Prepare for the sight and sound of a full grid of 620bhp, V10 Lamborghini race cars competing in the UAE for the first time next February when the Blancpain Super Trofeo one-make series makes its Gulf region debut in
Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
A field of up to 30 identically prepared Lamborghini Huracan-based race cars will take part in the first ever championship in the region and will add a fourth element to Lamborghini’s race series which is held across Europe, Asia and the United States.
“For us, the Middle East is one of the most important markets in the supercar business. We have a high level of perception of the brand there and it’s a way for us to offer something back to the Middle East,” Lamborghini’s Director of Research and Development, Maurizio Reggiani told Sport360 when breaking the news at the final round of the 2016 Super Trofeo series in Valencia.
As head of the company’s R&D, motorsport also comes under Reggiani’s umbrella as Lamborghini sees its involvement in motor racing intrinsically linked to the development of its road cars.
Built on the same production line as the Huracan road cars, the Super Trofeo race cars feature the same 5.2-litre V10 engine but are tweaked to develop 620bhp and are driven through the rear wheels only. It weighs just 1270kg and runs through an Xtrac six-speed sequential transmission developed specifically for the race car.
Reggiani said: “Motorsport is for us a way to transfer technology from the track to the road. It’s the development of the entire car, transferring our race experience in aerodynamics, cooling, braking and suspension set up so we can reach the more extreme levels of road car behaviour.”
Super Trofeo is a huge marketing push by Lamborghini, offering owners and potential customers a glimpse into the world of the Italian supercar manufacturer with a strong corporate hospitality presence as well as access to drivers and company management in a relaxed environment.
Given that the company will launch its first SUV, the Urus, in 2018 which will double Lamborghini’s capacity from 3,500 to 7,000 units annually at a new wing being added to the existing Sant’Agata factory in Italy, the importance of the Gulf region has taken a significant upswing in management’s eyes.
“Super Trofeo racing is part of our plan to keep Lamborghini growing worldwide and when it comes to this, the Middle East is one of the most important markets for the Urus SUV.
“It is a car that will be perfect for that territory and the awareness of this brand must be pushed. So at every event we hold, there will be a chance for a driving experience and exposure for the Urus as well. This is not just for a motor show but for the surroundings like a race track where everyone is a potential customer,” Reggiani added.
The company’s Head of Motorsport, Giorgio Sanna said the Super Trofeo series is aimed to bridge the gap between track days and professional motor racing while at the same time, perhaps find the next LeMans or Dubai 24-Hour winner.
“We began the Squadra Corse programme in 2013 and felt it was the right time to develop a motorsport department. We have the Lamborghini Academy which has a series of track days, then the Super Trofeo racing series and at the top of the tree is GT3. So we have a ladder which can take a novice Lamborghini road car owner to the highest levels of racing,” Sanna said.
Before that, the Super Trofeo series stood on its own, having begun as a European championship in 2009 with the Gallardo which expanded into the Asia Pacific in 2012 and last year went across the Atlantic to North America.
In 2009, it fielded a grid of 12 cars which has now grown to more than 50 for the European rounds, so the company is hopeful of a strong grid for the first round at the Yas Marina Circuit from February 9-11.
From there, the series will move to the Dubai Autodrome for rounds two and three on February 16-18 and March 2-4. Richard Birch, General Manager of Dubai Autodrome is eagerly awaiting the arrival of the Italian racing machines to his facility.
“I think this is great not only for the Dubai Autodrome but for motorsport in the UAE. In recent years we’ve added such great categories to our calendar like the Porsche Carrera Cup Middle East, the MRF open wheel series, the Formula 4 UAE championship and of course the Hankook 24 Hours of Dubai which is a world renowned race in its own right,” Birch said.
“We welcome the Lamborghini Super Trofeo series to the UAE and we are proud to be holding two of the three events set aside for this region, in Dubai,” he added.
From a driver’s perspective, the chance to race Super Trofeo in the UAE can’t come soon enough. Konrad Motorsport driver Christopher Zoechling finished his debut year in Super Trofeo in fifth place and as a Dubai resident who won the UAE Rotax Max karting championship in 2004, he’s excited at the prospect of racing again at home.
“It will be very exciting racing in Dubai with two drivers per car plus one mandatory pitstop to be taken during a 10 minute pit window, strategy will be key to winning,” Zoechling said.
“It should be a huge grid and both tracks are fantastic. I know them both very well so it’s definitely something I’m going to look forward to.”
You could not blame Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi for smiling during the world launch of the Citroen C3 WRC on Wednesday night – a car the Emirati believes can win the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team silverware.
The new vehicle for next year’s World Rally Championship was unveiled at the Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi and marks the French manufacturer’s full-time return to the series after focusing fully on World Touring Cars.
It will be a much-changed series when the competition gets underway in Monte Carlo next month. Defending champion Sebastien Ogier will now line up with MSport Ford after Volkswagen, winners of the 2016 drivers’ and constructors’ championship withdrew, while Toyota will return for the first time since 1999.
Having been behind the wheel during testing, Sheikh Khalid feels the car has what it takes to bring success.
“I would call this car the time machine because it’s our new winning machine for us,” he said, whose Abu Dhabi Racing Team (ADRT) are now in their fourth year of partnership with the French outfit.
