Calling all petrolheads! Thanks to our friends at RAK Tourism Development Authority, we have an amazing VIP experience to give away that we know will be right up your street.
As a hosted guest of RAK TDA, you’ll enjoy full weekend tickets to the Hankook 24-Hour Race at Dubai Autodrome, VIP access to the pit lane, grid and paddock courtesy of Ras Al Khaimah, PureDrive Automotive and top British racing driver Oli Webb on both Friday and Saturday. You’ll have the chance to meet Oli and the unique opportunity to step inside his garage to get up close and personal with him, his team and his race car.
The race starts at 2pm on Friday, January 13 and finishes 24 hours later when the champion will be crowned. Full catering in an air conditioned suite will be provided on Friday so make sure you arrive in plenty of time to enjoy the hospitality with your RAKTDA hosts! To enter, just answer this simple question:
Being a Formula One driver is arguably the most exciting profession in sport. Fast cars, fast women, fast everything. Today’s racing environment has become stagnant, but Stefan Johansson drove in arguably the most exciting era the sport ever witnessed.
The Swede may never have come close to winning a world title – his best finish was fifth in 1986 with Ferrari – but he claimed 12 podiums from 103 races and drove alongside some of the sport’s biggest icons, including Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
Away from the pits he has been a huge success as a drivers’ manager, including IndyCar’s Scott Dixon. He is also a supremely talented artist, and is particularly known for his watch designs. Sport360° caught up with him at the Gulf 12 Hours last month.
It’s been a while since you ended your professional career. What brings you here to the UAE?
I’ve just turned 60 and it sounded like fun. I haven’t driven in anger for about four years so I thought I’d give it a go again. It was good but it takes time when you’ve been out of it to get used to it again.
How did you find Yas Marina Circuit to drive?
It’s a very interesting track, very technical. It’s a typical modern Formula One track; lots of chicanes, low and medium speed corners. It’s a challenging circuit.
As an old school F1 driver, are you a fan of new tracks or do you hark for famous old circuits like Suzuka, Monza, etc?
There are some great old tracks like Spa, Suzuka, really challenging tracks and punishing if you make a mistake, which is what you want. It’s sad for the old tracks but it’s the nature of the beast.
It’s always an involving sport. Tracks come and go. It would be nice to maintain a few of the classic tracks but Idon’t think there’s anything wrong with the modern tracks.
What’s your favourite F1 circuit?
Spa or Suzuka. They have everything. High and low speed, challenging corners, they’re nice rhythm tracks.
Away from the track, what are you doing now?
I’m very involved in racing still. I manage a few drivers and am involved in some projects with Ferrari, mainly on the sports car side. I’m very busy. I also do my watches too and my art so I’m very busy.
Looking back, you must reflect on your career with immense pride?
Yes and no. I could have done better. I won a few grands prix but everyone who enters the sport at the sharp end wants to be world champion. The timing wasn’t right for me but I’m not complaining.
It was hard initially for you to break in at Spirit, Toleman and Ferrari. Did you ever lose hope?
It’s strange but no, I never did. I kept pushing and never gave up and thought sooner or later the doors would open. And they did.
Are there any regrets with how it ended first time when you were replaced by Gerhard Berger?
I’d already started discussing with McLaren so it was mutual. It was extremely political at the time at Ferrari and it worked out for everyone.
At McLaren you worked for Ron Dennis who you’d first met racing in Formula 3. What was he like to work for?
He was great, one of the best team owners in history. I have nothing but good things to say about him.
At Toleman you raced alongside the late, great Ayrton Senna. What made him such a special driver?
He had an extreme amount of raw talent, but he worked very hard at it. He had an unbendable belief in himself and almost willed things to happen for him. He was one of those characters, had he been a banker he would have been the best banker in the world.
Endurance racing also played a key part in your career. What did you prefer, F1 or racing somewhere like Le Mans?
Both. Endurance racing is great but F1 is the pinnacle so that’s where you want to be if you’re an ambitious driver. I was lucky enough to do both.
Do you agree F1 is boring now, and if so, do you have any solutions?
A little bit. F1 has always been about the cars. There’s never been a world champion that didn’t have the best car, that’s a simple fact. It’s always been a technical exercise, but it would be nice for there to be a bit more emphasis on the driver.
My biggest thing is that aerodynamics in racing have ruined motorsport. There’s no benefit to downforce except to make the car go faster. It’s ruined racing because as soon as you get close to the car in front you lose the downforce and you have to create artificial methods of passing like DRS.
What I would do is take out two thirds of the down force and add 300/400 more horse power. It would allow for much more opportunities to pass.
Nico Rosberg finally won the F1 world title last season. What do you think about him announcing his retirement?
I can certainly understand it. What he had to bring out of himself to do what he did. I think it was a brave and courageous decision. He obviously thought about it carefully.
Who is your favourite driver to watch?
I like (Daniel) Ricciardo. He always has a go. He’s a good racer, a hardcore racer, he’s notpolitical, he just gets on with it. I think he’s the purest racer.
