races in the new rally series

DUBAI: Few drivers speak as eloquently and passionately about rally driving as Catie Munnings does. And few drivers have achieved so much in such a short career.

As an 18-year-old, the daughter of former rally driver Chris Munnings won the 2016 FIA European Rally Championship Ladies Trophy and now competes in the European Rally Championship for the Saintéloc Junior Team.

Up next, another first in the world of motorsports.

On Friday, Munnings and her Andretti United Extreme E co-driver Timmy Hansen will take part in the Desert X Prix across the AlUla desert, the first ever race in the new electric vehicle-only series by Extreme E.

“It’s the first time Timmy and I are racing with an electric vehicle,” she said. “It’s designed like a race car and handles like one. Both of us jumped in and absolutely loved it. It’s drivability is so great, it performs and it’s predictable in its handling, which is important when we’re not getting much seat time before the races.”

Saturday, April 3 will see the qualification rounds between the nine teams, while the final race takes place the following day. For Munnings, brought up on combustion engine cars, one of the big positives is the constant power the electric SUV provides.

“It’s got instant torque all the time, it’s not like gears where you have different measure of torque coming out of the corners based on the speed you’re travelling,” she said.

“It’s just instant wherever you are, as soon as you put your foot on the throttle you get that power. It’s pleasure to drive really, I always say that you can be quite lazy when you’re driving it, you haven’t got gears to worry about. It’s very forgiving from that sense.”

While the pandemic restrictions have somewhat disrupted their off-season preparations, Munnings and her Swedish team-mate felt that dwelling on recent obstacles serves little purpose and only promotes negative energy.

“We’ve been trying to control what we can, Timmy and I have been working very hard together in preparation for the race,” she said.

“I managed to get to Sweden to work with him for a while and we did some ice driving. It’s so much easier when you’re trying to discuss a race and go through the course maps when you’re with your team-mate in person.”

Racing in AlUla will be a first for Munnings and Hansen, though they have been doing their homework on the stunning landscape.

“I’ve never even been to Saudi, neither has Timmy, but I’ve had some conversation with Extreme E and people who have done the recces and they say it’s just mindblowingly beautiful,” she said.

“We were watching some drone footage and the proportions are so extreme. It hasn’t got anything you can compare to in normal life, there’s no buildings around there, there’s no traffic lights. It’s quite strange to see this desert with rocks and we’re going to create a race track out of that.

“It’s hard to get your spatial awareness from looking at photos. I’m sure it’s going to be a bit of shock when we go there, I’m sure it’ll be a lot steeper, with gradients that don’t come out in the pictures necessarily. I’m massively excited to see it.”

Extreme E’s five destinations will each highlight a different environmental issue, starting with Saudi Arabia and desertification, and moving on to the terrains of Senegal (rising sea levels), Greenland (melting ice cap), Amazon (deforestation) and Patagonia (glacial recession)

Munnings says that desert race is the ideal one to ease into before more trying environments later on.

“I’m really excited about going to Brazil and the Amazon rainforest, I think that’s going to be beautiful,” she said.

“Just ticking that off my bucket list. And Patagonia, the glacier sounds amazing, with the red rock that we’re racing on. There’re so many different surfaces throughout the year that require different driver skillsets. That’s the challenge for me.”

Almost inevitably, the proliferation of women drivers in motorsports is something that Munnings has to constantly address.

And while she looks forward to the day that female participation is no major longer news, she believes highlighting it at this stage is still necessary to attract aspiring female drivers.

“I remember when I was working with Susie Wolff and her ‘Dare to be Different’ campaign, and she said we need to get to the point where we’re not talking about it and it’s just happening and it’s natural,” said Munnings.

“But she said in order to get there we have to shine a light on it a lot more too. It’s more to just encourage women into the sport, to say there’s an opportunity here.”

In that regard, she describes the steps taken in Extreme E as “absolutely amazing.”

“It’s not just about putting women in championships and saying there’ll be a ladie’s trophy,” Munnings said.

“I’ve been in teams where its happened you know, I’ll be at the front doing media interviews and my [male counterpart] will be doing all the testing behind, because it’s a bit of phenomenon to have a female in the team. Now, for us to be counting as one result, the male’s time is just as important as the female’s. The female’s speed has to be there. So teams are picking girls with that in mind, it’s not just a PR stunt. It raises the credibility of females as racers.”

