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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Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
Updated 19 April 2021

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain

Mo Salah announced as new Egypt captain
  • National team head coach Hossam El-Badry has named Mohamed Salah the new captain of Egypt
  • El-Badry said it was vital to introduce more stability to the national team squad, including on the leadership side

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah has been announced as the new captain of Egypt’s national team by head coach Hossam El-Badry.

The news was posted in a statement on the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) Facebook page. Senior players in the Egypt squad were asked about the decision and gave their full support.

El-Badry said that it was “vital to introduce more stability” to the national team, including on the leadership side.

He added that the main goal for EFA technical teams in the coming months is to ensure that Egypt qualifies for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Salah has been one of Liverpool’s most succesful players since joining in summer 2017. He helped the club secure a sixth Champions League title by scoring the opening goal in the final against Tottenham in 2019.

A year later, he played a key role in the team that won Liverpool’s first English Premier League title in 30 years.

The 28-year-old forward, who has also represented Arab Contractors, Basel, Chelsea, Fiorentina and Roma, helped Egypt qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the country’s first appearance in the competition since 1990.

An infamous shoulder injury in the 2018 Champions League Final against Real Madrid, however, meant that he only played a peripheral role when the World Cup began in Russia. Despite lacking fitness and form, he managed to score Egypt’s only two goals in a disappointing tournament for the African nation.


Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss
Updated 19 April 2021

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss

Mahdi Ali praises Al-Hilal after his injury-hit Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai team suffered AFC Champions League loss
  • The Emirati club now finds itself at the bottom of Group A after two rounds of matches

DUBAI: Shabab Al-Ahli coach Mahdi Ali has blamed his team’s long list of absentees for the 3-1 defeat to Al-Hilal, at the same time giving credit to the Saudi team and promising that he and his players will be doing their best to turn around their fortunes in the remaining AFC Champions League group stage matches.

Having drawn 0-0 in the opening match against Istiklol of Tajikistan, Shabab Al-Ahli was comfortably beaten by the Saudi champions at Prince Faisal bin Fahad Stadium in Riyadh and now finds itself bottom of Group A.

"I congratulate Al-Hilal, who played a good match and deserved to win,” Mahdi Ali said.

“For us, we were missing a number of players due to injuries, and we also suffered from a lot of intercepted passes, which made things more difficult for us."

“This is football and we hope that we will make up for that in the next match,” he added.

“We had the desire to compensate and we continued to try until the final minutes, when we wasted two chances. We suffered physically because the team has played a large number of domestic matches over the last month, as we are competing in many competitions, and we were also affected by the circumstances of the month of Ramadan.”

“We must put this match behind us and start thinking about the next one, as our chances (of qualification to the next round) are still alive with four matches remaining for the team, but we must work to avoid the mistakes that happened in the match.”

The third round of group stage matches will be played on Wednesday, when the Shabab Al-Ahli will meet with AGMK of Uzbekistan, while Al-Hilal will take on Istiklol.

On Thursday, the first round had seen Al-Hilal draw 2-2 with AGMK while Istiklol played out a stalemate with Shabab Al-Ahli.

Only the top team from each group is guaranteed progress to the knock-out stages, with the six second-placed teams with the best records joining them.


Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
Updated 19 April 2021

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho

Tottenham fires manager Jose Mourinho
  • Mourinho took over in November 2019
  • His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday

LONDON: Tottenham has fired manager Jose Mourinho, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Monday.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public by Tottenham.
Mourinho took over in November 2019. His firing comes with seventh-place Tottenham outside the Champions League places but with a League Cup final against Manchester City on Sunday.


5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
Updated 19 April 2021

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage

5 talking points from Saudi clubs’ return to form in AFC Champions League group stage
  • Second round of matches sees wins for Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr while Al-Ahli recover from mauling to claim first point

RIYADH: Two down and four to go. The group stage of the AFC Champions League is starting to take shape and already there are teams that have an awful lot to do if they are to maintain their presence in the tournament going into the knockout stage.

Some are looking good and the feeling around the Al-Nassr camp has improved massively after a 3-1 win over Al-Sadd, one of the favorites for the competition. Al-Hilal collected three points with a comfortable 2-0 win over Shabab Al-Ahli while Al-Ahli bounced back from their opening game mauling to take a 1-1 draw with Al-Duhail.