Who would you rank as your top three F1 drivers ever and why?
Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost and I think Lewis (Hamilton) is getting up there. Whatever you say about him he’s done a phenomenal job. He’s the real deal. Lewis has massive raw talent.
Fangio was so graceful, he destroyed his competition but in a very classy way. Bravery beyond belief. The epitome of a great racing driver.
Not only was Alain super fast but it was the way he worked around the car. He changed the game for everyone, he was so professional in his approach.
I don’t put Senna up there because I think he was flawed in many ways. He was maybe the fastest driver ever but for me there was always too much drama. A bit like (Fernando) Alonso, he didn’t really choose the best team at the right time when he had the opportunity. I don’t think anyone was near him in speed but I think you need more than that, and Prost was the complete package.
When Kris Meeke gets his World Rally Championship (WRC) campaign under way in just over two weeks time in Monte Carlo, the Briton may not need to do much homework on the routes for the season ahead. After all, he’s a veteran of rallying for more than 10 years and is fully aware what’s in store for the next 12 months.
Gruelling snow, tarmac, mixed and gravel surfaces await Meeke this year and it’s up to him and his co-driver Paul Nagle to tackle those challenges. Behind the wheel for Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, he has already proved he has the winning mentality after triumphing in Argentina in 2015 and in Portugal and Finland last year. Despite nine podiums in 73 rallies, that’s not enough and as he puts it, it’s been a career of “ups and downs”.
So when the C3 WRC was unveiled at the world launch last month at the Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, Meeke could not stop smiling. Not only will he be starting in each of the 13 rounds as Citroen’s main man following their full-time return to the series but here is a car, built to the new-for-2017 regulations, which the French manufacturer, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Racing Team (ADRT), hope can bring success.
As with any form of motorsport, a car is only as good as the driver. But Meeke has had 10 months of testing the machine and feels his wait to achieve his ultimate dream could soon be over. “It’s very exciting and it’s been a big challenge for the engineers but I think we took the correct approach in 2016 by only doing a selected number of rallies and concentrating on testing,” said the 37-year-old.
“Hopefully we see the benefits of that when we start this year and I think it will be an exciting season ahead. Hopefully we can have some success. The target for me is to become a world champion but we’ll have to wait and see.”
The team were last celebrating championship success back in 2012 when nine-time winner Sebastian Loeb claimed their ninth constructors’ title and eighth drivers’ crown. This time round, their cause could be helped by what has happened off track. This season, Volkswagen, who have dominated the sport recently, and winners of the 2016 drivers’ and constructors’ championships have withdrawn. That paved the way for M-Sport Ford to rope in defending champion and four-time winner Sebastien Ogier, while three-time winners Toyota return for the first time since 1999 with Jari-Matti Latvala leading their all-Finnish line-up.
With those changes, Meeke’s chances of following in Loeb’s footsteps and becoming Citroen’s 10th championship winner, have never been better. Yet, he remains cautious.
“Maybe Toyota will need a little bit of time to get up to speed but for sure, they are coming up with big resources,” he said. “Every team will be pushing and are capable of winning but I think I can do the job. There is always anticipation to know who has done the best job in development.”
He will get a chance to see the men who will be looking to deny his dream when the elite drivers assemble at the Monte Carlo Rally on January 20 – a city where he was left frustrated 12 months ago. Having taken the lead on day one, he was forced to withdraw on day three after damaging his gearbox during the 12th stage.
It was far from his best-placed finish of third in 2014, a position he went on to claim a further three times en-route to his best-ever finish of seventh in WRC that season. And he knows getting off to a good start is crucial. “Every time you start a new season, you want to do well,” he said. “Monte Carlo is a difficult rally and it’s the same challenge as everybody. I enjoyed the rally last year and we were a little bit unlucky. I feel this time we are ready, and with a little bit of luck, hopefully we can get off to a good start.”
The former British Junior Rally champion is entering his fourth year with his current employers and spoke highly of team-mate and driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, following ADRT’s partnership. “For me we are like a big family. I’m very thankful for Sheikh Khalid (chairman of ADRT) for supporting my career. He selected me to be involved in the team since 2013. I’ve grown a lot since and now Citroen are a full-time factory team. The support of Abu Dhabi which they have put in is fantastic,” he said.
“I have a lot of support around me so I think we are in a good position to fight for the title. I always had an ambition to race a car but I wasn’t driving rally cars until I was 21 so I was quite late to start. It was a dream of mine to become a world champion, and I feel that is possible given that I’m in a top team with great support around me.”
While he admits no rally is easy, he simply enjoys being behind the wheel. “It’s the thrill of competing isn’t it?” he said. “If it wasn’t completely safe, we wouldn’t be competing. All forms of motorsport is dangerous but it’s the thrill, adrenaline and I live for it. There is really no favourite surface that I enjoy driving on.
“I like it when I’m fast. It doesn’t matter whether it’s snowy conditions or humid conditions. I enjoy them all and the World Championship is so diverse with so many surfaces, which make the competition more exciting.”