“Hopefully towards the end of the season it is just driver ‘A’ racing driver ‘B’ and we’re not talking about the women and how they’re racing against the men,” she added.

“It will just merge into one and be very inclusive which I think will be very cool to see.”

Munnings is in little doubt that electric racing, across different categories, will continue to grow in the coming years.

“The reason we have motorsports is that manufacturers sell road cars and this is sort of advertising for that in many senses,” she said.

“And the fact is that all manufacturers are going in the electric direction, they’ve put bans in the UK for having combustion engines. There is cut off points, it is going that way.

“There won’t be combustion championships in the future, which is sad,” Munnings concedes.

“I’m the first to admit that I’m a petrol head. I love standing in the forest and hearing a car go past me and feeling the ground rumble. The next generation will be just as excited by the electric racing. It’s a transition for us, and yes, the noise is going, but in so many senses we’ve got so much potential with the electric cars. We can be faster, we’re already seeing it with these Extreme E cars, what they’re capable of. And driving them as well, I can definitely say that they’re not going to disappoint.”

Having tried out the Extreme E’s electric SUVs, she is confident they will not disappoint. And with the restrictive pandemic lockdowns having had the unintended positive consequences of a drop in pollution levels, Munnings believes it is the is the ideal time to embrace the age of electric motorsports and sustainable racing.

“Timmy summed it up nicely, he was talking about rallycross the other day, and he said we might be going electric but don’t forget we’re still going to have the world class racing, there will still be contact, everything that you love about the sport will still be there,” she said.

“It is nice to be involved in the electric movement from the beginning in season one of Extreme E. It is inevitably the way the world will move forward and it seems like the right time to be thinking about our impact and where we’re going." 

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Dubai Racing Club announces new races for 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival

Dubai Racing Club announces new races for 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival
Updated 17 September 2021

Dubai Racing Club announces new races for 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival

Dubai Racing Club announces new races for 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival
  • Additions increase total prize money for horseracing season to more than $40m

DUBAI: Dubai Racing Club has announced an enhanced calendar for the 2021-22 season and 2022 Dubai World Cup Carnival which will now include a four-race Jumeirah Series on turf launched for the Classic generation, plus a new race for Super Saturday next year, Emirates News Agency WAM reported.

The announcement was made under the directives of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai.

The addition of new races increases the total prize money for the racing season to more than $40 million.

Sheikh Rashid bin Dalmook, chairman of Dubai Racing Club, said: “The introduction of new races within the framework of the Dubai World Cup Carnival is part of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s efforts to continually improve Dubai’s equestrian offering and also to support racing both within the UAE and overseas.”

The Dubai World Cup Carnival, which begins on Jan. 13 at Meydan Racecourse, has added several more races to its calendar. The popular Super Saturday card, sponsored by Emirates airline and scheduled for March 5, will welcome the addition of a new race in the form of the $300,000 Ras Al Khor over 1,400 meters on turf.

Sheikh Rashid added: “The 1,400 meters or seven furlongs is one of the most popular distances in thoroughbred racing, yet it has very few high-valued feature events run over the trip. We believe the Ras Al Khor will eventually become a global fixture that will be promoted to our Dubai World Cup meeting.

“Moreover, the Classic generation are well catered for on both turf and dirt in the upcoming season. Longstanding three-year-old dirt events such as the UAE 2000 Guineas, Al-Bastikaya, and the UAE Derby have all been given prize money increases.

“We have also introduced the Jumeirah Series of turf races which is a significant addition to the program. The series features the $150,000 Jumeirah Classic Trial over 1,400 meters, the $75,000 Jumeirah Derby Trial over 1,800 meters, the $150,000 Jumeirah Classic over 1,600 meters, and the $200,000 Jumeirah Derby over 2000 meters.”

Meanwhile, the prize money for the Dubai World Cup, which includes a card of six Group 1 and three Group 2 contests, has been enhanced to a value of $30.5 million. Due to take place on Saturday, March 26, all races will be run for at least $1 million.

