Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis in the Avalanche Andretti Racing car with fellow teammate and rookie Oliver Askew in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. (Supplied)
Jake Dennis in the Avalanche Andretti Racing car with fellow teammate and rookie Oliver Askew in the ABB FIA Formula E Championship. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 January 2022

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format

Jake Dennis keen to face fellow Brit in new Formula E head-to-head qualifying format
  • The eighth season of the all-electric championship begins this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday

DIRIYAH: Avalanche Andretti’s Jake Dennis said he looks forward to the possibility of facing his long-time friend, Mahindra driver Oliver Rowland, in a head-to-head battle under Formula E’s new “dueling qualifier” format.

Dennis said he and Rowland have been friends for 15 years and recalled his fond memories of the pair coming up in the sport together, as he told Arab News he would love to take him on in the championship’s new knockout qualifying format.

“I’d like to go against Oliver Rowland,” he said. “He’s a fellow Brit and a good friend of mine and we never went head-to-head in qualifying. I’d pick Ollie — it would be quite cool to see that.”

The championship’s eighth season gets underway this weekend with a double-header of night races in Diriyah on Friday and Saturday. This year the all-electric series has introduced a new qualifying format that uses a knockout system to determine who takes pole position.

In the first round of qualification the drivers are split into two groups of 11, and each driver can make multiple attempts at a fast lap within a 10-minute session. The four fastest in each group progress to head-to-head duels in a knockout format featuring quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final, the winner of which secures pole-position. The other grid positions will be based on the results of the head-to-head duels or lap times depending on what stage of qualifying the drivers managed to reach.

“The competition was tough last year; I think Formula E is just becoming more challenging in terms of difficulty and I think it’s just going to be even tighter this year,” Dennis said.

Last year, he proved himself to be a title-contender during a stunning rookie season in which he took third place in the ABB FIA Formula E 2020-21 Driver’s Championship, after a DNF (did not finish) in the season finale Berlin left Mercedes-EQ driver Nyck de Vries to claim victory in the overall championship.

“I think people’s expectations of me are definitely different this year,” said Dennis. “People see me as a proper title contender going into the new season. There’s always that added pressure but I’m looking forward to it.”

Considered the most successful rookie the championship has yet seen, Dennis now has his sights set on becoming the first British driver to win it. His confidence is evident, after his successes last season when he clinched his first win in Valencia then another in London. No rookie, other than drivers in Formula E’s first season, has won more races than the 26-year-old managed, and nobody led more laps than he did last season. This season he aims to achieve even more.

“I’m coming in this year with a lot more experience,” he said. “I think I’m a faster driver than what I was last year and that’s what it ultimately comes down to. It’s been a really busy winter for us and we ended up pretty competitive in Valencia (during pre-season testing).

Avalanche, known for being an eco-friendly blockchain company, took over from BMW last October to sponsor Andretti in what both parties hope will be a long partnership committed to sustainability.

Dennis said minor difficulties presented themselves in the beginning, as dealing with new team members can be challenging, but he feels the team are now prepared for the season ahead.

“Working with Andretti feels like a big family environment and I’ve got a new teammate this year as well, Oliver (Askew), and we’re going to do the best job we can for the team.”

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
Updated 18 May 2022

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team

Saudi racing star Reema Juffali launches new Theeba Motorsport team
  • Team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation in auto events, with ultimate aim of taking part in Le Mans 24 Hours

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver Reema Juffali on Wednesday announced that she has launched a new team, Theeba Motorsport, which is set to enter motor racing’s GT3 world stage in 2022.

The team’s mission will be to improve Saudi participation and representation in the motorsport industry.

Juffali, said: “After a very successful debut weekend in the International GT Open with SPS Automotive, I’m very proud to announce the formation of Theeba Motorsport and to unveil our plans for the 2022 season.”

Since becoming the first female Saudi racing driver, Juffali has forged a reputation as a role model and will continue to make waves in the next chapter of her career as she seeks to spark further change in the Kingdom.

In 2019, she made history by becoming the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country and, alongside driving, will take her first steps into team management this year.

Theeba Motorsport will provide a platform for Saudis to learn about and take part in motorsport through a variety of engineering, mechanical and commercial internship and apprenticeship programs.

The team hopes to one day compete at the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours race under a Saudi Arabian license.

