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)
Short Url
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." 

Saudi Arabia's heritage treasures
The five historic sites inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List tell a story of universal importance



Yas Links to host Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for first time

Updated 17 sec ago

Yas Links to host Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for first time

Yas Links to host Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for first time
  • The event was launched in 2006 and has been held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club ever since

ABU DHABI: Yas Links is set to host the 17th edition of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the first time ever from Jan. 20-23, 2022.

The European Tour has confirmed that the opening tournament of the 2022 Race to Dubai season will get underway with a Rolex Series event at the course, which is owned by Aldar and managed by Troon. The event was launched in 2006, and has been held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club ever since.

“I am very proud of our team who have been hard at work over the past two years to successfully deliver a series of extensive on-course improvements at Yas Links Abu Dhabi,” Mark Chapleski, president of Troon International, said in a statement.

“As the first true links style course in the Middle East, its current playability is second to none, and this is recognised globally thanks to its top 50 ranking on Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses in the world, “ he added.

“The course’s signature finishing holes on 16, 17 and 18 are regarded as one of the toughest trios in the UAE with the mangroves looming down the left of all three, and it will be fascinating to see how the pros approach them in January next year.”

News of Yas Links Abu Dhabi’s addition to the European Tour schedule from 2022 onward follows confirmation from the UAE authorities that people traveling to the emirate no longer need to show a negative COVID-19 test result to cross the border into the capital from Dubai.

With the authorities confirming that the COVID-19 infection rate in the emirate was just 0.2 percent of all recorded tests in September 2021, and with cases continuing to fall in October, Abu Dhabi is expecting visitor numbers to increase significantly.

Yas Links Abu Dhabi will offer first-class hospitality and entertainment activities for fans beyond the golf course itself, which was designed by Kyle Phillips and recently voted No. 1 in the region.

“The build up to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is always very exciting, but 2022 will be even more special with a brand-new venue for us to sink our teeth into,” Yas Links Abu Dhabi Golf Course Manager Corey Finn said in a statement.

“Many of the European and PGA Tour players will kick-start their competitive year in Abu Dhabi hoping to tame our notoriously tricky coastal course,” he added.

“Working closely with the European Tour creates a special environment and this will be no different in terms of working with a new team at Yas Links Abu Dhabi, as we are all working towards the same goal; making the 2022 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship even bigger and better than what’s come before.”

Tyrell Hatton will need to produce another dominant performance at Yas Links Abu Dhabi if he is going to secure back-to-back titles.

In January 2021, the Englishman claimed the title after going toe-to-toe with four-time Major winner and Ryder Cup teammate Rory McIlroy throughout the week, eventually finishing four shots clear of a strong field to kick-start his year.

Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup

Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup
Updated 19 October 2021

Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup

Ireland thrashes Netherlands in T20 World Cup
  • Fast bowler Curtis Campher takes four wickets in four balls
  • He is just the second player with a hat-trick in the men’s T20 World Cup

