Strength in depth across all motorcycle classes at Qatar Baja

Strength in depth across all motorcycle classes at Qatar Baja
Polish rider Konrad Dabrowski starts the Qatar International Baja this weekend as both the defending FIM Bajas World Cup and junior champion. (Supplied)
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Updated 13 March 2023

Strength in depth across all motorcycle classes at Qatar Baja

Strength in depth across all motorcycle classes at Qatar Baja
  • 14 veterans, four juniors and four women set for FIM motorcycle tussle
  • Lusail Boulevard to host ceremonial start on Thursday evening

LUSAIL, Qatar: In terms of numbers and strength in depth across the different classes, this week’s Qatar International Baja is the largest ever to be hosted by the Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation since 33 bikes tackled the event back in November 2004, with victory on that occasion going to UAE-based German rider Tim Trenker on a KTM.

This week, 51 motorcycles and four quads grace the entry list for the second round of the 2023 FIM Bajas World Cup.

MX Ride Dubai has entered four motorcycles in Qatar and the team’s lead rider Mohammed Al-Balooshi will be hoping to repeat his recent Saudi victory and extend his early lead in the FIM Bajas World Cup. The Emirati has mixed memories of his previous visits to Qatar for the longer cross-country rally and knows full well how tricky the navigation is and how deceptive the terrain can be.

His brother Sultan is 10th in the championship standings and rides a second team bike alongside fellow Emirati Marwan Al-Rahmani and Kuwait’s Abdullah Al-Shatti. Jordan’s Abdullah Abu Aisheh is not present on this occasion.

Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers is seeded at two after finishing second to Al-Balooshi in Saudi Arabia, while Briton Alex McInnes is third in the points’ standings after round one and starts at three.

Talented Polish rider Konrad Dabrowski claimed overall victory in last year’s Qatar International Baja and this year’s fourth seed is also the pre-event favorite to win the FIM juniors’ class for riders under 25-years-old on Jan. 1, 2023. He comes into the weekend as both the defending FIM Bajas World Cup and junior champion.

Konrad’s closest junior rival may well be McInnes, who leads the junior section on his Motozone Husqvarna after finishing second in the championship last season. Canadian Jonathan Finn and Italy’s Alessandro Iacovelli will also be chasing points in the juniors.

The experienced KTM rider Mirjam Pol is the defending FIM women’s world champion and leads three rivals into a tussle for honors in Qatar. The Dutchwoman lines up against last year’s runner-up, Poland’s Joanna Modrzewska, Kuwait’s Sarah Khuraibet and Great Britain’s Vanessa Ruck, the latter riding a Honda CRF 450 RX.

Fourteen riders are eligible to score points in the FIM veterans category for over 45s. Australia’s Andrew Houlihan leads the class after his useful ninth-place finish in Saudi Arabia but competition will be intense in the Qatar deserts.

The Husqvarna rider faces a six-strong Italian challenge from Cesare Zacchetti, Francesco Catanese, Fabrizio Macchitella, Alberto Bertoldi, Elio Aglioni and Enrico Tanganelli, while Britain’s Barry Howe also holds European hopes of success alongside Norway’s Ola Floene.

The Qatari trio of Sheikh Mohammed Al-Thani, Mahanna Rashid Al-Naimi and Mohammed Al-Kaabi, South Africa’s Jaco Anderson and Emirati rider Mohammed Al-Shamsi round off the runners eligible for the ceterans’ category.

The competitive action gets underway with a prologue stage on Thursday from 2:15 p.m. onwards. This precedes the ceremonial start at a new location on Lusail Boulevard, starting with the motorcycles and quads from 7:30 p.m.

Yas Heat Racing Academy begins search for future karting stars

Yas Heat Racing Academy begins search for future karting stars
Updated 22 March 2023

Yas Heat Racing Academy begins search for future karting stars

Yas Heat Racing Academy begins search for future karting stars
  • Yas Marina Circuit-based racing academy will host 3 open days on Yas KartZone track from March 25
  • Promising talent will earn spots on the grid at the Yas Heat Racing Championship later this year

ABU DHABI: Yas Heat Racing Academy has announced its first official Yas Heat Racing Karting Open Day on March 25 as part of the team’s search for the fastest young talent to join the karting team in 2023.

Based at the Yas Marina Circuit track on Yas Island, the academy was formed in November 2022 ahead of the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and is led by rookie drivers Matteo Quintarelli and Keanu Al-Azhari — who both scored podium finishes on the team’s debut racing weekend.

