From Dubai to Hatta, the second Chopard Classic Rally Dubai threw up thrills and spills

Matt Jones 17/11/2018
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Romain Dumas and co-driver Matt Jones take on the dunes of the Chopard Classic Rally Dubai.

We couldn’t win despite having a professional driver with three 24 Hours of Le Mans titles behind the wheel. We were the only team to run out of fuel as well, so it’s safe to say I don’t think I have a career in co-driving ahead of me.

Then again, 19th place out of 30 entries – finishing just 46 minutes, 47 seconds adrift of the winning team – doesn’t seem so bad, considering Romain Dumas had an absolute novice on the notes beside him at the second annual Chopard Classic Rally Dubai.

Negotiating the 10-minute route from my flat in Dubai Marina to the Sport360 offices in JLT on a daily basis is about the extent of my navigational nouse – Google Maps is the greatest invention ever. So, I was more than a little perturbed when tasked with getting Romain and I safely home via a 500km+ route from downtown Dubai, out to Hatta and back.

It was actually going rather smoothly, until the rather unfortunate fuel incident between the penultimate time control point in the race’s twilight stages.

We often take for granted the beautiful surroundings on offer to us here in the UAE. Dubai and Abu Dhabi receive a lot of focus from the outside world for their stunning architecture and impressive sporting portfolios.

Imthishan Giado and Mohammed Giado in their 1981 Delorean, made famous by the Back to the Future films.

Imthishan Giado and Mohammed Giado in their 1981 Delorean, made famous by the Back to the Future films.

But amidst all the sand and splendor in this oil-rich nation, there are some stunning hidden gems to discover.

The drive to Hatta certainly comes under that category. Stunning scenery is almost a constant on the 500km trek from the race’s processional start at the Armani Hotel Dubai – taking in Sharjah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain.

Though I can’t say I’d like to have been stranded by the roadside in Al Lisaili for much longer.

The rally starts from the shadows of the Burj Khalifa, but it is only when we leave Dubai’s stunning skyline behind that the real beauty of the Arabian Gulf truly comes into focus.

Once off the main highways I safely negotiated Romain and our sleek and stylish, vintage 1973 Porsche 911 2.4S, deep into the heart of the epic Hajar mountain range, which offers UAE residents some of the finest driving routes imaginable.

You can get lost here, spending your day exploring serene and silent canyon roads. Most are completely empty and perfectly surfaced, with some virtually ancient villages and settlements hidden not too far away.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to get lost – we had a pace to maintain and a rally to win.

We snaked our way from Dubai, along the E102 to the halfway point of the rally, the quaint Hatta Fort Hotel, the route interspersed with exciting and challenging regularity tests.

The limited edition L.U.C 1937 Classic Rally Dubai Special Edition watch.

The limited edition L.U.C 1937 Classic Rally Dubai Special Edition watch.

In the surrounding mountains, a bright white ‘Hatta’ sign has been constructed in bold, squared letters, identical to the iconic Hollywood sign in the hills above Los Angeles.

And at the halfway point of the race, Romain and I seemed set for a fairytale ending. But as we headed off on the second leg, back towards Dubai, there was to be a late plot twist.

We decided against filling up with half a tank of fuel remaining, choosing instead to eat up some miles. What did I care? Romain, 40, claimed the FIA World Endurance Championship title in 2016 alongside Porsche team-mates Marc Lieb and Neel Jani, so is used to pushing things to the limit.

But upon entering Al Lisaili, it became clear that as we’d been pushing the classic Porsche to its limits, we’d also been pushing our luck.

We were aiming to drive off into the sunset as champions, yet here we were, now stranded by the side of the road. The only person disappearing into the sunset was a helpful race marshal to get us a carton of petrol.

A good half an hour was lost, although Ales-native Romain and I laid it all on the line down the home stretch.

And we were only slightly late arriving at the finish line back at the Armani – a little over 10 minutes behind our scheduled finish time, with our total time of 7 hours 20 minutes 30 seconds good enough for 19th place.

The winning team of Britain’s James Iremonger and Lebanese co-pilot Gilbert Ayoub steered their 1954 Jaguar home in 6:34:47 – earning themselves a limited edition L.U.C 1937 Classic Rally Dubai Special Edition watch.

