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India’s Raja makes flying start to season

Last term’s rookie champion wins first two UAE Sportbike races

Gulf News

Dubai: UAE-based Indian rider Surya Raja continued where he left off last season by winning the first two rounds of the new Motorcity UAE Sportbike Championship at Dubai Autodrome on Friday.

The winner of last season’s Rookie Cup, riding a Yamaha in the 600 class, was somewhat fortunate in the first race when reigning champion Mahmoud Tannir, riding the Duseja Motors Triumph, slid off early on to hand the lead to Raja, who held on until the end. The Ducati-mounted Joe Oxley was second and Rob Nicholas third aboard his Triumph.

Tannir was relegated to the back of the grid for the second race, but he still managed to work his way through the field and take the lead around halfway through. But he had worked his tyres too hard and that allowed Raja in to steal victory, with Tannir second and Nicholas again third.

Raja said: “I did not expect to be here today with these wins. I knew we would be contenders, but this feels great to win the first two races of the season. I was a bit lucky in the first race, but am really satisfied with the second win. When Tannir got past me, something told me to hang in there and not give up, and then things went my way again. So the win is extra special.”

As for the rest of the season, Raja was cautious, saying: “It is still very early days. Mahmoud [Tannir] is a tough guy and he will bounce back, and there are a couple of other riders in the field who can also win. I am going to take each race one at a time.”

Tannir said: “In the first race, on the third lap, I was pushing, but there was not enough heat in the front tyre and I lost the front end. As per the rules I couldn’t remount and continue, so that was that.

“In the second race I started from the back and made my way through the field. It felt good because my pace was strong and I managed to take the lead, but maybe I pushed too hard towards the end because I had no rear grip and this allowed Surya [Raja] to catch up and get by. It’s a long season so we will bounce back for sure.”

In the 1,000 class, Abdul Aziz Bin Ladin on his Kawasaki was in a class of his own as he notched up two convincing wins, the second after starting from the back of the field due to arriving late on the grid.

Bin Ladin said: “It is really nice to come here to my ‘home’ track and win both races, especially after my tough season in British Superbikes, although I can feel that my riding has improved thanks to the experience in the UK and that was very satisfying. Also, it was good to see the great atmosphere here at Dubai Autodrome.”

Behind the Saudi, Alan Boyter took second place to make it a one-two for Kawasaki, with Nasser Al Shaiba claiming third. In race two, Al Shaiba turned the tables to take second from Boyter.

In the rookie class, Suzuki’s Dominik von Poelnitz started his career in the best way possible with two wins out of two, establishing himself as the newcomer to beat this season.

He said: “I am very happy. It is amazing to win my first two races. I have many people to thank, including my family, who have supported me and helped me to get here, and also the riders who have given me advice. The plan now is to carry on doing well and win the Rookie Cup.”

The day’s bill also featured the first two races of the Formula Gulf 1000 series, with Malaysian lady racer Natasha Seatter winning both races.

Dubai Autodrome General Executive Hamish Brown reflected on the first round of the Motorcity UAE Sportbike Championship. “It was a very positive day, with a big grid of riders and a quality field, too. The racing was of a high order and, thanks to combining the racing with track day activities for cars and motorcycles, the atmosphere on the day was excellent. Congratulations to all the winners.”