Shihab bags maiden podium in Europe
Oman motor sports certainly is on the fast track. Be it Ahmad al Harthy's recent podium finishes in the Blancpain Endurance Cup GT Series or teenager Al Faisal al Zubair winning double titles at the Porsche GT Middle East Series recently.
And to add lustre to the sparkling success is the latest news of 13 year old go-karting talent Shihab al Habsi.
Shihab is not a new face in the regional circuit, having won numerous titles at home and in UAE over the past couple of years. But the youngster, who just stepped into his teens, claimed his biggest achievement recently when he climbed a podium place for the first time in a European race.
Last week, making his debut in the highly-competitive X30 Euro Series, Shihab took everyone by surprise as he not only competed with some of the world's best, but also claimed a third-place finish in Salbris, France.
It was the second event of the four-leg series, and Shihab, competing in the junior class, produced good pace and demonstrated his talent to pick up his maiden podium in Europe. Britain's Angus Moulsdale took the top honours, while his countrymate Christopher Lulham was second. Racing for Msport Karting, Shihab was third in a grid of 15 drivers.
The third place helped Shihab open his account in the series and is placed 13th among a field of 31 drivers with 79 points. He had missed the opening leg of the series in Genk, Belgium in March due to academic commitments.
Lulham leads the overall standings with 171 points, followed by Moulsdale with 158.
The third event of the series will be held in Wackersdorf, Germany from July 20-23, while the final leg will be hosted at Castelletto, Italy from September 14-17.
At Salbris, Shihab was sixth in the pre-final race, a marked improvement from his qualifying heats when he came eighth.
In the final race, Shihab had a good start, and after four laps, was among the top four and benefitted from a penalty on third-placed Evan Spenle to finish third on debut.
Speaking to Muscat Daily after his return to Muscat, Shihab said, “It was an amazing experience. To be on the podium in a
European race for the first time in my career is something that I will cherish forever. The achievement is a result of a lot of hard work. It was a tough race as the tracks in Europe are different from where I race in Oman and UAE.
“To finish third on my debut in the X30 Euro Series was my initial goal. I can now look forward to winning races in future. Having been on the podium, I got much-needed confidence and I am looking forward to the coming races in Germany.”
With his academic commitments coming in between the races, Shihab, a Grade 8 student of Ahmed bin Majid Private School, said, “My parents have been my biggest supporters and they help me cope up with the challenges on and off the tracks. My mother helps me prepare for my studies, while my father, who is an aircraft engineer, guides me during racing.
“Racing in Europe is very different as it offers varied conditions, wet and dry on the same day on many occasions. Also, I have to compete with much more experienced drivers, who are used to such conditions,” said the teenager.
“My goal is to become a Formula One driver one day and these races in Europe will help me learn a lot.”
To realise the dream goal, Shihab's father, Ahmed, has chalked out a plan that provides his son maximum exposure in tough races across Europe and also features him in world championships later this year.
“After the maiden podium, Shihab has started believing in himself and I have the confidence that he is destined for something big,” said Ahmed.
“So far this year, he has already competed in 10-11 international races and he switches between OKJ class in the CIK-FIA events and X30 class in the Euro series. He has joined Italy's Parolin Racing Kart team for the OKJ competitions and has regularly been on podiums in the UAE X30 series.
“He has 12 races left for the year and that includes two world championships - one in the UK in September and the other at Le Mans in France in October. He has qualified for both the worlds as regional champion,” said Ahmed, hailing the support from the Ministry of Sports Affairs and Zubair Corporation.
“I also plan to get him into a testing session in Formula 4 next year.”