UAE karting enthusiasts are competing against drivers across the world through a new series that held its first double-header of races in Dubai this month. Two sprint races for the Sodi World Series were held at the outdoor track at Dubai Kartdrome last Friday and in both rounds the action was fast and furious up to the chequered flag. Twenty-three drivers were entered into the 13-lap evening events, and so close was the action that just four hundredths of a second separated the first and second drivers in the inaugural race.
Among the most successful pilots was Sam Zian, an American professional racer who has competed in the UAE Touring Car Championship and also races in California. He won the first race and came home a slightly disappointed third in the second. "The thing I like is it's a world series and so there are professional and amateurs and guys just [competing] for fun," he said. "It does get a bit hectic and it can get really tough because everyone is fairly even. There is no difference in vehicles, so you won't get a big boost and run away from someone.
"It's not like the touring car championship. It's good to get a level playing field. The best way to find who is the best driver is to put them in the same kart." The Kartdrome hosted its first SWS race in March, a 24-hour team event, and also had an individual sprint race in April, but last weekend represented the start of the contest's first full season in the UAE. The series was initiated by the kart manufacturer Sodi, and events are held at karting centres throughout the world that use the company's pint-sized vehicles. People can enter as individuals for sprint races or teams for endurance events.
Drivers or teams accumulate points for their results at all participating karting centres across the world and an overall championship table, based upon results at every centre, is compiled by organisers. The best-placed drivers and teams at the end of the year will be invited to compete in a three-day final in spring next year. Hundreds of drivers, both men and women, are entered across the world. There is a minimum weight of 70kg for each driver in their suit, including their helmet, and many pilots carry weights to ensure they reach the minimum.
Karts, allocated to drivers at random, are the same type as those provided for novices at the kartdrome's arrive-and-drive sessions. However, the vehicles used in the championship races have completed a lower mileage and so are in better shape than those used by the public. Last weekend's races were held on the same evening as 2009/10 championship races for Dubai Autodrome Motorsport Club, in which competitors bring their own high-performance karts.
According to another competitor, Bruno Santiago from Brazil, the advantage of the SWS series is its relatively low cost, with karts provided and entry for both sprint races costing Dh450. "To race in the [DAMC's top Max Master class] you would spend Dh25,000 on a kart, then Dh2,000 or Dh3,000 per race. The top guys spend Dh6,000 or Dh7,000 per race on tyres and practicing," he said. "This series gives the opportunity for amateurs and semi-professionals to participate in an organised championship. It has low cost compared with the other karts."
He added, however, that competitors only taking part in Dubai races might find it hard to do well in the global rankings due to the modest number of events held here compared with some other kart tracks. As well as Dubai Kartdrome, venues in Australia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland, Spain, Canada and Russia take part in the championship. Those registered online can enter events at any kartdrome.
David Terrien, Dubai Kartdrome manager and himself the 1993 karting senior class world champion, said the championship was took leisure karting "to another level". "Our drivers based in Dubai, they can race here but if they go on holiday to France or Belgium, they can register for their race," he said. "You're not attached to one track. You can race wherever." At later SWS events, Terrien hopes numbers could swell to as many as 35 karts when more become available. "We could even put 40 karts on the track at once," he said. "That could make it really interesting."
The next SWS event at the kartdrome is a team event, the 24-hour Nivea For Men Endurance Challenge 2009, on October 23. There are two more sprint races on November 6 and another double header on November 27. For more information log on to www.sodiwseries.com. firstname.lastname@example.org