ABU DHABI // Sixteen of the most promising drivers from the Middle East and Mediterranean will start an intensive four-day qualifying programme Sunday at Yas Marina Circuit as part of the selection process for next season’s FIA Institute Young Driver Excellence Academy.
The institute hosts five regional qualifying events across the globe with the intention of providing exposure to the best potential drivers from each country.
Each qualifying event produces one winner who enters the academy, while three other drivers are selected using a wild-card system. The representative of the Emirates this week is Mansour Al Helei, who was selected by the UAE’s Automobile and Touring Club of the (ATCUAE) based on his performances in recent years in cross-country rallies.
Al Helei, 21, intends to compete in the Middle East Rally Championship next year.
Professor Gerard Saillant, president of the FIA Institute, said he was delighted that the ATCUAE offered to host the event at Yas Marina.
“It was their choice to host it there, but we fully endorse this,” he said. “The objective is not just to find a winner, but for it to be like a mini-academy in itself. We hope that all the drivers taking part will benefit from the experience.”
Al Helei, who is the son of renowned Emirati endurance racer Yahya, will join the other 15 participants this weekend as they each go through a series of training exercises designed to evaluate fitness and driving performance, as well as media techniques, teamwork and psychology.
According to Saillant, previous participants in the academy have “gone on to great things”.
“Last year, three of the academy’s alumni dominated World Series by Renault, winning the top three categories in the series,” he said.
“Spain’s Albert Costa won the Eurocup Megane Trophy, Belgian Stoffel Vandoorne took the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 title and Robin Frijns took victory in the top Formula Renault 3.5 championship.”
Vandoorne was recently signed up by McLaren-Mercedes’ young-driver programme while Frijns’s title win earned him a test with both Sauber and Red Bull Racing before being later announced as Sauber’s test driver this season.
He joins Alexander Rossi, an academy graduate from the United States, who is now a test driver with Caterham.
Saillant said that gauging drivers’ talent is not the primary objective of the weekend and stressed that “offering the opportunity for all of these drivers to develop and to do so with safety in mind” is the priority.
“If we can help them to improve and be safe, and to pass that message on to others, then the event will be a success.”