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15 November 2017

Keanu Al Azhari shines bright at the 2017 Rotax MAX Grand Finals in Portugal


Keanu Al Azhari was the youngest Team UAE driver at the 2017 Rotax MAX Challenge Grand Finals, at the Kartdromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal, but he arguably made the biggest impact during the course of the week.

The Dubai youngster is the son of 13 times UAE motor racing champion Karim Al Azhari, a driver who has raced and won in GT racing, Sportscars and Touring Cars. In over a decade of racing Al Azhari senior has experienced it all, but little prepared him for witnessing his son perform with such aplomb at the Grand Finals.

Keanu is relatively new to the karting scene, making his racing debut only a couple of years ago at the very bottom of the karting ladder in a junior leisure kart. He progressed to the UAE Micro MAX category at the start of last season and sensationally won the championship which granted him the ticket to the Grand Finals.

In Portugal he was up against Mini MAX champions from around the world, many with much more experience than him at this level of racing. This did not deter the youngster whose calm and cool composure was admired by all who came into contact with him during the course of the week.

On track he meant business and from the outset was among the pace setters, winning his first heat and with it making his rivals sit up and take note of the diminutive driver from the UAE.

For the Micro MAX final he was second on the grid, sharing the front row with Portuguese driver Adrian Malheiro who had four Grand Final appearances on his CV and was the pre-race favourite.

When the start lights went out, signalling the start of the race, Al Azhari burst into the lead and immediately built a cushion to the chasing pack. Alone, at the front without a slipstream, he was vulnerable and soon he had three drivers on his tail. By mid-distance he was down to third, but it was not over as he found a second wind and fought his way back to the front where he stayed until the chequered flag.

But race stewards deemed Al Azhari had jumped the start and as a result handed him a ten seconds penalty. By the time the dust had settled the first official results showed Al Azhari in 11th. It was a cruel blow for the Team UAE driver who not only showed strong pace all weekend, but also shrewd race craft throughout.

Thus French champion Louis Iglesias inherited the victory and was declared 2017 Micro MAX Champion. Malheiro, whose gamesmanship at the start to slow down the pack and trapping Al Azhari as they powered off the field, finished 21st. By trying to compromise the UAE drives race the Portuguese favourite suffered a worse plight.

Al Azhari said afterwards, "The whole week went pretty well. In the final at the start I got a bit of a jump start. During the race I saw the sign that said number 35 had a penalty, but didn't care I just kept going."

"The finals were great and thanks to George Gibbons for being my mechanic, you did an awesome job," added the nine year Dubai schoolboy.

Despite the setback, Karim Al Azhari sported the biggest smile at the end of the day,

"Honestly the karting today is at whole different level. I had it easy in my days. Now they are super competitive all around the world, we had the best drivers here and of course I am super excited that my son is one of them."

"When we cam here I really did not know what to expect and was shocked by what I have seen this weekend from Keanu, he was leading every day. he won a heat, it was like nothing could stop him and he is a proper hero. A lot better than I was doing at his age and it will be really exciting to see what he can achieve in the future," added Al Azhari senior.

Team UAE Manager Guy Sheffield summed up, "Keanu was the revelation of the week not just for Team UAE, but also the rest of the paddock in Portugal. His exceptional exploits on track are well documented. But for me what stood out is, that even after the the blow of having his victory stripped from him by a marginal call, his smile was ever present."

"Standing next to him during the podium ceremony, he showed his sportsmanship and attitude by applauding all the drivers as they received their trophies. The little guy handled the disappointment better than all of us."

"From what I saw this week in Portugal, it is only a matter of time before Keanu celebrates on the top step of the Rotax MAX podium on the international stage," concluded Sheffield.


Rotax MAX Challenge 2017 Grand Finals

Eleven drivers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are based in the seaside town of Portimao, in Portugal, for the Rotax MAX Grand Finals which takes place at the Kartdromo Inetrnacional do Algarve from 5 to 11 November 2017.

The team consists of the UAE's best Rotax MAX drivers from the 2016/2017 season, among them several champions, who will come up against the best drivers in the world in this series of karting.

The group join 360 drivers, from 60 nations, competing in this prestigious karting event to determine who will be this year's Rotax MAX world champions.

Team UAE consists of Emirati racer Amna Al Qubaisi in the MAX category, father and son Kevin and Jamie Day in the DD2 Masters and Mini MAX respectively, brothers Jakob and Lachlan Robinson in DD2 and Junior MAX, DD2 Masters Tony Hogg and Kyle Blockley, Lucas Petersson in DD2, Liam Crystal in Junior MAX, Theo Kekati in Mini MAX and Keanu Al Azhari, son of multiple UAE racing champion Karim Al Azhari, in the Micro MAX class.

Travelling with Team UAE is Omani DD2 driver Abdullah Al Rawahi as well as Bahraini champion Khaled Al Saei in the MAX Class.

The first Rotax MAX Grand Finals were held in 2000 in Puerto Rico and since then has become a regular fixture on the international karting calendar. Dubai based Sean Babington won the DD2 title in 2014 as part of Team UAE.

Useful links:

Live Streaming videos>>>

Official UAE Rotax Max Challenge Facebook Page for updates>>>

Al Ain Raceway Facebook Page>>>

Al Ain Raceway Instagram Page>>>

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