Dubai, UAE, 20 January 2019: Top kart racers from the GCC and around the world packed into Dubai Kartdrome on Friday and Saturday (18-19 January) to challenge the two-day 2019 Dubai O Plate Championship. A total of 130 drivers entered to compete for bragging rights and sponsor prizes, and by the end of the race weekend ten champions were crowned.
The drivers who won the honour this year to badge their kart with the famous yellow O plate included Liam Crystal, Rami Azzam, Valerio Rinicella, Filippo Parmeggiani, Jamie Day, Saeed Al Ali, Antony Hogg, Hussain Umid Ali, Atef Al Barwani and Shonal Kunimal.
Prizes were provided by IAME, TAG Heuer, Energy, GGM, ARM Motors, MLC Motorsport, Dojomoto, Birel Art, TRD86, Racecloud UAE, Dubai Autodrome and Park Inn by Radisson in MotorCity.
Dubai Kartdrome Manager David Bright said, “As founder and director of the Dubai O Plate for the past six years, I have to say that the 2019 edition was the most exciting and successful event to date! We saw record grid sizes and record spectator attendances.”
“I am looking forward to following the progress of all the O plate champions this year as they prepare for the 2019 World IAME Finals! Finally, thanks to all our sponsors and partners and a special thanks to IAME X30 for all their support over the weekend.”
IAME X30 Senior and Masters Highlights
The main event of the Dubai O Plate is always the highly contested Senior category which attracts the best drivers in peak form.
Energy kart driver Liam Crystal struggled to find pace in qualifying, clocking in a best time of 56.461 on the 1.2-kilometre International Circuit at Dubai Kartdrome, which was a tenth of second slower than the leader, slotting him into P4 for the upcoming heats.
Joey Hanssen was quickest early on; the Dojomoto driver topped the 28-kart Senior grid with a best lap time of 56.359 to take pole. Mauricio Hernandez was only 0.080 seconds downs to take second on the grid and Manaf Hijawi lined up in third.
Whatever pace Liam Crystal lacked in qualifying, the Brazilian found again for the races. From fourth position in heat one Crystal powered to the front to take the first win by half a second over Elliot Harvey of George Gibbons Motorsport (GGM).
Crystal again challenged for the frontrunner spot in heat two, but he conceded the race to Birel Art’s Manaf Hijawi who took the chequered flag with almost two seconds to spare.
The Energy driver bounced back in heat three, crossing the line 0.480 seconds ahead of Dojomoto’s Hanssen for the win, and from there Crystal just kept improving, putting the contest out of reach for any other drivers.
Liam Crystal secured the Pre-Final by 1.427 seconds over Joey Hanssen and for the Grand Final Crystal was flawless, breaking free of the pack and coasting his way to Dubai O Plate triumph while the rest of the field battled behind. The Brazilian driver crossed the finish line over nine seconds ahead of the next kart, Manaf Hijawi. Hernandez dropped out of the race and Hanssen claimed third.
After the race Liam remarked, “It was very tough, and it feels very good to prove myself.”
“Everything fell into place perfectly.”
In the Masters Class, Rami Azzam of Brand Racing was behind Dojomoto’s Craig Shenton in qualifying, but he made significant improvements in race pace.
Azzam went three-for-three in the heats and then steamrolled through the Pre-Final and Grand Final to finish an impressive eighth position overall and first in class. Janno Theussing of Birel Art secured second-place and Craig Shenton claimed third.
IAME X30 Junior Highlights
In the opening heats it appeared that at least four drivers were capable of winning the day, including Kamal Agha of GGM, Cian Shields and Jamie Day of Energy, and last year’s Junior O Plate champion Constantin Reisch of Brand Racing.
Once the Pre-Finals started, it was clear that Jamie Day had made significant adjustments to elevate his performance to a level that others could not match.
Day dominated the final races, cruising in to win the Pre-Finals by over four seconds ahead of Constantin Reisch and then taking the Grand Final chequered flag 5.240 seconds ahead of Khaled Saab.
