15 Minutes With: Emirati motorsport sensation Amna Al Qubaisi

Denzil Pinto 17/05/2017
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Taking giant strides: Amna Al Qubaisi.

If you hadn’t heard of UAE motorsport sensation Amna Al Qubaisi yet, then expect to read plenty more of her as the Emirati continues on making big strides in her racing journey.

At just 17, the Abu Dhabi schoolgirl is already making an impact behind the wheel, becoming the first Emirati girl to win the UAE senior Rotax Max Challenge last month.

In 2018, she will be the first Arab woman to test herself in Formula Four, when she lines up for Prema team in Europe.

Al Qubaisi speaks to Sport360 on her Formula Four ambitions, how it was to win the Rotax Max Challenge title and how she wants more Arab women to follow in her footsteps.

You are set to make history by becoming the first Arab female to race in Formula Four in Europe in the 2018 season. How does it feel to write your name in the record books?

It feels really amazing to reach this far. If I look back a year ago, I never imagined myself to be here. It was a big shock for me and I’m confident and happy that I’ll do very well next year.

What do you think your challenges will be in that championship?

It will be driving on tracks that I’ve never driven on and I might be the only girl and probably the youngest too so that’s the challenges for me.

It’s been a memorable season for you, becoming the first Emirati girl to win the karting UAE senior Rotax Max Challenge. How do you look back at this?

I go back to the times where I first began karting where I didn’t have much experience and was mostly at the back of the grid. I didn’t even know what the set-up of a kart meant and now seeing myself progress and gain the experience in the Daman Speed Academy is incredible.

Winning the Rotax is something I’m really proud of and it’s not just a big achievement, I’ve also created history and accomplished the fact that I’ll be representing the UAE in the World Finals in November.

For sure, it was difficult and I was racing against the most experienced and fittest drivers. For me, being the only girl on the grid, my experience of racing in Europe helped me stay focus and become very fit. I have become capable and potential to beat them.

It’s very rare to see Emirati and Arab women in sport. What do you think is the barriers in stopping Emirati women?

When I was in karting last season, it wasn’t just about wanting to prove that women can race but also send out a message that Arab women can do something in sport. I want to change how people think that Arabs are not capable to doing sports and I want to change.

When I’m in Europe, they’ve never seen a Arab woman drive in any competition and it’s very rare for them but I feel with my achievements, I can help females by training them and giving them tips and advice whether it’s karting or single-seating.

How did your interest in motorsport begin?

It began very late and I was just 13 years old when I joined Daman Speed Academy. Before that, I was doing gymnastics because it was something different in the UAE. But then, I grew bored of it and competitions was just once a year.

I then started watching my dad (Khaled, DSA founder and Abu Dhabi racing managing director) racing and he travelled around the world, telling me about the different tracks and cars he drove on. It was from then, I got more interested in motorsport.

Since joining Daman Speed Academy, how have they helped you in your progress?

They’ve done a lot. They helped me grow and gave me everything to succeed whether that’s karts, coaching or preparation. I’ve also realized the importance of nutrition as it’s important for any athlete. If I don’t eat healthy, I will feel really weak during the race.

What are the steps taken to prepare for races?

I sleep very early the night before and try and get 10 hours maximum of sleep. I will also eat a lot of paste so I have the carbs for the next day. Before going to sleep, I’ll also check my GoPro and rememorise the track and the lines so that it stays in my head when I sleep.

Who is your favourite role model and why?

It’s of course my dad (Khaled). He’s the main reason on why I started racing. He inspired me through all his races and made history by becoming the first Emirati to win two podiums in a row at Le Mans and winning second position at the World Endurance Championship.

Who is your favourite racing driver and which motorsport championships do you follow?

It has to be Max Verstappen because he’s the youngest on the F1 grid and no-one expected him to do so well. He’s an example of those who made it big coming from karting to Formula One. Out of all the competition, I follow MotoGP but mainly Formula One, GP2, and GP4.

How you split your time between school and motorsport?

My parents are very clear when it comes to studying and if I miss homework or don’t get good grades on my test, I may have to miss a race meaning I’ll have to focus on my studies before I go back to racing. I’ve had good grades this year and am graduating so it’s pleasing to have done well in karting and studies.

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Ed Jones' impressive raw pace goes unrewarded in IndyCar GP

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Focused: Jones is now looking ahead to this month's Indy500.

Ed Jones produced a scintillating turn-of-speed in last weekend’s IndyCar Grand Prix, but his chances of adding a third top ten finish to his tally in what has been an impressive Verizon IndyCar Series rookie campaign to-date were undone by misfortune in Indiana.

The IndyCar Grand Prix traditionally kick-starts IndyCar’s celebrated ‘Month of May’, and the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course had been a happy hunting-ground for Jones in the past.