After an impressive first season competing in the F4 UAE Championship in early 2023, the academy is hosting three official open days in the hope of finding future stars of racing to join the first Yas Heat Karting team this year.

Following the first open day on March 18, karters aged eight to 12 can register for upcoming official open days, with the fastest drivers around the Yas Kartzone track being selected to compete in the Yas Heat Racing Karting Championship.

Matthew Norman, team manager of the Yas Heat Racing Academy, said: “After such a promising start to the year with the academy’s debut season in the F4 UAE Championship, we are delighted to announce the first official Yas Heat Karting Racing Open Days as we continue to search for the brightest and best young drivers across the UAE.

“It’s no secret that the world’s most elite superstars, including those we see each weekend lining up on the Formula One grid, all started their racing journeys through karting, and we hope to find some exciting new talent to join our academy following the new Yas Heat Racing Karting Championship coming later in 2023. We look forward to welcoming the new era of young drivers joining us at the circuit this weekend.”

With the goal to produce homegrown drivers at Yas Marina Circuit and provide young talented drivers with a clear and defined career pathway — from grassroots all the way up to the world stage of motorsport — the Yas Heat Racing Academy aims to inspire the next generation of local UAE racing stars to pursue their dreams, from karting through to FIA-accredited competitions.

The next official Yas Heat Karting Open Day will take place on Saturday, March 25 from 10 a.m. at Yas Kartzone, with further Open Days to come from Saturday, April 1.

Sergio Perez wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position

Sergio Perez wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position
Updated 19 March 2023

Sergio Perez wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position

Sergio Perez wins Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position
  • Fernando Alonso finished third for the second consecutive race for what would have been his 100th career podium
  • Later handed a 10-second penalty for incorrectly serving an earlier penalty

JEDDAH: Sergio Perez won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen drove from 15th to second to give Red Bull a 1-2 finish Sunday in what is shaping up to be a runaway season for the reigning Formula One champions.
And there have only been two races so far.
“Nice job guys an excellent result for the team,” said Perez, who finished about 5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
Through the first two races of the season it has been two Red Bull wins, two 1-2 finishes, and an air of desperation from everyone else on the grid.
Verstappen is chasing a third straight title and isn’t worried if it goes down to a straight fight between him and Perez.
“The best one will finish in front,” the Dutchman said.
Perez feels he’s yet to peak.
“I’m not sure it’s my best weekend with the team, Melbourne will be even better,” he said, looking ahead to the next race in Australia on April 2.
Fernando Alonso finished third for the second consecutive race for what would have been his 100th career podium. But he was later handed a 10-second penalty for incorrectly serving an earlier penalty and that dropped him to fourth.
But even as the Spaniard enjoys a renaissance with his new Aston Martin team, Alonso has acknowledged he had little chance at beating Red Bull.
Verstappen won a record 15 races last season and a second consecutive F1 title, and Perez added another two victories as the 17 total wins in 23 races easily gave Red Bull the constructors title. There have been no signs of an offseason drop in performance and George Russell, who moved up to third after the Alonso penalty on on Sunday, predicted after the season-opener that Red Bull would win every race this season.
“I was having fun out there and the car was feeling good,” Russell said after his 10th career podium. “I think it was harsh what happened to Fernando. But I’m happy to pick up the silverware.”
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth as Mercedes went third and fifth just three days after the seven-time F1 champion said the team needed three other organizations not to finish a race for Mercedes to have a shot to win.
“We are not where we want to be but we will get there,” Hamilton told his team.
The show on Sunday was Verstappen, who overcame a mechanical problem in qualifying that forced him to start 15th and quickly worked his way up the grid. The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his hold atop the F1 points standings.
“Great recovery, Max, that was a really good drive at the end,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner radioed Verstappen.
Verstappen felt the late push was worth the risk.
“I gave it a go at the end and luckily it worked out,” he said.
Red Bull has now finished 1-2 in three consecutive races dating to last year’s finale.
It was the fifth career win for Perez, who started from the pole for the second consecutive year at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. He was briefly leading the championship standings until Verstappen slipped ahead by logging the fastest lap.
“Let’s keep it up, let’s keep pushing,” said the Mexican.
Perez started on pole with Alonso on the front row alongside him and Alonso jumped out to a quick lead, but was promptly penalized for being in the improper starting position. He thought he served the five-second penalty, but the race stewards docked him another 10 seconds post podium celebration.
Russell said “common sense needs to be applied,” and Alonso was annoyed with governing body FIA.
“I think it’s more of a FIA poor show today more than disappointment for ourselves,” Alonso told broadcaster Sky. “You can’t apply the penalty 35 laps after the pit stop. They had enough time to inform us.”
Perez soon regained the lead while Verstappen and Charles Leclerc — starting from 12th because of a 10-place grid penalty — chewed up the cars ahead of them.
When both Ferrari’s pitted for new tires, Verstappen was in fourth.
The 6.2-kilometer (3.8-mile) circuit beside the Red Sea is the quickest street track in F1 with average speeds exceeding 250 kmh (160 mph), which suited Verstappen. It took him only a few seconds to pass Russell and Alonso didn’t last long, either, making it a Red Bull shootout.
Perez held firm.
Ferrari had another race to forget, with Carlos Sainz Jr. placing sixth ahead of Charles Leclerc in seventh. At least Leclerc finished, after retiring in Bahrain, but he wasn’t happy.
“Being behind like this is really (expletive), I don’t know what to do,” Leclerc said as he trundled behind traffic.
Frenchmen Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly were eighth and ninth for Alpine with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen in 10th.
Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll retired on Lap 18, leading to a safety car restart that suited Verstappen.
Alex Albon retired his Williams and his teammate Logan Sargeant, the rookie American driver, started last and finished 16th. McLaren struggled again with Oscar Piastri 15th and Lando Norris down in 17th.
“Tough race after an unlucky start with damage to both cars on the opening lap. Made it too difficult to turn things around. But we tried hard,” McLaren boss Zak Brown tweeted. “Time to get our season back on track in Australia.”