Dubai Racing Club also announced that the Longines Dubai Sheema Classic will have a $6 million purse, moving it back to its pre-coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic value. The Group 1 Dubai Turf, sponsored by DP World, is being increased to $5 million, while the flagship event – the Dubai World Cup, sponsored by Emirates airline – is maintaining the highest purse of the night at $12 million.


Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw
Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw

Saudi clubs kept apart in AFC Champions League quarter-final draw
  • Al-Hilal face Iran’s Persepolis and Al-Nassr take on UAE’s Al-Wahda in the last eight

The road to an all Saudi Arabian semi-final in the AFC Champions League was left wide open as Riyadh rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr avoided each other in Friday’s draw for the quarter-finals.

Al-Hilal face Iranian giants Persepolis, while their neighbours play Al-Wahda of the UAE on Oct. 16.

In the eastern zone (the tournament is divided into two until the final) there is an all South Korean affair between defending champions Ulsan Horang-I and Jeonbuk Motors and a meeting between Pohang Steelers, also South Korean, and Nagoya Grampus of Japan.

Saudi Arabian fans will be thinking about a potentially titanic semi-final clash. Both teams would be favourites to win their quarter-final ties even if they were in the usual two-legged format. With the global pandemic however, the remaining ties will be single-game affairs and in the western zone they will all take place in Riyadh. There will never be a better chance of seeing Saudi hands on the trophy on Nov 23.

Al-Nassr will be especially happy, on paper at least, at meeting the weakest team in their half of the draw. After losing to Persepolis on penalties in the semi-final last year, there may have been some thoughts of revenge but the Iranian giants are a tough nut to crack. Al-Hilal know that, too, but have happier recent memories with a 6-2 aggregate win over the Reds in the 2017 semi-final.

October’s meeting should be just as memorable, however, and fit for any final. With the Asian Football Confederation suggesting that fans will be back in the stadiums for the quarter-finals, it should be quite an atmosphere. The one regret is that the Riyadh club will not be able to go to Tehran for the second leg with 100,000 fans in attendance at the legendary Azadi Stadium. Just having one game to play at home may increase Al-Hilal’s chances of progressing but the players are missing out on an incredible football experience.

Persepolis, bitter rivals of Esteghlal, the team Al-Hilal defeated 2-0 on Monday, will be hard to beat. The Reds have won the last five Iranian league titles, reached two of the last three Champions League finals and conceded just 14 goals last season. However, October’s match could favour Al-Hilal’s as the new Iranian season is yet to start and Persepolis may be a little rusty.

If that quarter-final is between Asian royalty, the other in the western zone is between two teams that have yet to be champions. The best Al-Nassr have managed is a runners-up spot in 1995 with Al-Wahda making the last four back in 2007. The Saudi side will be strong favourites against a team that finished mid-table in the UAE Pro League last year and have not set this tournament alight — so far at least. Al-Nassr have some of the best attacking talent in Asia and if coach Mano Menezes can get the team playing to its potential, then Henk ten Cate, his opposite number at Al-Wahda, will find it very difficult indeed.

Looking to the final and the likely Eastern zone opposition, many believe the winner of the Ulsan-Jeonbuk tie will make it through. Ulsan are the defending champions, on top of the K-League and a well-balanced outfit with a pleasing mixture of talented veterans and exciting youngsters. Jeonbuk, winners in 2006 and 2016, have lifted the K-League title in six of the past seven years and are still very much in this year’s race.

Pohang Steelers have, like Al-Hilal, three continental championships sitting in their trophy cabinet and would love to make it a record four. Unlike the Korean trio, with seven titles between them, Nagoya have yet to triumph in Asia. Hard to beat with a fine defence and an Australian goalkeeper in Mitch Langerak who breaks clean sheet records on a regular basis, they should not be underestimated in a knock-out format.


Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings
Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings

Saudi Arabia rise to 56th in latest FIFA World Men’s Rankings
  • Herve Renard’s team is now the fifth highest among AFC nations and second highest among Asia’s Arab teams

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia have risen to 56th position in the latest FIFA Men’s Rankings after a perfect start to their 2022 World Cup qualification campaign.

September’s wins over Vietnam (3-1) and Oman (1-0) in the final round of the Asian Qualifiers have helped Herve Renard’s team from the Kingdom add 20.31 coefficient points to now rank as the fifth best of the Asian Football Confederation member nations behind Iran (22), Japan (26), Australia (32), Korea (36) and Qatar (43).