Chopard Classic Rally Dubai award winners.

Chopard Classic Rally Dubai award winners.

Produced in a 20-piece limited series and dedicated to Middle Eastern classic racing enthusiasts, Chopard created this handsome chronometer; a timekeeper with extraordinary finishing which is an essential instrument for the gentleman who seeks excitement and luxury.

Organised by Chopard, along with partner Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons and Emaar Properties, the Chopard Classic Rally Dubai brought together 30 classic sports cars on Friday, November 9, coming from the UAE and Gulf region, as well as further afield, including across Europe and the United States.

The awards ceremony and dinner took place at the Armani that evening where other winners included: Best in show car, Shehab Gargash and Ahmad Al Matrooshi (1970 Mercedes Benz 280 SE Cabriolet); Spirit of the Rally, Laurence Bridger and Julia Maria Kangas (1969 Cadillac de Ville 6 Window); Emaar Award 1st Novice, Ali Al Fardan and Ahmad Al Nashash (1977 BMW 2002); 2nd overall, Peter Somekh and Anthony McCarter (1968 Jaguar E Type 1.5) and 3rd overall, Imthishan Giado and Mohammed Giado (1981 Delorean DMC 12).

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Swedish F1 racer Marcus Ericsson jumps to IndyCar for 2019

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Swedish Formula One driver Marcus Ericsson, never better than an eighth-place finisher over five F1 seasons, will jump to IndyCar next year, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced Tuesday.

The 28-year-old racer who made his F1 debut with Caterham in 2014 will drive a Honda-powered IndyCar entry after racing four Sauber the past four seasons, this year for Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo.

Ericsson has made 95 F1 starts with races yet to come this season in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. His top finish was eighth in the 2015 season opener in Australia. He had five top-10 efforts that year but topped it with six top-10s this year, including 10th in the United States and ninth at last Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix.

“It’s a great honor to be picked as one of the drivers at Schmidt Peterson,” Ericsson said. “It feels like a perfect step for me and my career after five years in F1. I can’t wait to start work with SPM and all the people in the team.”

Ericsson will remain a reserve driver for Alfa Romeo Sauber next year but is excited to race in IndyCar.

“The racing in IndyCar looks great and I feel really excited to be part of it in the future,” he said. “It will be a lot to learn, including new tracks, oval racing, etc. I know it won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge I’m very much looking forward to and I can’t wait to get started.”

Ericsson will be a teammate of Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, set to start his ninth IndyCar campaign and fifth with Schmidt Peterson with his most recent of five series wins coming this past July at Iowa.

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Third consecutive Endurance Championship Victory for Bin Drai Karting Team

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Third consecutive Endurance Championship victory for Bin Drai Karting Team

After 526 arduous laps and 700 kilometres on the Monaco Switchback Circuit at Dubai Kartdrome, Bin Drai Karting Team, with drivers Andre Caiado, Miguel Neto, David Terrien and Pedja Jakovljevic, nabbed its third win in a row on Saturday (October 20) to maintain its lead in the Pro ranking of the 2018 Endurance Championship.

Dmitry Levin, Konstantin Mandrikov and Victor Agafonov of LD Russia took over the Corporate category with an impressive class victory, as well as solidifying their top spot status in the Nations Cup.

Qualifying & Sprint Race

Cambridge Middle East Interiors controlled the qualifying session early on until Andre Caiado of Bin Drai Karting Team took to the Monaco Switchback Circuit and powered out a blazing best lap time of 1:15.726 to top the timing screens.

New to the championship for this round was a sprint race to determine the final grid order for the endurance event. Bin Drai Karting Team and Cambridge Middle East Interiors resumed their battle over nine laps and again Caiado was the hero, taking the chequered flag over a second clear of Emirates Pro.

Cambridge Middle East Interiors settled for third place, while the 2015 Pro Champions, Dubai Falcon Racing Team, placed fourth.

In the Corporate category, Redline Racing upset the favourites, beating out Team Emirates in the sprint race and lining up fifth on the grid. Team Emirates, the defending Corporate champs, lined up in sixth place.

In the Nations Cup, for drivers of the same nationality, the all-Russian outfit of LD Russia took ninth place, which was just enough to beat another Russian squad, newcomers Eau Rouge.

