Muscat: Two years since his Palestinian mother passed away in a tragic accident in Al Hamra, ten-year-old Shonal Kunimal had a burning desire to excel at the MENA Karting Nations Cup while representing his mother’s nation. And on Saturday, Shonal fulfilled his dream as he stood on the podium, representing Palestine, in the 2021 MENA Karting Nations Cup at the Muscat Speedway of the Oman Automobile Association.
Shonal claimed the third place in Micro Max category at the championship, which featured a total of 19 countries including Oman and was organised successfully by the Oman Automobile Association (OAA).
The Indian School Ghubra fifth grade student with an Indian father had been making a name on the regional go-karting circuit, winning consistently at the Rotax Max Challenge Series over the past few years. COVID-19 and the demise of his mother had forced him to miss the full nearly two seasons but since returning to the tracks in October, Shonal has been making podium finishes a habit.
On Saturday, amid a strong field of ten drivers, Shonal took third place in the final race in Micro Max category behind Philippe El Hajj of Lebanon while UAE’s Russian driver Maxim Bobreshov took the top honours.
Speaking after his third-place finish, Shonal said, “This is for my mother [Nabrees Qandeel], who for years saw me grow here on this tracks. She was my biggest support before she left us. She would be the happiest person and I know she is always with me.
“My dad [Shojai Kunimal], coach Sanad al Rawahi, along with my technical assistants – Leonardo Abalos and Raven Abalos – have been instrumental in my success. I hope to continue my winning run and my goal will be to claim race wins that has eluded me in recent times. With more participation, I am confident that I can clinch victories in the New Year and the season ahead.”
Shonal’s mentor and dad Shojai thanked Oman’s rallying star Hamed al Wahaibi and OAA managing director Suleiman al Rawahi for their strong support.
It was heartening news for Palestine team who had arrived with three other drivers. Shonal’s podium was a first for Palestine team in the MENA Karting Nations Cup and the young driver was personally congratulated by Palestine Ambassador’s to Oman, H E Tayseer ali Farhat at the awards ceremony.
The presentation ceremony was held under the patronage of H E Sayyid Saud bin Hilal al Busaidi, Minister of State and Governor of Muscat. Also present was Mohammed bin Sulayem, world motorsports governing body (FIA) vice-president and Brig (retd) Salim al Maskari, OAA chairman.
The five-day MENA Karting Nations Cup witnessed 127 drivers and the OAA hosted the event for the second time in succession.
Besides Oman, the other countries that competed were Libya, Lebanon, Cyprus, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia, Palestine, Morocco and Turkey.
Events were held in eight categories including six classes in MENA Rotax Max Challenge (RMC), MENA Elite Endurance (Round One), MENA Elite Sprint 2 (Round One) classes.
UAE dethroned Oman for overall title while the hosts came second and Lebanon took the overall third place.