Barry Hope has been a pioneer in motorsport for the Middle East and now his work has been recognised along with GulfSport Racing, winning the Motorsport Achievement of the Year award.
Judged by a panel of five industry experts for Car magazine, Hope, who is the director of racing for GulfSport as well as the motorsport columnist for The National's Motoring section. Hope says the prize was "a pleasant surprise, we didn't see it coming".
"We've been developing motorsport here since 2004, it's come a long way and interesting that somebody noticed," says Hope. "There is a very experienced team of engineers at GulfSport - the unsung heroes - and this is a great reward for all their hard work and commitment."
GulfSport is a racing products and services company specialising in single-seat Formula and GT cars and it operates teams in all three UAE National championships.
Hope says the company has been "instrumental in several key milestones" in local motorsport. Launching the Gulf Radical Cup in 2006, being appointed by Maserati as a partner and advisor for UAE racing projects and developing the region's first professional motorsport business are some of their achievements.
"I have to say that being asked by McLaren to assist with the visit of Kimi Raikonnen and the McLaren MP4/21 demonstration to the Emirates Airlines chairman in 2006 was also recognition of our credibility," Hope says.
It has been a busy year for GulfSport in the UAE and the GCC. It recently launched the FG1000 single-seater race programme. Its ultimate aim is to find and train the first Arab F1 driver. Drivers of any nationality with FIA licences from any of the GCC countries, born on or after January 1, 1985 are eligible to take part in the series, which will take place at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi and the Dubai Autodrome.
"For me, it is critical that the UAE is seen to be developing young drivers and a healthy grassroots motor racing scene," says Hope. "From a PR perspective, observers often complain that countries like Turkey, China, Bahrain and the UAE don't deserve to have F1 simply because they don't bother to develop their national drivers."
Hope says the FG1000 project, aimed at young Emirati and expatriate drivers, addresses this problem, as well as a project involving Maserati, which has not yet been made public, but he says it will be "a very interesting project that will also benefit local motorsport".
At present, he cites Jassim al Shamsi, who has been racing Radicals, and Mohammed al Mutawaa, who has been racing in the GT championship, as two Emirati drivers to watch, along with karters0 Mohammed al Dhaheri and Haytham Sultan al Ali. "We need to support and mentor these guys as they will become the ambassadors for UAE motor racing on an international basis," says Hope.
Shahzad Sheikh, editor of Car, says the award is testament to Hope's contribution to motorsport in the region as well as the entire GulfSport organisation for such diverse contributions as building race cars, running teams and starting new types of racing in the Middle East.
"Few have pushed as hard against the odds time and again to make it possible for people in the region to go motor racing," he says. "The award is as much for the man behind this organisation, who is one of the most ardent and long-serving proponents of motor racing in the Gulf."
Before setting up GulfSport in 2004, Hope already had a long involvement with motorsport in the region, starting with the development of motocross in the UAE more than 30 years ago.