ABU DHABI: Fast bowler Curtis Campher took four wickets in four balls to help Ireland thrash Netherlands by seven wickets in a first round match of the Twenty20 World Cup on Monday.
Campher took a hat-trick and then struck again to return figures of 4-26 as Netherlands were dismissed for 106 in the Group A opener in Abu Dhabi.
In reply, Ireland lost two early wickets but veteran opener Paul Stirling, who made an unbeaten 30, and Gareth Delany, who scored 44, put on 59 runs for the third wicket to ease into their chase.
Ireland achieved their target with 4.5 overs to spare as Campher hit the winning runs for his team’s first win over the Netherlands in a World Cup.
“(We wanted) just to attack the stumps as much as possible and, obviously, with Curtis’ four-wicket over he did exactly that,” skipper Andy Balbirnie said after the win.
“We’ve had a slow but good build-up, I think we’re peaking at the right time.”
Campher became only the third bowler in T20 International history to claim four wickets in four balls after Afghanistan’s Rashid Khan and Lasith Malinga of Sri Lanka in 2019.
Campher sent back Colin Ackermann (11), Ryan ten Doeschate (0) and Scott Edwards (0) for a hat-trick and then bowled Roelof van der Merwe (0) in a sensational over.
The Johannesburg-born Campher is also just the second player with a hat-trick in the men’s T20 World Cup after Australia fast bowler Brett Lee, who achieved the feat against Bangladesh in the inaugural edition in 2007.
Campher, 22, had a T20 best of 3-19 from his previous four matches since making his debut in August against Zimbabwe in Dublin.
He switched ends in the match on Monday and got instant success after Ireland reviewed a caught behind for Ackermann with the ultra edge technology showing a spike when the ball passed the batsman’s gloves.
Technology helped Campher once again on the hat-trick ball when Edwards was given not out for an lbw call by the on-field official but replays suggested the ball would have hit the leg stump.
Earlier this season, Campher underwent ankle surgery.
“I didn’t feel the best, coming back from injury,” he said.
“First over didn’t go as planned but Bal (Balbirnie) kept faith with me.”
Skipper Pieter Seelaar scored 21 to take Netherlands past the 100-run mark before quick bowler Mark Adair ran through the tail to return impressive figures of 3-9 — Ireland’s most economical bowling ever in T20 World Cup.
Sri Lanka, the 2014 champions, face Namibia later Monday in the second fixture in Group A.


English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners

English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners
Updated 19 October 2021

English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners

English Premier League block on club sponsor deals linked to owners
  • Newcastle was joined by Manchester City in resisting the move, which passed with 18 votes in favor

English Premier League clubs moved on Monday to prevent Newcastle immediately striking lucrative sponsorship deals with companies linked to its new Saudi ownership.
Clubs held an emergency meeting to impose a freeze on any of them agreeing to commercial arrangements with businesses their owners are associated with, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to confirm details of a report published by The Guardian late Monday.
Newcastle was joined by Manchester City in resisting the move to prohibit clubs agreeing to related-party transactions, the person said.
But it passed with 18 votes in favor as Newcastle opposed and City abstained after it questioned the legality of the ban, another person said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a private meeting.
Since being bought by Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mansour in 2008, City has amassed sponsorships from companies linked to the emirate with Etihad Airways having the naming rights to the stadium and appearing on team jerseys. City has insisted they are paying fair market value rather than inflated fees for sponsorship to provide revenue to allow the club to comply with financial regulations.
Premier League rivals are worried Newcastle will use friendly sponsorship deals with related parties to help it comply with financial fair play rules that are in place to prevent rich clubs from spending unchecked. Under league rules, clubs are allowed to make losses of 105 million pounds ($144 million) over a rolling three-year period.


Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case

Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case
Updated 18 October 2021

Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case

Real Madrid star Benzema goes on trial in sextape case
  • Benzema, 33, stands accused of helping a group of alleged blackmailers to approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money
  • The case centres on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago

