I had the good fortune of accompanying the UAE contingent to the SWS Grand Finals at Circuit du RKC in France this past weekend. The world’s best SWS leisure kart drivers and teams were in action to decide the best of the best during a two-day contest.
In the SWS Endurance Final, run over 12 hours, Dubai Kartdrome endurance champions Batelco pulled off a famous victory with Ramez Azzam, acting as manager, while also on driving duty with Alban Varutti and Mohammad Mattar.
It was a faultless run for the trio, who were simply the best of the 34 teams during the 12 hours that were run in bitterly cold conditions and with rainfall late in the race. Team manager Ali Abbas, who was not present, made strategy calls online from Bahrain. Dubai Falcons were placed seventh.
In the SWS Sprint Finals it was a case of mixed fortunes for the UAE crew. At the end of a busy two days Dubai Kartdrome regular Paul Chatenay did the local scene proud by taking second place out of 76. Haytham Sultan Al Ali was 18th, Hussain Umid Ali was 40th, Atef Al Barwani 46th and Abdulla Al Ali 55th.
UAE had a single representative in the junior category with Eliot Jones finishing 11th out of 16 finalists.
Hanging out with the drivers during and after the event gave valuable insight into what they believe were the reasons for the varying performances during the weekend in Paris.
There was unanimous praise for Batelco for their showing in the endurance element. That day they were unbeatable, a fact acknowledged by their rivals.
Dubai Falcons are also a vastly experienced outfit with Shaikh Hasher Al Maktoum, Saeed Al Muhairi and usually Mohammad Al Mutawa (he had rally commitments which prevented him racing in the finals) and managed by Mike Wilkes and Luigi Gariano.
By their own admission the result was below expectations as this is a team who are used to battling for the top spot in any race, and more often than not finishing on the podium. This time out the powers that be were not on their side. Like the Batelco squad, Chatenay applied himself and brought home a big result, which in itself proves that the level of UAE leisure karting is substantial.
But Chatenay will be the first to admit that he is not a dominant driver on the local scene and in fact has been beaten by four other senior drivers who made the trip. But on the two days that really mattered he delivered.
So what of the rest? For lack of a better excuse, let’s put it down to a steep learning curve or lack of finals experience.
At an event such as this, drivers have to bring out their big game — as they say, do not take a knife to a gunfight.
Then — as in the instance of the SWS Grand Finals — be ready for a long and hard gunfight over the course of two days.
Ready to deliver
Be ready for the weather. In Dubai we race in conditions between 28 and 38 degrees; in France temperatures ranged between 8 and 12 degrees with wind thrown in for good measure.
Then, (to coin another cliche) in France do as the French do, namely drive as hard as possible, all the time, relentlessly. Start with qualifying — and this I believe is where races are won or lost. Drivers need to be in the groove and ready to deliver from the moment qualifying starts.
In a series where karts are virtually equal, a top grid position is vital. I will go as far as saying that if you are not in the top six for a race of this nature, you will struggle to make it anywhere near the podium, let alone win.
And this is where I point my finger and say our UAE crew did not hit the ground running in this vital area. Chatenay was the exception and if he was capable of first and second on the grid in two Superfinals, and Haytham Al Ali second in the last Superfinal, then the likes of Al Barwani, Hussain Umid and Abdulla Al Ali were also capable of qualifying a lot higher than they did. Despite the fact that the top 30 were separated by less than a second… but that’s another story for another time. Looking ahead to the 2014 SWS Grand Finals we know that Batelco won’t be participating because the Bahraini team have sacrificed doing the Dubai Kartdrome for an international campaign. But CG Racing has built a strong pro team to contest the series which includes Azzam and Varutti. So they are likely to make the journey again.
Throw Dubai Falcons back in to the mix because they are perennial over achievers on their home circuit.
As for the Sprint drivers, for sure some of them will be back, but there are a number of drivers on the local scene who will make it hard for this year’s contingent to return to the world finals. The level in the Dubai Kartdrome SWS is world-class, as Chatenay established, and the fortunate five who made it to the Grand Finals are by no means assured of an easy passage for next year’s edition.
For those who did go to France this year, it was a steep learning curve and knowing the lads I am sure they all returned to Dubai richer in experience. This in turn will make them tougher competitors when the SWS Sprint series resumes later this year at the Kartdrome.