Here are five things we learned from the second round of matches.

1. Menezes gives Xavi a coaching lesson

Al-Sadd had not lost for 24 games heading into the clash with Al-Nassr. They won the Qatar Stars League without losing a game and with a goal difference of plus 63, which is incredible enough, but when the season is just 22 games long it really is something special. Yet Al-Nassr fully deserved to win.

Abderrazak Hamdallah scored the opening goal from the spot, but after Santi Cazorla equalized on the hour, the Saudi team’s players kept their nerve, their shape, and their discipline and hit the erratic Qatari team on the counter thanks to the intelligent movement and hard work of their forward line.

With the help of two well-timed substitutions, it was a strategy that bore fruit and two goals followed that put the hosts in with a great chance of the second round.

Al-Nassr coach Mano Menezes has not had much time to work with the players but on this performance, there should be more to come even if fans should not get carried away by being the first team to defeat Al-Sadd this year.

2. Al-Breik stars for clinical Al-Hilal

After a somewhat disappointing opening game, Al-Hilal stepped it up a level against Shabab Al-Ahli.

Star foreign players Bafetimbi Gomis and Andre Carrillo grabbed the headlines with their very well-taken goals in the first half but Mohammed Al-Breik deserves plenty of credit. The Saudi international created both in a perfect example of how a right-back should get forward in the modern game.

The first was a delicious cross that was whipped in behind the Dubai team’s defense with Gomis on hand to sweep home from close range. The second came from deeper but found Carrillo in space just inside the area and the Peruvian international made no mistake with a fine swivel and shot. Both goals were easy on the eye and the defender played a huge part.

3. Al-Owais, Al-Somah give Al-Ahli hope

After seven straight defeats, a 1-1 draw will lift some of the gloom surrounding the Jeddah club. It was snatched in the final minutes against Al-Duhail who had largely dominated proceedings.

The Qataris struggled however to find a way past Mohammed Al-Owais. The goalkeeper dealt with everything that was thrown at him to keep the score line down to a minimum. Shot after shot came in and there he was tipping deflections over the bar and getting down well to push headers around the foot of the post.

It was due to such heroics that Omar Al-Somah’s last-gasp goal, which came after an overhead kick assist from defender Motaz Hawsawi, earned a much-needed point to break that dismal losing streak.

4. Strikers come to the fore

It may well be that none of the Saudi teams are firing on all cylinders at the moment, but it will be pleasing to fans that their star strikers have all scored already.

If Al-Hilal are going to go all the way and get a record fourth title, then they are going to need the goals of Gomis, and the French forward is looking hungry and dangerous.

Hamdallah was one of the stars of the 2020 tournament and while the Moroccan has not looked as lethal this year, to get on the scoresheet will be an immense relief for both player and coach. Al-Nassr need him if they are to get out of a difficult group.

And then there is Al-Somah. There has been a lot written about the Syrian striker this season but whatever has happened behind the scenes, three goals in two games speaks for itself. If one of the best strikers in Asia continues to score, then Al-Ahli have a chance.

5. Next comes the crunch

The next two games can make or break a team’s chances as they come against the same opposition. Al-Nassr are level on four points with Foolad of Iran. If the Riyadh giants can come out on top over these back-to-back clashes, then they really can start to think about the next stage.

Al-Hilal take on Tajikistan powerhouse Istiklol who are going to make things very tough. The new boys in the competition have also managed four points from the opening two games thanks to some solid defending. Al-Hilal have the firepower however and can take control of the group.

And as for Al-Ahli, there are twin games with Al-Shorta of Iraq. These will not be easy, even if Al-Shorta are regarded as the weakest team in the group, but they do offer a perfect chance to pick up a win and start challenging at the top of the table.


