Al Faisal Al Zubair’s journey in motorsport has taken him from the shallow depths of Middle East racing, to wading the deep end of Europe’s finest.
The transition hasn’t necessarily been seamless, but the marriage binding the Omani’s ambition and talent has made the 19-year-old sensation the poster child for the sport’s potential in the region.
Following an impressive debut in the 2016/17 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, in which he captured both the GCC Rookie Championship and Silver title, Al Zubair parlayed his success into a step up to the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup.
Competing for Lechner Racing Middle East, the London student has had a mixed bag of results so far with two non-points finishes, one retirement and two points finishes through five races.
Coming off a promising showing at Silverstone where he crossed in 15th for three points, Al Zubair put on a strong qualifying performance to line-up in 12th for today’s sixth round in Budapest.
Three more races remain after Hungary – Stavelot in August, Monza in September and Mexico City in October – but even if Al Zubair can’t improve on his overall standing of 17th down the stretch, he’s already received an education on what it takes to be a small fish in a big pond.
“My experience so far has been amazing. The competition is very tough and every driver is extremely quick. Sometimes it is good to be amongst such a high level of driving as you find yourself raising your own levels without even noticing,” Al Zubair told Sport360°.
“My results and times are getting better and better with each race, so that is all I can hope for – I will keep working hard until the end of the season.”
Al Zubair started karting at 13 and worked his way up the ranks in Great Britain, including the BRDC British Formula 3 Championship, so a foundation was always in place for a move up to the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup.
Yet, he believes the Porsche GT3 CCME prepared him in ways he couldn’t otherwise have experienced, while also giving him a sense of belonging amongst the elite drivers.
“The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East helped me a lot, it taught me the dynamics of how to drive a Porsche, race craft, qualifying and gave me so much track time to get used to racing the car,” he said.
“I came to Europe being on the pace with the car and felt confident to be able to compete within the grid. It’s great to be able to come from a professional set-up in the Middle East as it prepares you for competitions like the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and makes you confident within your own ability.”
Al Zubair will return to the track in Bahrain and Dubai for the competition’s ninth season, which begins in November.
The championship will feature the regional debut of the brand-new Porsche GT3 Cup car and again give young talent a chance to shine and develop.
Al Zubair’s meteoric rise also gives every reason for fellow Middle Eastern drivers to follow suit.
“I believe the Porsche GT3 CCME is the perfect platform to start racing for young Arab drivers. It takes place at the best time of year for weather, you learn the car inside and out, you learn everything about qualifying and improving your speed,” said Al Zubair.
“There is also a real mixture of drivers, amateurs and seasoned professionals, giving every driver a goal and somebody to compete against. So yes, overall I think it is the best way to start and develop and then, if you progress well, there is a potential pathway into Europe.
“I’d like to think I am a great example of that.”
Dubai-based driver Ed Jones has been declared for the iconic Indianapolis 500 in a fortnight, where he will race against Formula One star Fernando Alonso.
Jones, who drives for Dale Coyne Racing in IndyCar, is among four rookies included in the line-up along with Alonso, Britain’s Jack Harvey and American Zach Veach.
Defending champion Alexander Rossi and three-time winner Helio Castroneves were among seven former winners named among the 33 cars entered for the 101st Indianapolis 500 on Sunday night.
The IndyCar namesake classic, 200 laps around the 4km Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, will be staged May 28 with qualifying next weekend.
In his debut IndyCar season, Jones, 22, has claimed 92 points and lies 12th of the 24 drivers with his best finish sixth place in Long Beach.
US racer Rossi took a shock win last year as a rookie, the first Indy 500 newcomer to see the checkered flag since Brazil’s Castroneves won his first crown in 2001 and Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2015 winner, took his first Indy 500 win in 2000.
Other past champions entered in cars this year include Americans Buddy Lazier (1996) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), New Zealand’s Scott Dixon (2008) and Brazil’s Tony Kanaan (2013).
Castroneves, whose other triumphs came in 2002 and 2009, will try to become only the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner, joining US legends A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Snr and Rick Mears.
In all, 19 winners of IndyCar events are entered, including defending series champion and season points leader Simon Pagenaud, a Frenchman who carries a 10-point lead over Dixon into the race, and Australia’s Will Power, who won his 30th IndyCar title at Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the track’s road course.
Two-time F1 champion Alonso completed his rookie orientation program at the speedway earlier this month while the others will begin their training sessions ahead of Monday’s opening practice.
There are 18 Honda-powered entries and 15 with Chevrolet engines. Among the other drivers linked to cars Sunday were Britain’s Max Chilton, Jay Howard and Pippa Mann and Japan’s Takuma Sato.
Rising UAE motorsport talent Amna Al Qubaisi is set to make history by becoming the first female Emirati and Arab driver to race in Formula 4 in Europe.
The 17-year-old, who became the first Emirati girl to win the karting UAE senior Rotax Max Challenge series last month, has been awarded a deal with Prema team, sponsored by Kaspersky Lab, which will see her test herself against some of the world’s best up-and-coming drivers in 2018.
The announcement is a major boost for the Daman Speed Academy junior in her aspirations of achieving her F1 dream and the Abu Dhabi schoolgirl is looking forward to being behind the wheel in such a “big” competition.
“It feels really amazing to be the first female driver of the UAE to be racing in Formula Four,” Amna said during a ceremony at Yas Viceroy hotel on Friday night.
“I feel very confident that I can do well there and this is the first step to Formula One. I hope that I can make good progress and hopefully soon I can make it in Formula One.
“I hope I can live up to the expectations of Daman Speed Academy, where I have trained. And of course Abu Dhabi Racing who have placed so much trust in me.”
She has the rest of the year to get familiar with the new car but she was pleased with her first outing on a circuit she knows well.
“I’ve tested the car at Yas Marina Circuit and in Dubai and hope to get good results. My karting experience will help me as Formula Four is a different strategy but I was within the pace when I tested,” she added.
“Prema are a great team who have delivered champions. Moreover, Kaspersky Lab has come on board to sponsor the first ever female Emirati driver at this level of racing, which is fantastic.”
By joining Formula 4, Amna will be following other young drivers to take the step from karting to single-seater racing in a competition designed to be a learning and affordable step in their bid of reaching the pinnacle of the sport – the F1. Drivers can receive FIA Super Licence points, which are required to drive in F1.
Since its inception by the FIA in 2014, it has already been hugely popular with impressive grids as new regions create their own competitions.
To date, there are 12 competitions on the FIA F4 calendar including the Australian, British, Chinese, Spanish and the UAE Championship. Father Khaled Al Qubaisi, founder of Daman Speed Academy and Abu Dhabi Racing managing director was thrilled with the major news and hopes she can now realise her ultimate dream.
“It has been four years finding a driver to go up a level and Amna has done it,” he said. “Racing with Prema and the sponsorship from Kaspersky Lab is immeasurable and we hope this association will go a long way in getting Amna to compete at the highest level.”
Kaspersky Lab’s managing director for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa, Maxim Frolov, added: “It’s great to see this success and professional growth in a sport that we support. In her achievements, Amna Al Qubaisi is a great example of human power combined with the best technologies. We believe it’s changing the paradigm of Emirati sports and taking it to newer, higher levels.”
Before her new ventures, Amna will be aiming to add to her trophy cabinet when she competes in the Grand World Finals of the Rotex Max Challenge in Portugal later this year. This season, she also came up trumps in the GCC Young Drivers Academy, while her efforts on the track saw her win the Outstanding Emirati Athlete accolade at the UAE Teen Sports and Fitness Awards.