“It is a fantastic car and it has raised the bar. We have built it to win titles and races. I think we can win races but about the championship, it requires a lot of hard work.”
Due to his participation in local domestic competitions and next month’s Dakar Rally, Sheikh Khalid expects to make his season debut in May’s Portugal Rally. “I’ll be there from May until the end of season. I’ve driven the car and I will give it my best when I’m there,” said the ADRT chairman.
One man who will be competing in all the 13 rounds beginning in next month’s Monte Carlo is Briton Kris Meeke. The 37-year-old, who won two rallies in Portugal and Finland, will lead the charge next season and has been impressed with the new car.
He said: “I’ve been testing this for so many months now and have covered a lot of kilometres. You can continue to test and try to improve but at some point, you need to enter it in a competition to see where you are and I feel ready for Monte Carlo. This is a big moment in my career and I will try and challenge for the title. It’s something I’ve dreamed about and the team have worked very hard to develop this car. I hope we can be competitive and the goal is to win the championship.”
Citroen team principal Yves Matton is happy to play the waiting game when it comes to results. “All the drivers are very happy with the car,” said the 49-year-old Belgian.
“It’s faster than the older cars and it’s an evolution when you’re talking of suspensions, transmission and speed. I’m confident we can win events. The aim is to bring back the WRC title home in 2018 but for sure a good surprise (in 2017) would be welcome.”
CG Racing Pro drivers David Terrien, Rami Azzam, Alban Varutti, and Piers Pakenham-Walsh were crowned champions for the 2016 Endurance Championship Driven By MINI, after 24 hours and a gruelling 1,132 laps at Dubai Kartdrome on Friday (16 December).
The fourth and final round of the championship developed into a titanic battle between two karting heavyweights, CG Racing Pro and Batelco-Drag 965 Racing.
Batelco-Drag 965 Racing came into the contest seeking to win an unprecedented fifth Pro category championship while the Choueiri Group (CG) was hoping to make history of its own by repeating its 2013 achievement of winning all three categories: Pro, Corporate and the Nations Cup.
Batelco-Drag 965 Racing signalled its intent in qualifying by burning up the timing screens with a best lap time of 1:10.797, which would stand as the fastest lap of the weekend. Overall qualifying was so close that the next 16 teams recorded times stood within a second of the leader.
Kicking off at midday on Friday, racing commenced with the drivers sprinting to the karts, arranged Le Mans style with CG Pro Racing getting the jump on Batelco-Drag 965 in the opening lap. Over the next hour, however, both teams would trade places in the frontrunner position, with Bin Drai Karting Team chasing in third.
As the race progressed into the night Batelco-Drag 965 Racing started to pull away from the pack and take a comfortable lead. At that point the crew members of CG Racing Pro knew they had to alter their plans.
With each team required to take at least 24 pit stops and each stop trading in for a new kart, managing time in the pit lane was critical.
CG Racing Pro Team Captain David Terrien said, “We really didn’t have the pace so we decided to try a different strategy which dropped us a bit lower in the rankings with some early pit stops, but then we managed to get into a good rhythm.”
By midnight those tactics started to pay off; CG Racing Pro leapfrogged Batelco-Drag 965 and then slowly built up a gap to the rest of the field. The Batelco squad made a push of its own but by morning it was unable to chase down the race leader.
After 24 hours, CG Racing Pro was first to the chequered flag, earning the team a top place trophy for the race and also for the 2016 Pro Championship with 175 points. Batelco-Drag 965 had to settle for second place silverware in the race while the Belgian outfit of Karting Eupen KCE Misanino took third for the day.
Defending 2015 champions Dubai Falcon Racing Team crossed the line in sixth, meriting it just enough points at 122 to secure third place in the Pro championship. Mach1 was seventh on the day and also earned 122 points for the season, however, Dubai Falcon Racing Team won the tie-breaker by collected more podium finishes over the four rounds.
The fighting was extremely close in the Corporate class. Veteran team Fly Emirates 1 avenged a bitter loss from 2015 when it missed out on the title by finishing 10 seconds behind CG Racing 2 in the final race.
On Saturday, the tables were turned and it was Fly Emirates 1 taking the class victory for Round Four and securing the 2016 Corporate Championship with 170 points.
CG Racing finished just two points down on 168 while its partner team, CG Academy, nabbed third place in the Corporate class with 141 points.
Fly Emirates 1 was down to CG Racing by almost two laps but the team never gave up hope. Emirates Team Manager Redza Jamil recalled, “I told the guys just keep on pushing. You never know what’s going to happen and when an opportunity might show itself—and it did. I’m very proud of the guys. It’s been an amazing season.”
Another perennial team, LD, finally chased down a title as well. The all-Russian outfit made the long flight from Chelyabinsk to Dubai for one more attempt at the Nations Cup, and the day certainly presented challenges for the visitors.
LD Captain Dmitry Levin commented, “It is winter in Russia now, so for two months we didn’t practice. Here in Dubai is it very hot and we are very tired!”
The heat and the competition couldn’t stop the Russian drivers though, and LD placed eighth in Round Four, which gave them 175 points and victory in the 2016 Nations Cup over the Indian team of ENOC-NH 8 on 152 points. All-Lebanese CG Racing netted third place on 146.
LD Team Manager Kirill Chebanov said, “We travelled almost 4,000 kilometres here to win. We knew we must win.”