Dubai Kartdrome Endurance Championship RD3 Winners Podium

Dubai Kartdrome Endurance Championship RD3 Winners Podium

700KM Endurance Race

After the famous Le Mans style start of the third round of the Dubai Kartdrome Endurance Championship, three Pro teams emerged as frontrunners in the 700-kilometre endurance race.

Polesitter Bin Drai Karting Team brawled with Cambridge Middle East Interiors and Emirates Pro in the opening laps, with Dubai Falcon Racing Team just behind waiting to pounce on the top three.

Dubai Falcon Racing Team kept attacking, picking off teams and finally into the lead by lap 21. Bin Drai Karting Team took it right back, only to lose it again to the Falcons by lap 46

Then came the rain.

The unexpected deluge during the night caught many teams off guard, with slippery conditions and slow lap times throwing off well calculated strategies for pit stops.

As the first drops fell, Bin Drai Karting Team dropped down the grid order, taking a series of pit stops ahead of most of the field. It was deliberate manoeuvre that would bring the race back to the team later in the contest.

Bin Drai Driver Captain David Terrien remarked, “We were faster in the wet, so we put in quite a big gap and we also managed to do some pit stops in the wet.”

“It was better to do the pit stops when the track was slower, so we gained time.”

Gained they did, and by midnight the drivers of Bin Drai were back in command of the race. Several of the visiting Russian teams also enjoyed the familiar wet weather.

As Corporate leader, Team Emirates, tumbled backwards down the field in the tricky conditions, LD Russia and Energy Russia moved up to take the lead in class.

While the Russians dominated the Corporate and Nations Cup categories, Cambridge Middle East Interiors and Emirates PRO were busy chasing down Bin Drai Karting Team for a shot at the overall win.

Both teams closed the gap by the early hours of the morning, but the drivers of Bin Drai managed to keep focused and stay out in front.

After almost thirteen hours of endurance racing, Miguel Neto completed the full 700 kilometres for Bin Drai Karting Team, crossing the finish line 48.506 seconds ahead of Cambridge Middle East Interiors.

Sweet victory for Bin Drai Karting Team at Dubai Kartdrome

Sweet victory for Bin Drai Karting Team at Dubai Kartdrome

On paper Bin Drai had a perfect weekend, scoring a karting hat-trick by topping qualifying, the initial sprint race and the final endurance race.

David Terrien said, “We really enjoyed the rain. We really enjoyed the new layout. It’s a very nice layout and the rain came to give a bit of spice to the race.”

Dubai Kartdrome Manager David Bright reflected, “Congratulations to Bin Drai Karting Team for another dramatic win. The new circuit layout was extremely popular with all of the drivers and the sprint race, as well as the sudden rain, provided an interesting twist to the contest.”

“I’d like to give a big thanks to our sponsors who support this iconic championship, to the Dubai Kartdrome team who were exceptional this weekend in adverse conditions, and to all of the teams who travelled from near and far to take up the 700-kilometre challenge.”

2018 Endurance Championship Standings

Bin Drai Racing Team have also gone three-for-three to maintain their lead in the Pro Championship with a total of 120 points.

Emirates PRO, on 99 points, and Dubai Falcon Racing Team, with 97 points, both have a great challenge to try and catch Bin Drai in the fourth and final round (14-15 December).

LD Russia walked away with two trophies last weekend, having cleaned up in both the Corporate and Nations Cup categories.

LD Russia Team Manager Kirill Chebanov congratulated Dubai Kartdrome officials for putting on a world-class race. He said, “Thank you for this event. This is a good experience for us, for our teams, and we will come back later for the 24 hours race.”

LD Russia has now moved into the Corporate Championship lead with a total of 110 points, jumping four points clear of Team Emirates on 106 points. Both teams could take it all in the final 24-hour round. Another Emirates squad, Fly Emirates, is mathematically in contention with 76 points, but most likely it will be looking to secure the third step of the podium over rivals Roland Berger.

In the sub-category Nations Cup, for teams with drivers of same nationality, LD Russia is firmly in control with 115 points. Prudent Motorsports India is in second-place on 80 points, while the Omani squad of Omantel Makasib 2 is pursuing in third position with 70 points.

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