A round of the national race series at Yas Marina Circuit last weekend offered a revealing insight into the multinational nature of the UAE's motor-racing scene.
This one-day event featured a round of the Maserati Trofeo series, which has relocated to the Gulf for the sunny winter season after 10 years in Europe. Using a fully race prepared version of the GranTurismo, it has attracted a mix of novice and experienced international drivers from Italy, Lebanon, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, India and Venezuela. Both 30-minute sprint races were won by Formula Gulf 1000 Championship leader Joe Ghanem, to the delight of his father, Samir, who had flown in from Lebanon.
The lure of Yas Marina's northern circuit also attracted an international driver line-up for the UAE Radical Cup, now in its sixth year. The competitive SR3 class was again dominated by Tony Wells and James Littlejohn, who fly in from the UK regularly to keep themselves sharp for the European summer season. Other race entrants came from Holland, Sweden, Australia, Iran, Turkey, Lebanon, Canada, UAE and Qatar.
The organising Dubai Autodrome Motorsport Club put all of its car race series onto the same grid to produce some spectacular racing for the spectators braving the unusually chilly, albeit bright, winter weather. This gave us two 20-minute races that consisted of three GT cars, five Suzuki Swifts, four Clio Cup cars and seven Touring Cars - effectively four races within a race. The winning Ferrari 458 GT3, which lapped many of the other cars several times, was driven by visitors using the UAE as a great opportunity to gain valuable track time in good weather before their UK GT season starts.
It was evident that the line-up of drivers reflected the demographics of the UAE, with competitors hailing from South Africa, Spain, Australia, Lebanon, UK, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Luxembourg, Canada, Hungary and two Emiratis.
We've seen the same thing happen to our junior Formula series FG1000, where we have only a couple of Emiratis among a truly multinational grid. Initially intended to offer training and race experience for young Emiratis and local expatriates, we have a strong interest from foreign drivers who understand the benefits of the UAE race season. The UAE offers two of the best race circuits in the world, cheap flights, high-quality hotel accommodation and great weather, among other attractions. When combined with the very low cost of racing and world-class training, competing here is unbeatable.
Given the huge investment that has been made in the UAE to support both tourism and motor racing, it would make sense to step up the marketing of this country as the ultimate winter destination for northern hemisphere racers. Well-funded European teams and drivers tend to look to Portugal and Spain for their winter testing yet the weather is remarkably unreliable there and the cost of trucking cars and equipment across Europe is now so costly that shipping it to the UAE is now the better option.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online a www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.