VERSAILLES, France: Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema goes on trial in France on Wednesday accused of complicity in the attempted blackmail of former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena in a case known as the “sextape affair.”
Benzema, 33, stands accused of helping a group of alleged blackmailers to approach Valbuena in an attempt to extort money. Four other men are also on trial.
The case cost both Benzema and 37-year-old Valbuena their place in the French national team, although Benzema was restored to the lineup for this year’s European championship.
The case centers on the role that Benzema is suspected of playing in the murky affair six years ago, which started when Valbuena handed his smartphone to Axel Angot, a man connected to footballing circles in the southern port city of Marseille, with the request to transfer its contents to a new device.
Angot, now on trial for breach of trust, came across sexually explicit footage on the phone involving Valbuena.
Prosecutors say he then explored ways — together with a friend, Mustapha Zouaoui — to approach Valbuena and threaten publication of the footage unless he paid them.
Valbuena received several calls in June 2015 threatening exposure of the footage, which he reported to police.
The blackmailers then went to former French international Djibril Cisse, who refused to act as their messenger, instead warning Valbuena of what was brewing.
Cisse, who played for Premier League club Liverpool during his career, was initially charged in the case, but later cleared.
What followed is an imbroglio involving several shadowy middlemen, one of whom turned out to be an undercover agent called “Luka” placed by police who were trying to get proof before taking action against the protagonists.
Eventually the presumed blackmailers went to one of Benzema’s old friends, Karim Zenati, who prosecutors say enlisted Benzema’s help to reach Valbuena.
On Oct 6, 2015, Benzema went to see Valbuena in his room at the French national team’s training center at Clairefontaine, west of Paris.
He told his teammate that he could introduce him to a “trustworthy person” to help him “manage” the possible publication of a compromising video.
In what Benzema later claimed was an attempt to help his teammate out of a difficult situation, he told him: “Be careful ‘Math’, these are very, very heavy criminals.”
Benzema then called his childhood friend Karim Zenati, who was by then acting as an intermediary for the alleged blackmailers and told him in a conversation wiretapped by police: “He’s not taking us seriously.”
Prosecutors say that the word “us” proves that Benzema saw himself as part of the blackmail scheme.
Valbuena said later that the conversation left him with the feeling that he was “being played for a fool.”
“If he doesn’t want us to handle this for him, he’ll have to deal with the piranhas,” Zenati said, claiming later that all he wanted to do was alert Valbuena to the existence of the video.
Benzema replied that “they will piss on him,” and in a subsequent conversation referred to Valbuena with a derogatory term for a homosexual, which he said later was meant “in a friendly way.”
The maximum sentence for complicity in attempted blackmail is five years in prison and a fine of 70,000 euros ($81,000).
Benzema has argued that the undercover police officer used dishonest methods to draw him into the affair.
It was unclear on Monday whether the striker, who is scheduled to play for Real Madrid against Shakhtar Donetsk in a Champions League match in Ukraine on Tuesday, will attend the trial. His lawyers did not respond to AFP’s requests for clarification.
Valbuena, who now plays for Greek club Olympiakos, will be present, his lawyer said.
The sextape case caused Benzema to be exiled from France’s national football team for years — a decision he called ‘racist’ — but the striker returned to “Les Bleus” this year in time for the European championship.
France coach Didier Deschamps said this month that “he’s no longer the same person, he’s matured.”
Benzema has scored a total of 243 goals for Real and remains a key part of their side.

Five talking points ahead of all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr

Five talking points ahead of all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr
Updated 18 October 2021

Five talking points ahead of all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr

Five talking points ahead of all-Saudi AFC Champions League semifinal between Al-Hilal and Al-Nassr
  • Teams meet in the most high profile Riyadh Derby in years on Tuesday with a place in Asia’s premier club competition up for grabs against either Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Horang-i from South Korea

On Tuesday, Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal meet in the semifinal of the AFC Champions League in Riyadh. Thanks to the fallout from the coronavirus disease pandemic, the game will be a one-legged affair instead of the usual two legs. This means the last four tie will be over on the night, and with the final also being held in the capital next month (against Pohang Steelers or Ulsan Horang-i from South Korea), this is a great opportunity for the continental championship to return to Saudi Arabia.

Here are five talking points ahead of this eagerly-awaited game:

1. Al-Nassr need to beat history to beat Al-Hilal

While this is a first ever meeting in Asia, there have been a number of knockout clashes between the two rivals over the years and Al-Hilal have usually come out on top.

One of the biggest non-league meetings between these two teams came back in the final of the 2015 King’s Cup. On that June day, Riyadh decamped to Jeddah and there were more than 60,000 packed into the newly-built King Abdullah Sports City Stadium. 