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Rookie Porsche Sprint Challenge winner Prince Saud excited about future of Saudi motorsport

Rookie Porsche Sprint Challenge winner Prince Saud excited about future of Saudi motorsport
Updated 19 March 2023

Rookie Porsche Sprint Challenge winner Prince Saud excited about future of Saudi motorsport

Rookie Porsche Sprint Challenge winner Prince Saud excited about future of Saudi motorsport
  • Prince Saud said he was very impressed with how motorsport in Saudi Arabia is growing rapidly and wants to see more national talent involved

JEDDAH: Although the third Saudi Arabian Grand Prix has given motorsport fans three days of adrenaline-packed racing, one of the other races that took place at the Jeddah Corniche this weekend was the Porsche Sprint Challenge Middle East series.

Rookie winner, Prince Saud Bin Mu’tasim, told Arab News how excited he was with his victory.

“I just came out of the race and I’m full of adrenaline, I won my rookie championship in GT3 and Porsche Sprint Challenge with Saudi Racing team,” he said.

After last season in the GT4, he added that this year he and teammate Khalid Al-Ahmadi were both rookies in GT3, which has a more sophisticated car.

“We’ve been competing all season again like we did last year, and it’s a really good feeling to win in GT3 in front of my home crowd, in front of Formula One, and to get this exposure — it’s really amazing,” he said.

Prince Saud added that preparing for the races can be very stressful because one has to compete to impress.

“You need to impress potential sponsors, and potential growth in the sport is really stressful because any mistake you make — and especially specifically on a track like Jeddah where there’s a lot of walls, and it’s very fast — you don’t have time to make mistakes, so it was really stressful preparing for it,” he said.

Prince Saud also said he was very impressed with how motorsport in Saudi Arabia is growing rapidly and wants to see more national talent involved.

“Anyone who’s interested in getting into motorsports, I should advise them to start in karting, and they will have a bright future hopefully,” he said.

The newly-crowned rookie champion thanked Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, and the president of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, for all the support they have been giving Saudi racing. 

“I hope we will have a brighter future in the team and race and compete in Europe as well,” he said.

Kingdom’s marshal team gears up for Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix

Kingdom’s marshal team gears up for Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix
800 volunteers participating at Jeddah Corniche Circuit this weekend. AN photo by Abdulrahman Bin Shulhub
Updated 19 March 2023

Kingdom’s marshal team gears up for Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix

Kingdom’s marshal team gears up for Saudi Arabian F1 Grand Prix
  • 800 volunteers participating at Jeddah Corniche Circuit this weekend
  • 40% of the team consist of ‘proud and excited’ Saudi women

JEDDAH: The Kingdom’s marshal team is gearing up for the STC Formula 1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2023 on Sunday, with the group consisting of 800 volunteers, 640 of whom were given extra training and opportunity to help organize this global event.