European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
Updated 19 April 2021

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League

European soccer split as 12 clubs launch breakaway Super League
  • Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the Super League
  • UEFA has threatened to bar from any competition clubs who join the breakaway league

LONDON: A group of 12 elite English, Spanish and Italian clubs dramatically split European soccer on Sunday by announcing the formation of a largely-closed Super League. They are leaving the existing UEFA-run Champions League structure despite warnings they could be kicked out of their domestic competitions and face legal action.
The seismic move to shake up the world’s biggest sport is partly engineered by the American owners of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United who also run US franchises in closed leagues — a model they are trying to replicate in Europe.
The power-play came after the rebel clubs reneged on a promise on Friday to back the plan by UEFA — European football’s governing body — to expand the Champions League beginning in 2024. The deal was designed to appease their wishes for more games, seemingly because they couldn’t control the sale of rights to the existing competition.
The Super League plan was first leaked in January but re-emerged this weekend.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez would be the founding chairman of the SL, which said it “intended to commence as soon as practicable” as a 20-team competition playing in midweek like the current Champions League and Europa League.
“We will help football at every level and take it to its rightful place in the world,” Perez said in a statement. “Football is the only global sport in the world with more than four billion fans and our responsibility as big clubs is to respond to their desires.”
No evidence was presented that supporters want a Super League. Fan groups across Europe last week criticized even the current Champions League expansion plan as a “power grab.”
Only 12 clubs have signed up for now — with none from France or Germany — but the SL hopes for three more as permanent members. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are the other founding members, along with Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan. Five slots would be left open to be determined each year based on the previous season’s results.
UEFA warned clubs that joining the “cynical project” based on self-interest would see them banned from playing in any other competition — domestic, European or global. It said their players could be denied the opportunity to represent their national teams.
The statement was issued jointly with the leagues and national governing bodies from England, Spain and Italy.
England has the most clubs with the six including Chelsea and Manchester City, who are due to contest a Champions League semifinals this month. Also included is Tottenham, which is outside of the Premier League’s top four to qualify for the Champions League next season,
“By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid,” said Joel Glazer, co-owner of Manchester United and SL vice chairman.
Another vice chairman of the new competition would be Andrea Agenlli who on Sunday night quit his role as chairman of the European Club Association, which was working with UEFA on enlarging the Champions League to 36 teams. Agenlli also resigned as a member of the executive committee of UEFA — rupturing his previously-close friendship with the governing body’s president, Aleksander Ceferin.
The UEFA leader has been determined not to grant more control of the sale of television and commercial rights to the clubs.
“We have come together at this critical moment,” Agnelli said, “enabling European competition to be transformed, putting the game we love on a sustainable footing for the long-term future, substantially increasing solidarity, and giving fans and amateur players a regular flow of headline fixtures.”
The rebel clubs are all members of the ECA which has a working agreement with UEFA, signed in 2019, which commits all its members to take part in and respect the Champions League and other European competitions through the 2023-24 season.
While FIFA issued a statement in January warning that players in a Super League could be banned from the World Cup, the world governing body has not denied that its president, Gianni Infantino, has been involved in the breakaway talks with officials, including Real Madrid’s Perez.
“FIFA can only express its disapproval to a ‘closed European breakaway league’ outside of the international football structures,” the world body said in a statement on Sunday while not answering questions about any role by Infantino.
The Premier League said the Super League would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” by going against the principles of open competition. There was even an intervention by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who warned that a Super League would be “very damaging.”
The Super League confirmed on Sunday that each of the 15 founding members would get a share of at least 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) in initial infrastructure grants.
The AP previously reported that this money would be split among four tiers of clubs, with the top six each getting 350 million euros ($420 million). The competition would begin with two groups of 10 teams, with the top three from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. The teams finishing fourth and fifth would be involved in a playoff to complete the last-eight lineup. The knockout phase would still feature two-legged quarterfinals and semifinals before a single fixture final.
The previously-reported Super League proposal hoped to generate 4 billion euros ($4.86 billion) annually from broadcasters.
In comparison, UEFA said the total commercial revenue was 3.25 billion euros ($3.9 billion) for each of the past three seasons from selling the rights to the Champions League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup.
For the 2021-24 sales cycle, UEFA is expected to sell around $14 billion in broadcast and sponsor deals for its club competitions, which includes the new third-tier Europa Conference League.
Those sales were completed worldwide on the legal commitment of top clubs to play according to the UEFA-ECA accord. Any breach of the cooperation deal would likely lead to legal threats and suits.
“We will consider all measures available to us, at all levels, both judicial and sporting in order to prevent this happening,” UEFA said of the Super League. “Football is based on open competitions and sporting merit; it cannot be any other way.”