Gulf 12 Hours unveils strong GT3 roster for 2023 showdown in Abu Dhabi

Gulf 12 Hours unveils strong GT3 roster for 2023 showdown in Abu Dhabi
Lenovo Gulf 12 Hours kicks of on Dec. 9 at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. (YMC)
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Updated 08 December 2023

Gulf 12 Hours unveils strong GT3 roster for 2023 showdown in Abu Dhabi

Gulf 12 Hours unveils strong GT3 roster for 2023 showdown in Abu Dhabi
  • 13th edition of the regional endurance classic heads to Yas Marina Circuit with 28 GT3 cars set to race
  • MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi to race in Abu Dhabi with championship-deciding finales on the cards this weekend

ABU DHABI: Abu Dhabi is gearing up for the return of the Middle East’s premier endurance race, the prestigious Lenovo Gulf 12 Hours championship, at Yas Marina Circuit this weekend.

The 13th edition of the regional classic will feature the strongest lineup yet, with 28 GT3 cars confirmed for multiple championship deciders.

Starting on Saturday, Dec. 9, the event will see racing legend Valentino Rossi in action as the Italian star aims to wrap up his season with his first Lenovo Gulf 12 Hours title.

Rossi, alongside his teammates Nick Yelloy and Dries Vanthoor, is taking the battle for the championship to 2022 champions AF Corse and their powerful trio of Ferrari 296 GTS’, piloted by an impressive crew featuring American duo Jean Claude Saada and Conrad Grunewald.

The GT cars hunting for silverware in Abu Dhabi represent a world-class selection of constructors as Audi, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren, BMW and Porsche feature in the AM, ProAM, and Pro categories. Entrants will be competing for the three coveted titles in the ultimate round of the Intercontinental GT powered by Pirelli, including the Independent Cup honors.

Fans can expect to see familiar favorites and new faces, with 10 of the 12 previous Gulf 12 Hours champions confirmed to race again in Abu Dhabi, including back-to-back title winners, 2 Seas Motorsport, AF Corse and Kessel Racing. The 2023 grid will also welcome Haas RT, as the team makes its ProAM debut with Audi.

Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah

Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah
Updated 20 February 2024

Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah

Saudi’s Reema Juffali announced as wild card entry for first round of 2024 F1 Academy in Jeddah
  • Kingdom’s first female racing driver joins all-women series’ debut in Jeddah during the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix 2024

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, Reema Juffali, was confirmed Tuesday as a wild card entry for the first round of the 2024 F1 Academy series at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.

The series’ debut race in the Kingdom will take place during the fourth Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on the weekend of March 7 to 9.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be representing my country, especially in my hometown,” Juffali said. “The day F1 arrived in Jeddah was the clash of both my worlds and now I am actually going to be participating. I’m really looking forward to it and happy to share the experience with my friends and family who are based here.”

“As the saying goes ‘if you can’t see it, you won’t believe it.’ So, hopefully Saudi fans can see that there is a Saudi racing driver out there and it will get them to thinking that ‘this is something I can do.’ It is for this reason I have decided to take this challenge on. This is just the beginning.”

The second season of the all-women series will begin in Saudi Arabia on March 7 and finish in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 8. In addition to the hosts of the opening and closing rounds, Miami, Qatar and Singapore will all join the calendar for the first time, with Zandvoort and Barcelona returning for a second year.

Having developed an interest in cars at an early age, Juffali made history in 2018 by becoming the first female racing driver from Saudi Arabia.

Following a promising debut season in 2019, she became the first Saudi Arabian woman to compete in an international race in her home country, racing on the streets of Riyadh in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY. This was followed by a stint in the GB3 Championship in 2021 before making her endurance racing debut at the 2022 Dubai 24 Hours where she finished second.

Juffali subsequently founded Theeba Motorsport to facilitate Saudi Arabian access to and participation in motor racing through a variety of educational opportunities and programs.

The team made its first appearance in the 2022 International GT Open and secured victory on its debut — an achievement which made Juffali the first Saudi Arabia woman to win an international motor race — before securing second place in the series’ Pro-Am class.

