The UAE’s karting sensation Rashid Al Dhaheri is looking forward to next season for what the seven-year-old describes as his most challenging yet.
The Emirati ended his 2015 season on a high, finishing second overall in the Parolin Academy Championship in Italy following back-to-back victories in October.
His achievement saw him nominated in the ‘Local Young Athlete’ category for the prestigious Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Award with the winner to be announced next month.
It’s a feat that he’s very proud of but next year, he will be spending a lot of time behind the wheel in what will be a more competitive season.
For the first time, ‘Little Alonso’ will line up in the ROK Championship in the Mini ROK category for the opener in April in Italy. He will come up against eight to 12-year-olds in an event that attracts more than 80 promising drivers.
Keen to test himself against the best, Al Dhaheri will also move up one level to the Mini Category (eight to 12-year-olds) in the Parolin Academy Championship.
The Emirati will also make his debut in the Micro Max Category of the UAE Rotax Max Championship as well as the RAK Championship in the Rookie event.
“I will give it my best but I know it will be a hard year for me,” said Al Dhaheri during a media interaction at the Sofitel hotel in Abu Dhabi.
“I’m happy I did well this year as it was a tough season. Racing in Italy isn’t easy because I have to deal with the weather as it rains there while in the UAE it’s hot so the tracks are very dry. I’m confident I can do well.”
The schedule means the GEMS American Academy pupil, who idolises F1 star Fernando Alonso, will travel twice a month for the Italian competitions, often spending four days on each visit.
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Guiding him through is coach and former Formula Three driver Fausto Ippoliti. The Italian has been impressed by what he’s seen of Al Dhaheri and is adamant he can go far in the sport.
“He is a young driver but I like his mentality,” he said. “He is very intelligent and his driving style is very good. He’s very alert and simply loves being behind the wheel. Some of the top Formula One drivers all started in karting and there’s no reason why Rashid can’t do the same.”
Al Dhaheri’s father Ali Obaid Al Yabhouni insists the busy season will help him develop as an athlete.
He said: “There is still a lot to learn. The year 2016 will be more focused on gaining experience in each and every category. He has the natural ability but needs to gain a lot more experience to compete at the highest levels against older drivers.
“Rashid’s learning curve has been exceptional. Education is a priority for us and all the things that Rashid learns at school is helpful when he’s behind the wheel. I’m proud of Rashid’s achievements and I’m sure he can achieve the podium again this year.”
Whatever lies ahead, Al Dhaheri is dreaming big. “I want to compete in the Formula One for Ferrari. That is my dream,” added the youngster.
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Al Nabooda Racing have made a record-breaking start to the season in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East, but the best is yet to come from youngster Zaid Ashkanani, according to team manager Vijay Rao said.
Ashkanani’s new partnership with Jeffrey Schmidt has produced a 45 point lead in the GT3 Cup team championship after just four of 12 rounds.
And Rao believes that is just the beginning of things to come for Ashkanani.
As the Kuwaiti driver took journalists for hot laps of the Dubai Autodrome circuit in his Al Nabooda Racing Porsche GT3 Cup car, Rao said: “Zaid is an exciting talent who is just going to get better and better.
“He’s quickly formed a dynamic partnership with Jeffrey and given us the perfect start to the season.
“We’re very hopeful that we can mark our 10th anniversary in the best possible way by taking the team and driver’s titles.”
Ashkanani and Schmidt are next in Porsche GT3 Cup action when the Middle East’s leading circuit racing series returns to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit on 22 January.
— Porsche GT3 ME (@PorscheGT3CCME) December 4, 2015
Following the success of the inaugural Hankook 24H Series season, the buzz around the challenging event has increased manifold.
So far, almost 400 entries have already been received for participation in one of the seven rounds in 2016, including a capacity grid of 100 teams in Dubai next month.
The Series is set for a flying start at the Dubai Autodrome on January 14-16 after which it returns to Europe for round two with Hankook 12H Italy-Mugello on March 18-19.
Thereafter, action moves to the UK with the inaugural Hankook 24H Silverstone – European Touring Car Edition from April 1-3.
One month later, it is back across the North Sea with Netherlands hosting the third running of the Hankook 12H Zandvoort from May 6-7.
The rest of the season includes Hankook 24H Paul Ricard on July 15-17 in the south of France, the Hankook 24H Barcelona from September 2-4 and the Hankook 12H Epilog Brno (Czech republic) on October 14-15.
“Applications for entries for the races are coming in on a daily basis,” said Natasha Mark on behalf of Creventic, the Dutch agency that is the promoter and organiser of the Hankook 24H Series.
“For Dubai, we had to put some teams on the waiting list and it is clear that teams are now acting quickly to avoid such disappointment for the other rounds.
"For Silverstone, we already have almost 70 registrations, but there is also plenty of interest for our rounds in Italy, the Netherlands, France, Spain and Czech Republic, even though that one is still almost 10 months away.”