“As a team, we have a purpose that extends far beyond the race track, and it is our ambition to improve Saudi Arabian representation and access to motorsport,” Juffali said.

“While we want to create a place in racing for the Kingdom, we also want to create opportunities and will provide a space for Saudi people to get involved in a series of hands-on internship and apprenticeship programs. This will, hopefully, culminate in a majority Saudi team one day racing at the Le Mans 24 Hours.”

Theeba Motorsport will take its first competitive steps in 2022 by contesting the International GT Open Championship — one of Europe’s highest tiers of GT3 racing.

Following a winning debut at Estoril with SPS Automotive, Juffali will compete in all remaining races in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 EVO, and will be partnered by long-time friend, driver coach and GT ace Adam Christodoulou.

“We will take our first steps in the International GT Open in 2022 — a series that I believe will offer a competitive platform to race in while also offering the chance to develop and learn,” said Juffali.

“This is only the first step and a starting point in what will be a long journey to find Saudi Arabia’s place in the motor racing world and I’m extremely excited to see what the future holds.”

After its Estoril season-opener, the International GT Open will visit six other circuits in 2022, staring at Paul Ricard on May 20-22, and moving on to Spa, the Hungaroring, Red Bull Ring, Monza and Barcelona in 12 races from that will run until October.

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
Updated 18 May 2022

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target

Luis Suarez just the type of player Saudi clubs should target
  • There were rumors that Al-Shabab had a bid for the Uruguayan turned down, while others claim James Rodriguez is angling for a move to the Kingdom

It is no surprise that the Birmingham Mail is getting excited as it reports that local giants Aston Villa are one of three clubs, along with Seville and Inter Milan, in the running to sign Luis Suarez, after Atletico Madrid announced that the Uruguayan star is leaving at the end of the current season.

The newspaper also mentions that a bid from Saudi Arabia, thought to be from Al-Shabab, has been turned down. It has had a few journalists in the Arab world and plenty of people on social media intrigued and excited.

As former teammate at Anfield Steven Gerrard is now in charge of Aston Villa, there is hope that the 1982 European champions are in with a chance to snatch his signature. But the former Liverpool and Barcelona star is now 35 and not quite the force of nature as in years gone by. He is, however, the kind of foreign star that Saudi Arabian clubs should be targeting.

There are plenty of top-class foreign players in the Saudi Professional League. The likes of Odion Ighala, Moussa Marega, Matheus Pereira, Pity Martinez, Talisca, Abderazzak Hamdallah, Omar Al-Somah, Ever Banega, Vincent Aboubakar and Leandre Tawamba, to name just a few, would be welcome in any league in Asia. These are some serious stars and there have been others over the years. After all, the mighty Brazilian legend Rivelino played for Al-Hilal in the 1970s.

Suarez would be a major attraction. There would be major interest around the world if he came to play in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam or elsewhere. The star would bring a certain notoriety too — few could forget his biting of opponents at the domestic and international stages and his famous handball to deny Ghana a place in the semi-final of the 2010 World Cup — and that would also provide a few more narratives for local journalists, commentators and fans to get their teeth stuck into.

The man himself is going to have plenty of offers but this could be a good time to tempt such stars to the country. The likes of Suarez have done pretty much all they want to do in Europe. Now his immediate focus is surely staying fit and ready for the World Cup in Qatar in November where the South Americans have been drawn with Portugal, Ghana and South Korea. What better place to prepare for such a tournament than Saudi Arabia?

The league is in the same region and has the same climate. It has fewer games than Europe and the pace of the games is a little slower but it is also more competitive and has a greater strength in depth than the Qatar Stars League. A year or two in the Middle East before a return to South America could be an ideal way to end a fine career as well as get the forward at peak readiness for the World Cup.

This season, Suarez has not been quite as integral to the plans of Diego Simeone. Of his 34 appearances in the league, 14 have come off the bench. He is no longer an automatic starter but has still managed 11 goals and is still capable of turning a game on its head in an instant. Just look at qualification for the 2022 World Cup. Uruguay finished third, 11 points behind Argentina and a massive 17 behind Brazil in first who also scored 40 goals, 18 more than La Celeste. Suarez scored more than a third of Uruguay’s total, with his eight goals equalling Neymar’s tally and outscoring Lionel Messi by one. Only Bolivia’s Marcelo Mareno managed more.

