Over the years motorsport has delivered some memorable and decisive season finales. In F1, back in 2008, Lewis Hamilton ‘stole’ the title from Felipe Massa on the final lap of the final race at Interlagos.
Fast forward to 2010 with the championship apparently a last race shootout between Fernando Alonso and Mark Webber. But on a balmy night in Abu Dhabi it was Sebastian Vettel who triumphed against the odds and won his title.
Now we, who avidly follow the UAE national racing scene, also had our own incredible last race tale, which could even go down as one of the closest ever contests in motor racing anywhere. Stuff of legends.
Last Friday, the scene was set at the end of the penultimate race day of the 2012-13 season in the tightly fought Clio Cup, part of the NGK Racing Series. The two contenders, Alexandros Annivas, in the Gulf Petrochem backed Renault Clio, and Ramzi Moutran, in the Duel Racing Renault Clio, left Dubai Autodrome separated by a mere six points, their tallies 258 and 252 respectively. Prior to that Alexandros had won eight out of 14 races, while Ramzi triumphed in six. Alexandros arrived for the finale with the momentum of two straight wins.
On the final day, there were two sprint races on the bill, and double points up for grabs. Believe me the calculators were out in force all day long.
Adding spice to the proceedings was the fact that each of the contenders drafted in their respective brothers for what could be described as ‘wingmen’ duty as they were not title contenders. Sami Moutran and Konstantinos Annivas are handy peddlers in their own right, and to stir up tensions it was Sami who put his Duel Racing Renault Clio on pole with Ramzi second and Alexandros third.
In race one the contenders rose to the top, leaving the other Clio Cup hopefuls in their wake. They lapped nose to tail and set near identical lap times, on the tricky Club Circuit configuration of Dubai Autodrome. When the chequered flag dropped it was Ramzi ahead of Alexandros by a tad over half a second — in layman terms that translates to: bumper to bumper. Calculators out and the score was 275 points to Alexandros and 272 points to Ramzi going into the 16th and very last race of the season — the title decider — and the way the dice had fallen meant that whoever won would be champion.
Hence they lined up and delivered one of the most mesmerising duels in memory. In Race Control, veterans of the sport focussed their eyes on the myriad screens showing the action from a network of CCTV cameras used for safety and race monitoring by the officials.
Wrenching the lead
The race between the two contenders defies description as they circulated nose to tail, bumper to bumper — throw in all the cliches and that would go some way to describing the track action.
Finally, on the very last lap and on the final corner Alexandros made a last gasp effort to wrench the lead from Ramzi. And boy was it close as the pair exited the final turn and made the dash to the finish line, which they crossed almost side by side.
If you blinked you missed it, but the timing beam broke the news: Ramzi Moutran was the Clio Cup champion by 0.137 seconds from Alexandros Annivas. Game over!
The Moutran clan were out in force to cheer their hero Ramzi, and the delight among them was palpable and you would be forgiven for getting involved in their celebrations. But at the same time the Annivas family (father Costas Papantonis had just won the Class 1 NGK Racing title), the disappointment for Alexandros was tangible, and you would be forgiven for shedding a tear or at least nursing a lump in the throat.
In my eyes both are champions, Ramzi for his tenacity and Alexandros for his passion and exemplary conduct in the face of defeat. If there ever was a case for a draw in motorsport, this would have been it. I got the feeling after the race that Ramzi probably wouldn’t have minded that scenario either.
The newly crowned champion said: “This morning I woke not having a clue what to expect. So I decided to focus one race at a time and forget about the championship. And only when I crossed the line to win the race by 0.1 of a second it sunk in. Incredible race, incredible day.
“I must commend Alex Annivas, the guy is an amazing driver, a true sportsman and gentlemen. Racing like this is amazing, proper clean racing, everyone so close. “For me it is my greatest season of racing in my life, this was my best race day and to win the title makes it fantastic.”
Alexandros, who was champion last season, took it all like a true sportsman as he reflected afterwards, “In one word the season was fantastic. The whole championship was fantastic. For the title to be decided on the final race, of the final lap, of the final corner and by 0.1 seconds sums up a great season of racing for everyone involved in this.
“I am glad I lost the championship in this way — last lap, last corner and smallest of margins. And congratulations to Ramzi for taking the title.”
A legendary UAE motorsport tale was born that day. Take a bow gentlemen!