It was a tense affair that ended goalless after 90 minutes. Early in extra-time, Mohammad Al-Sahlawi put Al-Nassr ahead, and the Yellows were on course for the cup with the 120 minutes almost up. But then came a last-gasp equalizer from Mohammed Jahfali to send the Al-Hilal fans wild.

Both teams scored their first six penalties in the shootout. Salman Al-Faraj, the current Al-Hilal skipper, scored number seven but then Shaye Sharahili missed his, and that was that. Al-Hilal also beat their rivals in the 2020 King’s Cup final.

The pair have met in the Crown Prince Cup final twice, with one victory each. Al-Hilal also defeated Al-Nassr at the semifinal of the 1995 Arab Champions League and the final of the 2000 Arab Cup Winners Cup.

2. A Portuguese battle of wits and emotion

There has already been plenty of attention in Portugal paid to the quarterfinals of the Champions League due to the fact that two of their coaches are in charge of the Saudi pair. Al-Hilal hired Leonardo Jardim in June and Al-Nassr appointed Pedro Emanuel, a lesser-known coach, at the start of this month. 

It means a Portuguese head-to-head in the semifinal. Jardim has started to get to grips with this Al-Hilal team and is trying to get all of his attacking talent into a balanced line-up. Emanuel just has one game under his belt — though it was an impressive 5-1 thrashing of Al-Wahda of the UAE.

There is a strong streak of pragmatism among some Portuguese coaches and the key to this tie may well rest on which boss can instil a sense of normality and calm among his players. The atmosphere is sure to be frenetic and loud. The team that settles first may end up triumphant at the last.

3. It could be the Talisca vs Pereira show

There will be plenty of top-class talent on display on Tuesday but mouths around Asia will be watering at the prospect of two attacking midfielders, Al-Nassr’s Talisca and Al-Hilal’s Matheus Pereira, lining up against each other.

Both have made their mark in the league season so far and have established themselves as two of the best players in Asia, never mind the Saudi Professional League. Talisca has been a little more flamboyant, with blond hair, physical presence and delicious goals from outside the area. Pereira’s influence is not quite as spectacular but he pulls the strings in attack and increasingly sets the tempo of all the games he appears in.

The pair are both potential match-winners, and whichever one shines the brightest could end up being the one that pushes his team towards victory. 

4. It is hard to say who wants this more

Both sets of fans will be desperate to win this match — that goes without saying — but it is harder to say who are more desperate to lift the trophy.

You cannot talk to any Al-Hilal fan for more than a minute or two before being reminded that the club have won three Asian championships, more than any other on the continent except Pohang Steelers. There is a huge amount of pride at the record in Asia and fans would love nothing more than to become the only team on the continent to have won four championships. Asia is woven into Al-Hilal’s DNA.

Al-Nassr have yet to win one, though they reached the final back in 1995. That failure rankles more when your neighbours have been so successful. For the Yellows, winning the Champions League will mean many things and not just defeating their rivals along the way. It will mean being the best in Asia and moving out of the shadow of Al-Hilal’s continental exploits. And it will also mean that whatever happens for the rest of this season, it will already be a success.

5. It should be remembered that this is not the final

It is tempting to see this as a clash for the ages, a semifinal between bitter city rivals, but whoever wins will not get a trophy. There will still be a game left to play and that will come against a battle-hardened South Korean team.

Saudi Arabia has a fine record in Asian club competitions but cannot match the exploits of its counterparts from the K-League. In the other semifinal Ulsan Horang-i, defending champions and winners in 2012 (against Al-Ahli in the final), will take on Pohang Steelers, three-time champions who defeated Al-ittihad in the 2009 final. Ulsan beat Jeonbuk Motors, another Korean team, in the quarterfinals, who lifted the trophy in 2006 and 2016.

These are teams that are used to winning in Asia and will not bat an eyelid at playing in front of a passionate Riyadh crowd on Nov. 23. After the semifinal, there will still be work to do.