This is the Saudi marshal team’s second time organizing the Formula 1 race, having gained experience and praise for their first event at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

Arab News spoke to a number of the team members including Abdullah Al-Mabrok, chief marshal assistant. “I started as an observer marshal back in 2018. Now I’m an assistant for (all the) marshals on track. We help the marshals whenever they need support off track (and) on track. I’ve (always) loved motorsports, the Formula 1. I do all the circuit races as well. It’s where I find myself in my free time.”

Anas Flimban, a track marshal, has volunteered for the third time. “It’s really amazing to (have) this experience and opportunity to be here.”

Mohammed Al-Rawa, chief post marshal, was proud to see an entire team made up of Saudi youth at such a big event.

Mohammed Najeem, assistant chief recovery marshal, said that his task consists of recovering the damaged cars on track. “We have to do that in the fastest way possible and the safest way as well.”

Mossab Al-Bakry, radio marshal and observer, said that he was proud to be part of the race. “Being a marshal in my country feels so great. It’s nice to see all of the other countries come see us, see how great it is here, how advanced it is contrary to what they hear (in the media).”

He added that he has received overwhelmingly positive comments on the area’s architecture and buildings. “I feel really proud.”

Sultan Al-Khaldi, fire marshal, said that he was thankful for everyone’s efforts in making this global event a success. “I want to thank our leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who gave us this opportunity to show our passion and love for this sport.”

40% of the team consist of ‘proud and excited’ Saudi women. AN photo by Abdulrahman Bin Shulhub

It is noteworthy that 40 percent of the team consists of women, who showed great passion and enthusiasm during the training and practical stage, proving themselves as strong as their male peers in executing the tasks assigned to them.

Fairooz Bahkli is a female track marshal who is participating with the team for the third year. “I’m so proud to represent Saudi women in Formula 1.”

Her teammate Fatimah Al-Owerdhy, a flag marshal, took part in the Formula 2 previously and this is also her third year with the Saudi Marshal team. She wished everyone the best of luck this year.

Observer marshal Lama Al-Ghamdi, who recently completed a master’s in bioscience at KAUST, said that it was “an honor to serve the country. It’s really rewarding at the end, to be honest.”

Sultana Al-Harbi, who is volunteering for the first time as a trainee flag marshal, said she was proud and excited to be a part of “such a beautiful country that is expanding and improving year by year.”

She was happy to see Saudi marshals representing the Kingdom in “an amazing space, such as the Formula 1, which is the number one racing experience in the world.”

Can anyone stop Max Verstappen in 2023?

Can anyone stop Max Verstappen in 2023?
Updated 18 March 2023

Can anyone stop Max Verstappen in 2023?

Can anyone stop Max Verstappen in 2023?
  • Arab News looks at the cases for and against the 2-time champion extending his dominance, starting with the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Ali Khaled says: No chance

The short answer is no. And so is the long one.

In 2023, nobody will, or can, stop Max Verstappen. The reigning two-time F1 world champion is quite simply racing on his own.

Last year, after an initial challenge from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, the 25-year-old Dutchman blew the opposition away, coasting to a second consecutive championship with four races left in the season.

There was no need for the drama and controversy that surrounded his maiden title a year earlier in Abu Dhabi.

Having seized that opportunity at Yas Marina Circuit in 2021 to overcome habitual winner Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen has since gone from strength to strength, showing little inclination in letting any of his rivals get so much as a glimpse of the Formula One championship.

The best driver, in the best, car, is a devastating proposition, as Hamilton and Mercedes will attest after years of dominance.

In Bahrain two weeks ago, Verstappen ignored any drama going on behind him and raced confidently to his first ever win in Sakhir. With Ferrari and Mercedes seemingly beset by performance issues, it was an ideal start for Red Bull and bodes well for the rest of the season, although an unexpected challenge from Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso could add spice to the fight for the podium places once Leclerc and Carols Sainz, and maybe Hamilton and George Russell, get their act together.

For Verstappen, it has been more of the same so far at the second Grand Prix of the season in Saudi Arabia.

At Jeddah Corniche Circuit over the last two days, it has been business as usual as he notched up the fastest time in the first, second and third practice sessions.

He had arrived a day a day late on Friday, having suffered from a stomach bug on Thursday. If this is the champion distracted, God help the rest of the field.