It also means that Saudi Arabia are the second-highest among Asia’s Arab contingent behind Qatar, with the UAE, 69th overall, in third.

Of the other Arab nations in the AFC, Iraq are 72nd, Oman 78th, Syria 81st, and Bahrain 91st.

Among the Arab nations in Africa, Tunisia are 25th in the FIFA rankings, ahead of Algeria (30), Morocco (33) and Egypt (48).

Globally, Belgium head the rankings and are followed by Brazil, England, France and Italy in the top five.


Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
Updated 17 September 2021

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship

Saudi Arabia overcome Thailand at 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship
  • 2-1 win puts Kingdom’s team in semifinals of section to determine positions 9-12

RIYADH: The Saudi Arabian national team has beaten Thailand 2-1 to reach the semifinals of the section that will determine positions nine to 12 at the 2021 Asian Men’s Volleyball Championship in Tokyo.

The Kingdom’s team overcame their opponents (25-20, 20-25, 25-19) at the Funabashi Gymnasium in the Japanese capital on Friday morning to top Pool H, one of two pools that split from the top eight teams fighting for the championship after the initial group stages.

The semifinal will be played on Saturday.

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia beat Hong Kong 3-0 (25-12, 25-18, 25-19) and are now on a three-match winning run.

Previously, the Saudis had defeated Kazakhstan in straight sets (25-23, 25-21, 25-23) at Chiba Port Arena in the final Group D match, to leave them in third place in the table and heading into the round that will determine positions nine-16 in the tournament.

The Saudi players had lost in their other Group D matches to South Korea and Chinese Taipei. Finishing third meant that while the Saudi team was not among the final eight that could contest the championship, it still had a chance to finish highest in the final nine to 16. After their latest result, ninth place has edged closer while the lowest they can finish will be 12th.


FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
Updated 16 September 2021

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years

FIFA intensifies push to stage men’s World Cup every 2 years
  • In its latest survey, FIFA players all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period
  • Staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, says FIFA chief

GENEVA: FIFA intensified its push for hosting the men’s World Cup every two years on Thursday by garnering support from soccer fans around the world to help combat resistance from Europe and South America.
The latest public relations tactic came in the form of an online survey commissioned by FIFA. The Associated Press does not routinely report the claims of opinion polls conducted over the Internet.
FIFA claimed its findings from more than 15,000 respondents aged at least 18 identified in 23 countries showed “considerable differences between the so-called traditional markets and the developing football markets” and younger fans more enthusiastic than older ones.
A follow-up survey involving 100,000 people in more than 100 countries is now being done, FIFA said.
European soccer body UEFA and South American counterpart CONMEBOL oppose FIFA’s plan and have threatened to boycott additional World Cups. Europe and South America combine for 65 of the 211 FIFA members — fewer than the one-third total likely needed to block any proposal.
The governing bodies of the six continental soccer federations all stage their own championships, with Europe hosting its tournament every four years halfway between the World Cups. Adding an extra World Cup in every four-year cycle would likely cut into the European event’s revenue stream.
The women already have two major world tournaments in every four-year cycle because the top teams and best players compete at the Olympics as well as the Women’s World Cup.
FIFA’s latest survey follows one week after it hosted about 80 former international players, including several World Cup winners, for a two-day meeting in Qatar — the 2022 World Cup host country.
The players reported they all agreed it was a good idea to double the number of men’s World Cups in each four-year period.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino believes staging more tournaments would increase opportunities and enthusiasm in most of the 211 member countries, many of which never qualify to play at the World Cup.
Expanding the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 starting at the 2026 tournament in North America was one of the biggest early decisions of Infantino’s presidency, which began in 2016. FIFA also wants to distribute extra World Cup revenue to improve talent development and help national teams globally close the gap on Europe.
European teams have won the past four World Cups and filled 13 of the 16 semifinal slots. The other three semifinalists from 2006-18 were from South America.
The UEFA-backed Football Supporters Europe group also opposed the biennial World Cup plan, claiming it would distort the balance between domestic and international soccer, and club and national teams.
Global players’ union FIFPRO has also warned of burnout in the increasingly congested soccer schedule.