Last year Juffali participated in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe where she again made history by being the first female and the first Saudi Arabian driver to secure a pole position in the Sprint Cup.

Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, chairman of the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and Saudi Motorsport Company, commented: “We are delighted to confirm Reema Juffali as the wild card entry for the first ever F1 Academy race to be staged in the Kingdom. As Saudi Arabia’s first professional female racing driver — who also happens to be Jeddah born and bred — I couldn’t think of anyone better to represent the Saudi people on the racetrack during the biggest sporting and entertainment weekend of the year.”

“Reema’s formidable achievements on and off track have already helped to inspire a generation of young men and women, and she stands as a symbol of all that the people of Saudi Arabia can and will accomplish,” he added. “It is therefore fitting that she is participating in the inaugural Formula 1 Academy race in her hometown. We are excited to work together with Reema and look forward to making history together in Jeddah.”

The 2024 F1 Academy season will feature seven rounds, all of which will support the FIA Formula One World Championship. The calendar has been designed to span three continents, Europe, Asia and North America, and will feature a mix of street and traditional circuits.

Acciona-Sainz XE Team quickest out of the blocks as Extreme E Season 4 starts in Saudi Arabia

Acciona-Sainz XE Team quickest out of the blocks as Extreme E Season 4 starts in Saudi Arabia
Updated 17 February 2024

Acciona-Sainz XE Team quickest out of the blocks as Extreme E Season 4 starts in Saudi Arabia

Acciona-Sainz XE Team quickest out of the blocks as Extreme E Season 4 starts in Saudi Arabia
  • The first two rounds of the 2024 Desert X Prix season are in Jeddah

JEDDAH: Acciona-Sainz XE Team topped the timesheets in the free practice session of the 2024 Desert X Prix, the curtain-raiser for Extreme E Season 4 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The pioneering racing series began its fourth instalment on Friday, with Rounds 1 and 2 of the championship held on Saturday and Sunday in the Saudi Arabian desert.

The ODYSSEY 21s were back in action for the first time in 2024, and it was ASXE who were quickest out of the blocks across the day’s two free practice sessions, with Rosberg X Racing and Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E in second and third respectively.

The sessions almost marked the first time Americans Travis Pastrana and Gray Leadbetter got out on the course behind the wheel of the Legacy Motor Club — in association with Jimmie Johnson — while Saudi Arabia national Dania Akeel also drove in Extreme E for the first time ahead of making her full debut for Jenson Button’s JBXE at her home event.

Johan Kristoffersson, Rosberg X Racing, said: “The modifications to the course and the competitive format mean that every decision, every second, counts more than ever. Our victory last season has set a high bar, but together with Mikaela and the whole RXR team, I feel we’re ready for another great season.”

Timmy Hansen, Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E, said: “The first race of the season is coming up and it’s always a very exciting one with everybody starting again on equal terms with zero points. The team has been in Saudi earlier than usual before the race to prepare the car to make sure it’s in perfect condition to start the new season.

“We’re very excited to start afresh and we’re determined to get on the podium, especially with the event being a ‘home race’ for our friends at Altawkilat. Exciting times ahead for us in the fourth season of Extreme E and we’re hoping it will be a big one.”

Cristina Gutierrez, NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team, said: “I’m really excited to go racing with the NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team. I can’t wait to start working with everyone and represent the team and the iconic papaya color.

“The races in Saudi Arabia in previous seasons have been very different, and this year will be too with the new track in Jeddah. I hope we can get the season off to a good start with some points.”

