ABU DHABI // Richard Cregan, the chief executive of the Yas Marina Circuit, is confident Formula Drift will prove a hit with speed enthusiasts in the UAE and can also help promote safer driving across the country.
Cregan spoke yesterday ahead of the debut of the motorsport series at the track on Friday, February 25, which will start with an invitational competition in which some of the sport's best drivers will show off their skills on a special track in front of the North Grandstand at the Abu Dhabi circuit.
Cregan revealed plans to bring drift racing to Yas Marina on a regular basis, and he thinks it could encourage some drivers to reduce their speed on the roads by trying the sport - with its high levels of car control - on the track in the future.
Drifting is unlike most typical forms of motorsport in that it is not simply about being the fastest, with drivers being given points by judges for the speed in which they complete the course, the lines they take and the angles at which they line up their cars.
"The great thing about drifting is that it combines the great skill of the driver and puts it into a safe environment," said Cregan.
"We all know that is what we need to be doing and in particularly in the UAE to try and improve safety [on the roads].
"The police have done an amazing job in the last year-and-a-half, in reducing the fatalities on the road and we are supporting that."
Formula Drift is a series that has its origins in Japanese street racing, where drivers, rather than trying to drive around a corner in a smooth line like in Formula One, will drift and slide around bends, creating lots of tyre smoke as they do so.
As part of the build-up to next week's event, 10 Emirati drivers are to receive training from drift racing experts, with four of them being able to show off the skills they have learned in front of the spectators at Yas Marina on race day.
Cregan is confident that the sport will catch the interest of the UAE public and believes the sport's accessibility helps its appeal.
"It is a low barrier entry motorsport that people can get involved in without having to spend lots of money," he said.
Michael Essa, who was at Yas Marina yesterday to perform exhibition drives for the media, along with fellow drift racer Mike Whiddett, said it was not a case of the first driver to cross the line being the winner.
"Drifting is like racing in some senses, but in drifting you get judged and you have to hit those points [designated lines and angles] otherwise you will be deducted points," he said. "It is not necessarily about the lap time, but as the lead car you are trying to get through all the judged points as quickly as possible."
"As the lead car if you can pull a gap then you are going to have a big advantage.
"But if you can get around the track, meeting all the criteria and do that as quickly as possible, then that is good."
The event is the second international event of Yas Marina's winter series, with the Drag Racing Festival on March 4 and 5 and the FIA GT1 World Championship on March 25 and 26 still to come.