FEB 3, 2017
When Rashid Al Dhaheri was four years old, he decided that he wanted to become a professional racing driver. Now, at the age of seven, he’s driving in the right direction. We go on the road with a motorsports prodigy
On a Tuesday afternoon in May, seven-year-old Rashid Al Dhaheri – a prodigious motorsports talent, who has spent almost half of his life mastering the art of driving as fast as he can – stepped into his go-kart and drove onto an asphalt track hot to the touch and dusty with sand. He was at his local circuit, a 1.2-kilometer-long series of technically tricky bends – some tight and severe, others wide and sloping – to practice for an upcoming race. In four days he would travel from Khalifa City, his hometown, just outside Abu Dhabi, to Jesolo, in northeastern Italy, to compete against a group of drivers he started racing in April last year. Last year he outclassed local opposition in the United Arab Emirates, where competition is slow and sparse; now he races mainly in Europe, in a celebrated nine-race Italian championship that is substantially quicker and more aggressive. Because the boy’s comparative talents have allowed him to move up an age category, Al Dhaheri is the youngest in his field. Some drivers are a full three years older than him, which matters when you’re only seven.
Al Dhaheri is tended to by his father, Ali, before practice.
Al Dhaheri jumps into his kart with Chatenay looking on.
Al Dhaheri waits in the track garage for his kart engine to regain battery power.
Abu Dhabi is a difficult city in which to comfortably spectate an outdoor sport. It is also a tough place in which to learn how to drive a go-kart. It is oppressively hot almost year-round, and heavily humid. (The temperature that day spiked at 42 degrees Celsius.) Even without the heat, go-karting is both physically and mentally taxing. Over a typical 15-minute session, a driver’s body is in near-constant flux, flung from left to right and back again, often violently. A driver’s neck, unless supported by a heavy-duty brace, is prone to sprain or worse. And his hands, forearms, and shoulders – parts of the body used to strain a kart around corners – become tight and rigid with tension. Sessions can become monotonous – specific lines must be followed, lap after lap, lest times suffer – and it can be tricky to maintain concentration. The whole experience is intense, not unlike clutching onto a steerable rodeo bull for a quarter of an hour.
Al Dhaheri out on the track.
Al Dhaheri in the Lexus RC F with his father.
Resting during a stretch of downtime.
Al Dhaheri seems not to care, either because he is young and still fearless, or because he simply loves to drive go-karts, or both. When I asked him what he most likes about driving, he faked a moment of thought, and then spurted out: “The speed.” He trains at least twice a week – for up to three hours on a weekday, always after school, in overalls that are the color of the Emirati flag – although he would like to train more. (“If it was up to Rashid,” said his father, who is in charge of balancing his son’s calendar between training, parties, schoolwork, family time, and chores, “he would drive all day.”)
The Jesolo leg of the Italian championship is the fourth in the tournament’s series. It takes place over one weekend (practice sessions on Friday and Saturday, races on Sunday) at Pista Azzurra, a storied go-kart circuit on which a number of Formula One drivers competed as kids. Lewis Hamilton raced here. So did Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Giancarlo Fisichella, Robert Kubica, and Luca Badoer. After a spectacular weekend of racing, Al Dhaheri, who drives a 60-cc kart, moved from 13th place to the top three, finishing in third. The logos of Emirati sponsors – banks, oil companies, parts suppliers – feature on the boy’s kart, In a country enamored of motorsports but without a competitive homegrown driver, Al Dhaheri has to many become the region’s great hope.
After the race, the drivers and their parents stood in a huddle around a podium and smiled as racers were awarded large silver-plated trophies. When Al Dhaheri received his, he held it up with his left hand and, as camera flashes sparkled, made a victory sign with his right. As soon as he got down, he was ushered to a balcony on which the course photographer was recording interviews with the top-ranking drivers, to be published on the championship’s official website. When it was Al Dhaheri’s turn, the boy took a microphone and looked briefly at the track, which was empty save for a couple of rental drivers. Now the competition was over, business had resumed as usual. Al Dhaheri took a deep breath. Then he turned to the camera and smiled.
- 4,705 mm
- 1,390 mm
- 2,070 mm
- 2,730 mm
- Seating Capacity
- DRIVEN WHEELS
- ENGINE TYPE
- V8 5.0L (2UR-GSE)
- ENGINE OUTPUT
- 351 kW / 7100 rpm
- 530 Nm / 4800-5600 rpm
- 8-Speed Sport Direct Shift
- Front: Double Wishbone , Rear: Multi-link
- Front: 255 / 35R19 , Rear: 275 / 35R19