Free practice combined timings:   

1. ACCIONA | SAINZ XE Team: 10:53.933 (FP2)

2. Rosberg X Racing: 10:55.143 (FP2)

3. Andretti Altawkilat Extreme E: 10:55.543 (FP2)   

4. NEOM McLaren Extreme E Team: 11:14.760 (FP2)

5. E.ON Veloce Racing: 11:22.018 (FP2)

6. SUN Minimeal Team: 11:26.562 (FP2)

7. Legacy Motor Club: 11:41.275 (FP2)

8. JBXE: 11:58.816 (FP2)

Emirati talent Rashid Al-Dhaheri claims first home win at UAE F4 Championship

Emirati talent Rashid Al-Dhaheri claims first home win at UAE F4 Championship
Updated 15 February 2024

Emirati talent Rashid Al-Dhaheri claims first home win at UAE F4 Championship

Emirati talent Rashid Al-Dhaheri claims first home win at UAE F4 Championship
  • The 15-year-old overcame adverse weather conditions to win from pole position at Yas Marina Circuit

ABU DHABI: Emirati racing prodigy Rashid Al-Dhaheri clinched his first victory in the Formula 4 category on home soil during the UAE F4 Championship at the weekend.

This landmark achievement makes him the only Emirati on the grid to secure a victory in the 2024 season.

Saturday marked a pivotal moment for Al-Dhaheri as he secured his first pole position in F4, navigating through the challenging weather conditions at Yas Marina Circuit.

“It was quite a tough weekend due to the rains in Abu Dhabi,” the 15-year-old said. “Adapting to the new obstacle was crucial, but the team did an excellent job, securing pole position after Q1 and Q2.”

Al-Dhaheri on his way to victory at Yas Marina Circuit

Starting with two test sessions, A-Dhaheri’s team — Perma backed by Yas Heat — focused on race simulation and optimizing the car’s performance for the qualifying rounds. Despite heavy rains in Abu Dhabi, their preparations proved successful.

In race one, Al-Dhaheri demonstrated his capabilities by gaining positions and finishing in an impressive second place. In race two, starting from the 11th position due to the reverse grid rule, he showcased his skills in the rain, finishing in sixth place.

The highlight of the weekend for Al-Dhaheri was race three, where he faced the added pressure of starting from pole position under changing weather conditions. However, he emerged victorious, securing his first F4 win on home soil.

Al-Dhaheri celebrates with his family after his win in Abu Dhabi

Al-Dhaheri’s performances over the weekend showed his ability to adapt under pressure.

“The intensity of race two, starting from the 11th position in the rain was quite hectic. Overtaking was challenging with the spray, making visibility difficult,” he said. “Race three, one of the hardest races, with changing conditions, was emotionally taxing.

“Winning at the track where I fell in love with this sport 12 years ago, just a few kilometers from my house, is truly special. More so, this victory stands as a tribute to my country, expressing gratitude for the unwavering support and encouragement.”

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time
Updated 11 February 2024

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time

Saudi’s Al-Rajhi clinches Hail International Rally title for 7th time
  • Al-Rajhi and co-driver Timo Gottschalk won the Saudi Baja — rebranded as the Hail Toyota International Rally — by 38 seconds

HAIL: Saudi Arabia’s top rally driver Yazeed Al-Rajhi has become a seven-time Hail International Rally winner, clinching his latest title on Saturday by a margin of just 38 seconds in his Toyota Hilux.

An outstanding performance saw Al-Rajhi and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk win the fifth Saudi Baja, now known as the Hail Toyota International Rally.

Leading overnight Al-Rajhi, in his Toyota Hilux Overdrive T1+, unexpectedly lost more than five minutes on Saturday. Fortunately for him he had enough of a gap from Friday to remain in first position.

“I am very happy. It’s a very enjoyable rally and my seventh win,” he said. “It’s always nice to win here. I never expected that I would become a Baja or a cross-country specialist but my first win here opened my eyes to this kind of racing. I enjoy it a lot. Now I am going from the dunes to the Alps for some skiing … and then I will return to racing for the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge.”

The Portuguese Joao Ferreira (Mini JCW Rally Plus) had a great finish, winning the special stage on Saturday and moving up to second position in the overall standings, only to lose by the narrow margin of 38 seconds to the winner.

“It was a very enjoyable race,” Ferreira said. “I am not a specialist on dunes and in sand. The competition was very good and I gained a lot of experience from being here.”

The X-Raid Team made some changes to the Mini’s set-up overnight and revised suspension settings enabled the Portuguese to push a lot harder on the last stage.

Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini and his Spanish co-driver Daniel Oliveras were second fastest on Saturday morning and came home in fourth overall on the opening round of the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cups hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation.