Suarez can do more than a job at the highest level. The same could be said about James Rodriguez, though there is no World Cup for the Colombian superstar. The former Real Madrid man joined Al-Rayyan in Qatar from Everton in September. The former powerhouse struggled in the league and finished in eighth, though Rodriguez recorded four goals and six assists in his 12 appearances, not a bad return at all.

There has been disquiet however at his non-appearance in the Asian Champions League group stage in April. The club says he has been injured but a number of outlets in South America say that the 30-year-old is angling for a move to Saudi Arabia with the likes of Al-Nassr interested — the Riyadh club have already shown their ambition this year in having a bid for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned down by Arsenal as the Gabonese goalgetter went to Barcelona instead.

There are other players who are coming out of contract and, before being tempted home, could add a little more star glamor to the SPL with the World Cup on the doorstep once again a selling point. Gareth Bale’s troubled time at Real Madrid, albeit one in which he won four European Champions League and three Spanish titles, is coming to an end. There is no way the Welshman is staying in Spain. It could be that the 32-year-old will retire from football completely but that is unlikely if Wales win their World Cup play-off in June to book a place in Qatar. Then there will be another season at least. The likes of Juan Mata and Edison Cavani, soon to be released  by Manchester United, have also been linked with a move to Saudi Arabian teams.

Relying on veteran stars from European leagues should not be a major strategy for Saudi clubs but there are players out there who could do a job on and off the pitch.

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
Updated 18 May 2022

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season

UAE President’s Cup final postponed until next season
  • Country mourns the passing of President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan

The UAE Football Association has confirmed that the President’s Cup final between Al-Wahda and Sharjah will be postponed until next season as the country observes a period of mourning after the passing of Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, state news agency WAM has reported.

The venue and date of the rescheduled match will be announced at a later time.

Meanwhile, the UAE Pro League has announced that its final round has been rescheduled for May 25 to 26.

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
Updated 18 May 2022

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players

Newcastle fans’ show of passion inspires Eddie Howe and his players
  • On Monday night, St. James’ Park was awash with color, energy and noise, and the Magpies responded with a comprehensive 2-0 win over Arsenal

NEWCASTLE: Eddie Howe has backed Newcastle United fans to become the club’s main weapon in their battle to climb the Premier League ranks.

The Magpies looked set to finish the season in and around the top-flight bottom three, but have dragged themselves out of trouble and now have an outside chance of sneaking into the top half on the final day of the season.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround from the rudderless club that started the campaign with Mike Ashley at the helm, Steve Bruce in the dugout, no wins in 14 games and fans becoming ever more disillusioned with their own club.

Fast forward seven months from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia buyout and things couldn’t be more different.

St. James’ Park on Monday night, for the 2-0 victory over Arsenal, was the epitome of that. Awash with color, energy and noise, the famous old ground truly was an assault on the senses with the biggest ever display by fan-funded Wor Flags on show, owners showing their love for the club on the pitch and fans and players responding on a white-hot Tyneside evening.

Howe said: “That’s a huge weapon for us. We have to use as much as we can.

“We have to inspire our crowd, we have to have the supporters come to the ground desperate to see us play and desperate to know what’s going to happen in the match and almost guarantee a team that’s going all out to win the game by playing the way we want too.

“You saw that from the team (on Monday), we were very front foot but not just for fragmented sections of the game but near enough the whole match. An amazing physical effort from the players but a very high delivery of our tactical game plan as well. You have to compliment the group on that.”

For fans, the feeling is that Howe’s first six months at Newcastle could not have really gone any better. He was brought in primarily to save the club from the drop to the Championship, but has managed to do so while developing the side into a much more defensively sound and attractive attacking unit. As a result, Howe was nominated for the Premier League manager of the year, although he’s likely, and probably deservedly, set to be pipped at the post by Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp.

On progress, Howe said: “Of course it could have gone better in certain games and certain moments. When you look back as a whole, you’d have said this will be the outcome and this is how you’ll achieve safety in the division, certainly I would have been surprised if you told me that would happen.

“The group have risen in confidence levels through positive results and the feel of the stadium, they’ve responded to that. It’s been great to see and be part of.