The talented Dubai, UAE-born ace claimed no fewer than three pole positions there in Indy Lights and reached the top step of the rostrum en route to the drivers’ crown in the fiercely-disputed Mazda Road to Indy feeder series last year. He returned with his sights solidly set on maintaining his progression at the pinnacle of US open-wheel competition.

After struggling throughout practice – completing fewer laps than any of his rivals and uncharacteristically bringing up the rear of the timesheets amongst the 22 high-calibre contenders – Jones and Dale Coyne Racing dug deep to engineer a remarkable turnaround in qualifying.

Narrowly missing out on advancing to the second part of the session, the 22-year-old Brit lined up 13th on the grid for the 85-lap IndyCar Grand Prix. His challenge, however, was almost immediately compromised when – following a bright start that saw him gain some early ground – he found himself forced to take to the grass to avoid a spinning Tony Kanaan, rejoining the fray all the way down in 20th position.

Having grittily battled back up to 13th, a refuelling issue during Jones’ first pit visit caused a further delay and prompted an unscheduled extra stop, demoting him to a lonely 19th place. He would remain there to the chequered flag, as a rare caution-free race afforded him scant opportunity to play catch-up. The former European F3 Open Champion posted the fastest lap at one stage behind the wheel of his 720bhp Dallara-Honda single-seater, ending up third-quickest overall in evidence of what might have been.

With no time to rest, Jones and DCR are already hard at work preparing for the 101st edition of the legendary Indianapolis 500 – the culmination of the ‘Month of May’ – with two days of qualifying scheduled for 20/21 May followed by ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ itself a week later on 28 May.

“The Indianapolis road course has been a good track for me in the past” reflected the Williams-Harfield Sports Group protégé.

“It’s quite a European-style circuit, which I think is one of the reasons why I feel so comfortable there. We went into the weekend believing it would probably be one of our best chances to get a good result so far this year, but in practice we had a few problems that made it really difficult to learn and progress.

He added: “We made some big changes heading into qualifying and moved nearer to my team-mate’s set-up. That allowed us to take a big jump and I ended up really close to the ‘Fast 12’, missing out by less than half-a-tenth-of-a-second. It was obviously frustrating not to go through to the next round, but still massive to qualify where we did given where we had been in practice – much better than we had feared.

“Unfortunately, it was then a difficult race. At the start we moved up a little bit, but going into Turn Seven, Kanaan spun in front of me and I had to avoid him – I thought he was going to take me out properly! I had to go onto the grass, and that dropped me to the rear of the field.

“After that, we were coming through and our pace was pretty good, but then at the first pit-stop we didn’t get all the fuel into the car, costing us a lot of time and messing up the whole race as it sent us to the back again. That was a real shame, as we set the third-best lap so we were clearly quick, and I think we would have probably finished inside the top ten if we’d had a clean run.”

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Alonso posts fastest rookie time in first Indy 500 practice

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Fernando Alonso.

Fernando Alonso shrugged off searing temperatures to post the fastest rookie time during practice for the Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday.

The Formula One star, who jetted into the United States less than 24 hours after finishing 12th in the Spanish Grand Prix, completed 36 laps on the famous oval at a best average speed of 221.63mph.

The former Formula One world champion admitted he had feared the blazing hot sunshine and temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) might be a problem before climbing into his McLaren-Honda-Andretti.

“I was a little bit concerned about the temperature, as it was much hotter today than at the test we did here on May 3rd,” Alonso said.

“But the car felt as good as it did at the test, and I was able to make some setup changes without losing the confidence in the car.”

Under Indy 500 rules, practice sessions and qualifying are governed by top average speed. The opening session is for rookies and returning drivers who have not raced in the event for a significant time.

Alonso’s top average speed was just faster than compatriot Oriol Servia, who had an average speed of 220.75mph and Ed Jones, who was third quickest with a time of 210.29mph.

Alonso’s session was interrupted by a suspension glitch which denied him the opportunity to practice driving in traffic.

“Everything went very smooth. The last half an hour maybe we had some issues with the rear suspension, and we could not complete the program that we had planned to run a little bit in traffic at the end of the day, so we missed that part,” Alonso said. “But over all, it was an amazing day.

“I’m happier than the first day with the car because I was able to feel some of the setup changes that we were planning in the morning.

“But we did not do much running in traffic, so that’s still the thing that I need to go through in the next couple of days. But I did two or three laps behind some cars that were going out of pit lane, and it was good fun.”

Alonso, who is skipping the Monaco Grand Prix to race in the Indy 500, is due to practice all week before entering qualifying at the weekend, hoping to reach Sunday’s Pole Day. The Indy 500 takes place the following week on May 28.

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