Multiple former T3 winner Saleh Al-Saif has only been beaten once in this event since 2020 and the Saudi overcame an early scare and stormed to victory in the Challenger category in his G Rally Team OT3. Partnered by Qatar’s Nasser Al-Kuwari, he finished fifth overall and 11min 41sec clear of his nearest rival Joao Dias in the Santag Racing Can-Am Maverick. Al-Saif was also the top finisher in the FIA Middle East Baja Cup, while Dias topped the FIA World Baja Cup standings.

Dubai-based Alliyah Koloc teamed up with Frenchman Sebastien Delaunay and guided her Red-lined Revo+ to seventh overall and second place among the contenders registered for the FIA Middle East Baja Cup.

The fifth quickest time on the final stage enabled Dania Akeel to displace her former Can-Am team-mate Fernando Alvarez and snatch eighth on her first appearance in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux. The Saudi was third of the FIA Middle East Cup contenders and collected valuable points for the Saudi Toyota Rally Championship.

Alvarez and his co-driver Xavier Panseri secured ninth in their South Racing Can-Am Maverick XRS Turbo RR and topped the SSV category. Spaniard Alexander Toril Boquoi finished second and Qatar’s Ahmed Al-Kuwari was third and first of the FIA Middle East Baja Cup contenders. Front drive shaft woes on the opening stage ruined Amerigo Ventura’s chances in his Yamaha.

Fuel pump issues on day one ruined Eduardo Pons’s chance of pushing for Challenger honors in his Taurus T3 Max.

Local driver Majed Al-Thunayyan guided his Nissan Patrol to a useful finish and FIA Middle East Baja Cup points in the Stock category for series production cross-country vehicles.

Mohammed Al-Balooshi rode cautiously to set the fourth quickest time on the last morning but did enough to seal a fourth victory in Hail since 2020 on the opening round of the FIM Bajas World Cup. The MX Ride Dubai man finished the stage 4 min. 34 sec. behind Saudi Abdulhalim Al-Mogheera but won the event by 2 min. 12 sec. on his KTM from his Kuwaiti team-mate Abdullah Al-Shatti. The stage win ensured that Al-Mogheera finished third ahead of Emirati Hamdan Al-Ali.

Al-Balooshi said: “I am very happy to win this rally for the fourth time. I have a perfect record here in Saudi. I have never lost here. Today was very tricky. It was an easy stage but so simple to make a stupid mistake. Our strategy was to bring the bike to the finish line and secure the win. With that we lead the world rankings. I am also proud that the top three are GCC riders, me from the Emirates, Abdullah from Kuwait and Abdulhalim from Saudi Arabia. I am proud to have an all-Arab podium.”

Jordanian Abdullah Abu Aisheh lost vital minutes on the last stage and slipped to sixth place after he received a 15-minute penalty for a route violation. That gifted fifth place to Spaniard Pedro Bianchi Prata after he had overhauled German open-class rider Philip Horlemann. Bahrain’s Salman Farhan came home in eighth and Qatar-based Australian Martin Chalmers and fellow countryman Andrew Houlihan rounded off the top 10.

Haitham Al-Tuwaijri cruised to his third successive victory in the quad category in Hail. The Yamaha Raptor 700 rider finished 1hr 05 min. 15 sec. ahead of Hani Al-Noumesi in his successful quest for FIM Bajas World Cup points. Abdulaziz Al-Shayban finished third.

Abdulaziz Al-Yaeesh (Nissan) won the Saudi National Baja and picked up vital points toward the four-round Saudi Toyota Rally Championship on a stage where runner-up Faris Al-Moshana (Nissan) set the fastest time.

