Bader al Jabri of Team Abu Dhabi takes a corner in the Rallye Deutschland. Les Kolczak / Courtesy Abu Dhabi Motor Sport
Bader al Jabri of Team Abu Dhabi takes a corner in the Rallye Deutschland. Les Kolczak / Courtesy Abu Dhabi Motor Sport

Team Abu Dhabi drivers are steering for big step up

ABU DHABI // Two members of Team Abu Dhabi, the emirate's junior driver programme, are hoping strong Rally France finishes this weekend will boost their championship credentials.

Bader al Jabri and Majed al Shamsi are second and fourth, respectively, in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) title standings. They are in France for round four of the seven-event championship, a Ford-only feeder series which runs alongside European legs of the World Rally Championship (WRC).

After winning in Portugal and finishing second in Germany, al Shamsi, sixth in last year's first FSTi season, is confident he can continue to improve his tarmac skills in France and clinch another high finish.

"It's the second half of the season and I'm aiming for more points," al Shamsi said. "I'll push hard, but not crazily because it will be difficult here. I prefer gravel, but from the recce it seems the stages are open and flow nicely."

With the juniors' progress being evaluated after every rally they undertake, it remains a possibility that the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) - the supporter of the development programme - might offer the top-ranking member a chance to compete in a higher series next season.

Full-spec WRC cars will be consigned to history in 2011 as Super2000s - a cheaper-to-operate vehicle designed to lure more manufacturers back to the sport - become the main attractions.

Nothing is confirmed, but al Jabri said the juniors' time to step up might not be far off.

"We don't know the plan for next year, but I'm sure ADTA will review which championships we contest at the end of the season," said al Jabri, who has finished on the podium in all three FSTi events he has contested this year.

"This is a long-term programme, but all of us would be interested in stepping up, definitely. I think we're up for it; we would adapt and improve. If we don't, then another season in the FSTi will not be a bad thing; the series is attracting more drivers every year and it will be even more competitive in 2011."

With the FSTi field running at the back of Rally France's 80-car field, the predominantly tarmac-based routes are likely to be covered in mud and debris - scattered by the higher-order cars - by the time al Jabri and al Shamsi get round to navigating them.

That, however, is part of the education of drivers who hope to progress through the rally ranks, al Shamsi said.

"I'm sure the cars before us will cut corners and make the stages slippery for us," he said. "That is just the reality. We need to tailor our pace notes to allow for it and, if we do that right, there is nothing stopping us getting points and finishing on the podium."

Khalil al Sheikh will pilot a third Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta in France.


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Prop idols

Girls full-contact rugby may be in its infancy in the Middle East, but there are already a number of role models for players to look up to.

Sophie Shams (Dubai Exiles mini, England sevens international)

An Emirati student who is blazing a trail in rugby. She first learnt the game at Dubai Exiles and captained her JESS Primary school team. After going to study geophysics at university in the UK, she scored a sensational try in a cup final at Twickenham. She has played for England sevens, and is now contracted to top Premiership club Saracens.


Seren Gough-Walters (Sharjah Wanderers mini, Wales rugby league international)

Few players anywhere will have taken a more circuitous route to playing rugby on Sky Sports. Gough-Walters was born in Al Wasl Hospital in Dubai, raised in Sharjah, did not take up rugby seriously till she was 15, has a master’s in global governance and ethics, and once worked as an immigration officer at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. In the summer of 2021 she played for Wales against England in rugby league, in a match that was broadcast live on TV.


Erin King (Dubai Hurricanes mini, Ireland sevens international)

Aged five, Australia-born King went to Dubai Hurricanes training at The Sevens with her brothers. She immediately struck up a deep affection for rugby. She returned to the city at the end of last year to play at the Dubai Rugby Sevens in the colours of Ireland in the Women’s World Series tournament on Pitch 1.


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What is Diwali?

The Hindu festival is at once a celebration of the autumn harvest and the triumph of good over evil, as outlined in the Ramayana.

According to the Sanskrit epic, penned by the sage Valmiki, Diwali marks the time that the exiled king Rama – a mortal with superhuman powers – returned home to the city of Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, after vanquishing the 10-headed demon Ravana and conquering his kingdom of Lanka. The people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit thousands of earthen lamps to illuminate the city and to guide the royal family home.

In its current iteration, Diwali is celebrated with a puja to welcome the goodness of prosperity Lakshmi (an incarnation of Sita) into the home, which is decorated with diyas (oil lamps) or fairy lights and rangoli designs with coloured powder. Fireworks light up the sky in some parts of the word, and sweetmeats are made (or bought) by most households. It is customary to get new clothes stitched, and visit friends and family to exchange gifts and greetings.  


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