Despite steady growth of the grids in our various national motor racing championships, I am often asked by guests and spectators how they can get involved. I usually reply that there are two ways to do this - one on the side of the track and the other in the car.
For petrolheads that want to be really close to the action but do not have the budget to race, the best way to get involved is through marshalling. Marshals play a vital role in motor racing, acting as the eyes and ears of race officials on the track, reporting to race control and communicating with drivers. They are among the most important people at the circuit.
It would be ideal to have more Emirati marshals to increase local interest in the sport, but this can't happen because we conduct testing on Thursdays for Friday racing. Many of my Emirati friends tell me that they would gladly bring their friends and family to watch them race on a Saturday as their priorities are completely different on Fridays with midday prayers and a family afternoon. This is a real shame as this is perhaps the key reason we cannot involve more Emiratis in motor racing.
Still, the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the local representative office of the FIA, world motorsport's governing body, has joined forces with the Emirates Foundation's Takatof social volunteering programme to recruit Emirati volunteers to be trained as marshals for Formula One events. They have also created the UAE Motorsport Marshals Club to support and train those interested in getting involved.
Returning to my original question, those who want to race can do so quite simply. This is something we know a lot about because, at GulfSport, we have either introduced, trained or helped some 50 racing drivers with their racing aspirations since we started our race team here in 2004. You'd be surprised how many men and women would love to try their hand at racing, and the truth is that it is a completely realistic and achievable ambition. Racing drivers range from 15 to 65 years of age.
There are now two excellent race circuits in the UAE with cars and professional instructors. The first step is to visit either the Yas Driving Academy or the Dubai Autodrome and arrange to drive one of their cars on the race circuit under the watchful eye of an instructor, who will explain the basics of racing lines and the protocols of track driving.
This is enormous fun and sets you up nicely to take your own road car to a track day to gain more experience. When you have mastered this, you need to learn some theory and book your test. Actually, it is more of an assessment than a driving test. The authorities simply want to ensure that race licences are issued only to people who have the relevant attitude, skills and knowledge required to race in a safe and sensible fashion. The test costs about Dh1,500 and when you pass, you get a certificate that entitles you to apply for your FIA national licence. This will cost you Dh500. Easy.
The next step is to find yourself a race car. I'll give you some advice next week.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is seeking the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com