The truth is, short of supernatural interventions, the challengers seem to lack the technical capabilities to stop him on the track.

The Mercedes and Ferrari cars, in comparison to Red Bull’s, seem to have regressed during the winter break.

Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff on Friday night admitted that the spending cap makes it all but impossible to make any significant changes to the chassis, leaving improved aerodynamic changes to the body as the main way of squeezing extra speed out of the car.

There is a feeling that Ferrari have played their cards close to their chest and there is more to come from their car, but their performances in Bahrain and in the practice round in Jeddah hardly inspire confidence.

That leaves this season’s surprise package: Aston Martin and their Mercedes engine. Alonso finished third behind the two Red Bulls in Bahrain, while teammate Lance Stroll took a remarkable sixth less than two weeks after a bike accident left him in hospital with several injuries.

But even with the best will in the world, Aston Martin’s leap from midfield to potential challenger is unlikely to be enough to trouble the champion.

Verstappen is at this point in his career a supreme champion at the absolute peak of his powers.

This is Muhammad Ali pummeling the heavyweight division in the mid-60s. A young Tiger Woods claiming one major after another. Roger Federer at his unbeatable best.

What’s more — for those who claim Verstappen has rarely been tested in recent times — it should not be forgotten that he has taken the fight to arguably the greatest driver of all time, Hamilton, first as a challenger and then as champion, and seems to have left him receding in his rear view mirror.

Will Ferrari’s performances and decision making improve? Will Hamilton be a winner again, as he has recently claimed? And can Alonso roll back the years? It remains to be seen.

But can Verstappen be stopped this season? Not a chance.

Daniel Fountain says: Small chance, but maybe?

Make no bones about it, Red Bull are way ahead of the rest of the field.

Some in the media are filling column inches with evidence for claiming the reigning Constructors’ Champion could win every single race this season — a feat never achieved in Formula One history.

Overhauling Red Bull is going to take a monumental effort from one team — and fast.

The fact that fans who do not support the Austrian team, or have much of a liking for their talismanic reigning Driver’s Champion, Max Verstappen, will see their best shot at a desired outcome with Aston Martin and the evergreen Fernando Alonso, speaks volumes.

The two-time world champion Spanish driver has been in scintillating form since the beginning of the season, securing a podium finish behind the Red Bell duo of Verstappen and Sergio Perez — well ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes.

And even more galling for the German juggernaut is that the Aston Martin engine, gearbox and rear suspension is supplied by … yes, you guessed it: Mercedes.

After their disastrous season last year, Aston Martin’s car concept this season borrows a lot more from the Red Bull than its parent company’s model, and that will be the key for any other team attempting to get close to the front-runners.

Both Ferrari and Mercedes have only made minor changes to their car concept, and have clearly been found lacking in relation to the work done on car performance during the winter break by Red Bull and Aston Martin.

The responses to the poor performance in Bahrain from the Mercedes and Ferrari team principals, Toto Wolff and Fred Vasseur, will have a big say in which team — if any — will make a battle of the 2023 season.

Wolff admitted his team’s shortcomings and seems determined to make the changes needed to make their car more competitive. Vasseur, on the other hand, remained convinced that his car just had an off day and is much closer to the Red Bull vehicle than many think.

Only time will tell, but the results or improvement will need to bear fruit instantaneously before the Red Bull lead becomes uncatchable.

Another glimmer of hope for the Silver Arrows and the Prancing Horse is the caliber of drivers behind the wheels. If given a functioning car, there is nobody more experienced in battling it out with Verstappen than seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton.

And in George Russell on the other side of the garage, and Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in the Ferraris, the two teams have some of the best young talent F1 has seen in years. If car and driver can combine in time, then one of them has the real potential of bringing a challenge to Verstappen.

There are not many chinks in the Red Bull armor, but one that might be targeted and prised open by other teams is Red Bull’s so-called “second driver,” Perez. Pushing him as far down the grid as possible puts more pressure on Verstappen, who can cruise off the line ahead of the pack knowing he has got his teammate protecting behind him.

The Dutchman is at the peak of his powers, but rarely faced any genuine challenge last year, thanks in no small part to brilliant backup drives by Perez, who contributed with two wins last year in Monaco and Singapore.

If Verstappen can be flapped, he may make mistakes on enough occasions throughout the season to give the rest a chance.

But, no doubt about it, much like this author with this column, early signs are the rest of the paddock may well be clutching at straws.