“The group is very close. The dynamic is very good, the players not in the 25-man squad, the players that didn’t play regularly, have been incredibly supportive to the guys that have. There’s been healthy competition in the squad and a very good dynamic, which has certainly helped.”

Meanwhile, Howe has provided a fitness update of three Newcastle United first-team players ahead of their final game of the Premier League season on Sunday, at Burnley’s Turf Moor.

Fabian Schar was forced off midway through the second half of the Arsenal win due to a concussion, while Javier Manquillo and Chris Wood were absent from the squad altogether.

“Fabian, I think, is OK. He was taken off due to protocols,” said Howe. “He wanted to stay on but I think it was the right decision.”

“Manquillo has chicken pox, so that’s why he missed out. Chris Wood had a hip problem, which we hope isn’t too serious.”

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?
Updated 18 May 2022

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?

Will Champions League football keep Harry Kane at Tottenham for another season?
  • Erling Haaland’s relocation to the Etihad means a move to Manchester City is off the table and the England forward could decide that the best option may be to stay put

At the start of last week it seemed like Harry Kane could once again be looking for a new club if he wished to play in next season’s Champions League.

Fast forward to the weekend, and wins over Arsenal in the North London Derby and Burnley at Turf Moore means he could well achieve that ambition with Tottenham.

But is that the extent of his ambitions?

On Thursday, Kane led Tottenham to a 3-1 win over Arsenal, scoring two goals to close the gap on the rivals. But their fate was still out of their hands. But that win over Burnley, thanks to a Kane penalty, and Arsenal’s 2-0 loss at Newcastle, means Tottenham are now clear favorites to play among Europe’s finest next season.

Along the way, Kane has become only the third player to score 15 goals or more in eight consecutive seasons in the Premier League, alongside Sergio Aguero and Alan Shearer. He is also the record goalscorer in the North London derby with 13 goals. 

With Antonio Conte slowly turning the club’s fortune’s around, their seems to be plenty of reasons to keep Kane happy at his boyhood club.

But there remains the lingering feeling that having been denied a dream move to Manchester City last year, he might still leave decide the Tottenham Hotspur stadium this summer if another big offer came along.

But with Pep Guardiola’s team signing the generational talent of Erling Haaland from Borussia Dortmund, it seems that Kane has now missed the chance of a lifetime to join Manchester City for a second time.

The first opportunity came last summer when City were ready to pay $150 million, but Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy held firm.

Kane’s clear desire to leave led to criticism among the club’s fans and not surprisingly he had a faltering start to this season, before normal service was resumed. His partnership with Son Heung-min has once again been deadly, he has scored 16 and assisted seven in the league, and is playing with a smile on his face.

But is this enough for a player desperate for tangible success?

Kane has two years left on his contract with Tottenham. He will turn 29 in July, and while he remains in superb form and shape, the peak years of his career will arguably be behind him should he see out that contract.

Now it seems Kane has two options, either wait for a another year and force Spurs to sell him for free, or push this summer to move to any other club. This would include the possibility of a move abroad.

Few top clubs, Manchester City excluded now, would not want to have Kane on their books.

Manchester United, Chelsea and even Liverpool would welcome his addition, as would Europe’s leading clubs, including a Kylian Mbappe-less Paris Saint-Germain.

In Spain, the two giants have expressed interest in the player, but with Karim Benzene shining at Real Madrid and Barcelona struggling with finances, ​​neither move looks imminent.

Kane, in all likelihood, will stay in the Premier League.

Jurgen Klopp’s team seems to be full of formidable strikers, even if Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are themselves in the middle of contract negotiations, and a move to Anfield would seem the least likely of the lot.

It would also be difficult for Kane to consider a move to Chelsea, one of Tottenham’s traditional and hated rivals, and a move to Stamford Bridge would be considered a betrayal greater than the one to the Etihad would have been.

This leaves the possibility of a move to Manchester United, to join Eric ten Hag’s expected revolution and all the risks that come with it. Above all, there would be no Champions League football for another season.

I personally think that Kane is better off staying at Tottenham for another season, especially as Conte’s project gathers pace and Champions League football seems almost assured now.

The big question remain: what is Kane’s priority?

Is it merely Champions League football, a chance at winning trophies or one last big contract as his career enters its last third?

The next few weeks should reveal all.