Khaled was probably not disappointed with a second-place finish, after having started down in eight-position for the Grand Final, as well as Alfie Rigby, who began with kart problems in the early heats of the weekend, only to bounce back and take the third step on the Junior O Plate podium.
IAME X30 Shifter and Shifter Veterans Highlights
It was heartbreak for Alessandro Stura who topped qualifying and won every race except the last. A DNF in the Grand Finals left the driver empty-handed despite such a brilliant start.
With Stura out of the last contest, the door was open for Saeed Al Ali of CRG to snatch victory in the Grand Final and take home the coveted O Plate.
Al Ali finished just half a second ahead of last year’s Shifter Veteran winner, Antony Hogg, with Max Fleischmann right behind to claim third-place.
Hogg’s second-place finish overall and first in Veterans class meant that he was the only O Plate champion from 2018 to retain his title. Hogg topped the Shifter Veterans category for the second year in a row. Walid Al Qassemi took home second-place silverware and Daniel Jones clinched third.
IAME X30 Cadet and Cadet Rookie Highlights
Elite racers Federico Al Rifai and Harry Hannam did everything they could to chase down Valerio Rinicella, but the GGM driver was simply unstoppable.
Over the course of the weekend Rinicella aced qualifying, three race heats, Pre-Finals and the Grand Final to seal a perfect performance and win the Cadet O Plate.
Harry Hannam, also outfitted with a GGM chassis, was on Rinicella’s back bumper for most of the contest, but in the end had to settle for second-place silverware after finishing 1.244 seconds behind in the Grand Final race.
Despite showing promise in the early heats, Al Rifai only managed to finish fifth in the final race, while rookie driver Filippo Parmeggiani of Scuderia made the most of the final showdown to nab third overall.
The P3 finish gifted Parmeggiani with the Cadet Rookie O Plate, followed by Adam Al Azhari in second-place and Oliver Naylor in third.
Sodi World Series (SWS) Senior and Master Highlights
New for 2019, SWS Senior drivers also got a crack at winning the famous yellow O Plate, as well as SWS points for the new year.
Romaldo Labrooy has earned many pole positions in his SWS career and at the 2019 Dubai O Plate he racked up another with a best lap time of 1:12.180, topping a field of 33 Sodi RX8 karts.
Hussain Umid Ali was over a half second off the leader’s pace in the qualifying session but the Emirati driver would reveal the pace when it really mattered.
Race one was wrapped up easily by Ahmed Al Hammadi, going from P2 to take the first win. Ali was over three seconds back to hang on to second-place over Maz Nawaz.
Amidst race two chaos, Al Hammadi tumbled out of contention while Nawaz and Ali challenged for the lead. Hussain wrestled the frontrunner position away and sailed in for victory, with Maz trailing 1.112 seconds behind.
After points from the two races were tallied, Hussain Umid Ali was crowned 2019 SWS O Plate Champion, with Maz Nawaz claiming second-place and Romaldo Labrooy scooping up third.
In the Masters category, Atef Al Barwani continued where he left off in 2018 by completely demolishing the Masters field in the first races of 2019. The Emirati ace topped qualifying, seized two class wins and walked away with another accolade to put in his already full trophy cabinet.
Sam Naylor picked up the table scraps to earn second-place and Greg Watt finished in third.
IAME Bambino Cup Highlights
The future stars of motorsport were shining bright on Friday over the course of four time-trials and the brightest of them all was Shonal Kunimal.
Kunimal was perfect in the contest, winning all four rounds and he was the only driver to consistently lap below the 1:15 mark. Lennard Titica was hounding Kunimal the entire day but he could only close the gap down to 0.884 seconds and settle for second-place. Nicholas Stura was also right in mix, good enough to claim third.
Report: Aaron Meriwether
Photos: Arthur Rosales and Aaron Meriwether