- Aqil Alibhai started racing go-karts when he was four years old.
- He regularly travels to the UK from SA to compete in the Ginetta Cars Cup.
- The 15-year-old is determined to prove his mettle to earn an F1 spot.
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Born and raised in Gauteng, where the air is thin and the pace is quick, Aqil Alibhai believes that motorsport is life - and he's dedicated his to it.
The 15-year-old Ginetta Cars driver/scholar fondly remembers his first stint behind the wheel of a racing kart at the tender age of four. He's only 15, yet Alibhai boasts more than a decade's experience as a competitive driver.
We caught up with the young man to find out what it's like racing in Europe, his ambitions for the future and what he thinks about the changing world of motorsport.
Motorsport is in his blood
"I got into motorsport very young. My dad actually put me in my first kart when I was four, and I remember being pulled around the kart circuit with a rope attached to the kart," he says.
Being towed around the track allowed him to learn how to take different racing lines and how to manage the harsh steering feedback and brakes on a heavily motorised vehicle. Braking in a straight line was a challenge, but he quickly got the hang of it, and he was able to compete in his first regional kart race at the age of four. From there, the bug had bitten, and its bite was deep.
"My dad raced motorbikes, and my late brother was also a racing driver, so I had motorsport in my family, but after I drove in my first race and then in more races that year, I knew it was something I had to do for the rest of my life," he adds.
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Since his breakout year at the age of four, Alibhai has grown and developed his talent in larger and larger karts. He most recently joined the Ginetta Cars Cup in the United Kingdom. This rookie league allows competitors to race alongside some of the UK's largest racing series at Formula One tracks, such as Silverstone. He wants to prove his mettle in this league as it's a stepping stone to opportunities to join a leading racing team.
"The jump from karts to the tin-top series has been challenging, but I have become very comfortable in my new racing car. It's fast, and it handles so well. It's teaching me to push myself as a driver and learn more about car control," he notes. "One of my favourite road cars is the Porsche 911 GT3 which I've driven on the track, and I really enjoy pushing cars like this to the limit to learn more about driving and more about myself."
He aims for an F1 seat
Alibhai juggles his online schooling career, travels to the UK for vehicle testing, and his life as a child with aplomb. "I manage my time efficiently and dedicate time to school and racing. It's tough, especially now as I am fasting, which can take a toll on the body. I've been training my whole life, though, and I can easily manage my mind and body and maintain discipline and focus. I am in this to ultimately drive in Formula One, and I know if I keep my focus and discipline, I can achieve it," he says.
He says that racing in Europe can be particularly challenging during the fasting period due to the sun's position in the sky. "The days are longer there, and sometimes I have to go 14 to 16 hours between meals, but it's all about discipline, and I know that when it's race weekend, my body is ready to focus on winning. I hope that my performance this year will lead to opportunities to join a professional racing team. I love F1, but I also enjoy Formula E and the GT racing series," he expounds.
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Alibhai says the changes in the world of motorsport are welcoming. "I like the new energy in Formula One and the addition of more street circuits. I know street circuits put more stress on a driver's body, but you have to be very technical to do well, and I enjoy technical driving," he explains.
He says that while he aims to drive in F1 soon, he will be delighted to prove himself further in a GT car in an endurance racing league. "Endurance racing requires focus, and you have to be committed to long hours behind the wheel. I like this because the more time I can spend in a car, the better driver I can become," he says.
He says Sebastian Vettel was one of his hero drivers when he was younger, and in fact, one of Alibhai's early racing helmets was based on a Vettel design. He didn't side with a particular team, but he says he watches as much racing as he can across all formulas.
Plans for the future
"My dream is to become a Formula One driver or a professional motorsport driver, but if that doesn't happen, I know I will be involved in motorsport. I'm interested in electric cars and how these cars are changing the way the world turns. So many racing series are using electric power in some form, so I am always thinking about how the industry is changing," he explains.
Alibhai says his focus for 2022 is to perform at his peak in the Ginetta Cars Junior Cup. "From here, we'll see what happens, but I plan to keep my head in the game and just train my mind and body to become better and better. This year, I want to win the championship. I want people, sponsors, and teams to see that I am a worthy driver. I can only do this if I have a good mindset and am so blessed to be where I am now, but I am always aiming to be better and go a little faster," he concludes.
Aqil Alibhai will kickstart his 2022 campaign in the UK this month on April 23 at Donnington Park together with Team Elite. His last race of the season will take place in October at Brands Hatch GP circuit. He will be travelling to the races and continuing with his online schooling.
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