Hail Rally offers more than just a chance to compete for drivers Annett Quandt and Annie Seel

Hail Rally offers more than just a chance to compete for drivers Annett Quandt and Annie Seel
Updated 09 February 2024

Hail Rally offers more than just a chance to compete for drivers Annett Quandt and Annie Seel

Hail Rally offers more than just a chance to compete for drivers Annett Quandt and Annie Seel
  • Saudi Arabia is ‘completely different from what we heard back home about this country; Saudis are very nice and friendly and … they host us and treat us so nicely,’ Quandt says
  • Yazeed Al-Rajhi, Timo Gottschalk take the overall lead on Friday after the opening stage; Overdrive Racing teammates Rokas Baciuska and Oriol Vidal come in second

HAIL: Crossing the finish line first is of course the primary goal of any racing driver, but for rally driver Annett Quandt from Germany and her co-driver Annie Seel from Sweden, it is also a time to learn about new cultures.
The pair, who are competing in the Hail International Rally in northeastern Saudi Arabia, told Arab News ahead of the start of the three-day event on Thursday that they were delighted to once again have a chance to enjoy the rich culture of the Kingdom.
“This country is the best in the world for off-road racing; the scenery, terrains and mountains are amazing,” said Quandt, who made her competitive Dakar Rally debut in 2019, and the following year was the only woman to compete in the first Dakar Rally held in Saudi Arabia.
She added that although her main aim when she competes around the world is to win, she also likes to take the opportunity to learn about other nations and cultures.
“Since I started coming to Saudi Arabia for the Dakar Rally competition, I have really enjoy being here and have learned a lot about Saudi Arabia’s culture,” she said.
“What I noticed is it’s completely different from what we heard back home about this country. Saudis are very nice and friendly and wherever we go they host us and treat us so nicely.
“I am deeply touched by the hospitality and warmth of the people here. At the same time, I truly love the natural beauty within the country,”
Quandt, a trained sport physio who has been working for X-Raid since 2012, said she feels a duty to set the record straight about Saudi Arabia when she goes back home.
Speaking about her chances in the competition this year with co-driver Seel, Quandt said: “We’ll be trying our hardest again. Annie and I both know our strengths and weaknesses and we bring out the best in each other.
“The T3 category is an incredibly competitive class so if we could finish in a similar position to where we were when we went out last year we’d be happy.” Last year they finished 29th in the Challenger classification of the X-Raid 1000R Turbo.
Seel, meanwhile, is very familiar with the Kingdom, having been busy co-driving and coaching in the burgeoning Saudi women’s off-road racing scene.
“To come here and participate in rallies held in Saudi Arabia is always an experience and we are enjoying the competition and the Saudi culture,” she said.
“The past two years, I’ve been racing in the Saudi Off-Road Championship and there’s a lot of Saudi ladies competing, some of whom will eventually be entering the Dakar. I won a female-only (event) called Rally Jameel and there were over 40 crews on the start line. It’s getting really big over there.”
As for her chances in the Hail Rally, she said: “It’s not only the driving and navigation but also the mechanical stuff we do. But we feel confident that the two of us together have all the skills needed to take on whatever is thrown at us. We are both real fighters.”
On the opening day of racing on Thursday, the X-Raid Yamaha-supported duo finished in 10th place in the Prologue, and they were in 16th place in the X-raid 1000R Turbo category on Friday after the first day of the Hail International Rally.
Yazeed Al-Rajhi and Timo Gottschalk took the overall lead on Friday after recording a time of 2 hours 45 minutes and 58 seconds on the demanding 302-kilometer opening stage.
The Toyota Hilux driver finished 4:10 quicker than his Overdrive Racing teammates Rokas Baciuska and Oriol Vidal. Portugal’s Joao Ferreira and Filipe Palmeiro were third-quickest, a further 1:57 adrift, in their X-Raid Mini John Cooper Works Rally Plus.
“In some places the navigation was difficult but everything was going well for us. That’s the most important and we are in the lead,” Al-Rajhi said.
Argentina’s Juan Cruz Yacopini guided the third of the Overdrive Toyotas to fourth place overall in the event, which is hosted by the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation and serves as the opening round of the FIA World and Middle East Baja Cups.
Saudi driver Dania Akeel started the stage well down the running order after delays on the Prologue, but she climbed to ninth place on her first true desert stage in an Overdrive Racing Toyota Hilux.
On Saturday, the competitors will tackle a shorter, 164-kilometer second stage.