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Yas Marina Circuit has played host to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, GP 2 Asia, GT1 Championship, V8 Supercars, below, and drag racing.
Yas Marina Circuit has played host to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, GP 2 Asia, GT1 Championship, V8 Supercars, below, and drag racing.

Six months of thrills and spills at Yas

As tickets for November's Grand Prix go on sale this weekend, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit talks about the highs, the lows and the lessons learned.

The track's opening event was the final round of the 2009 Formula One world championship. Jenson Button had already won the title in his Brawn GP, but a capacity crowd of 50,000 crowd watched Sebastian Vettel lead a one-two finish for Red Bull-Renault.

Cregan: My best memory of that weekend was walking out on to the starting grid before the start of the race and realising that it had all come together and that it was happening. It is hard to believe that it was six months ago, but I'll never forget all the hard work that people and different companies had put in to ensure that we were able to put on an event. Everyone was working hard for the good of Abu Dhabi and it showed that when it comes to national pride there is no boundaries to progress in this country, and it showed in the fact we were able to put on an event which was such a success.

We won the award from the FIA for best event and it was a credit for the hard work everyone put in. But it just creates a benchmark and we just have to keep increasing the levels of safety and standards at the track.

The two-day event drew disappointing crowds, but the GP2 Asia cars provided plenty of close racing. In the second race, Davide Valsecchi drove through the pack and overtook Michael Herck, the long-time leader, on the penultimate lap to claim victory. Cregan: There had been questions over the track and whether it was interesting or not and I think that was answered by the great racing that the GP2 Asia series put on. GP2 itself is a great series full of young drivers who are battling to get to Formula One and are having to prove they deserve to be there on the track. After the Formula One it was always going to be about trying to build up a loyalty among our fans and trying to focus on our target of making Yas a motorsport/social event. We learned a lot from the GP2 weekend which we used on other race weekends.

The V8 Supercars raced on a different layout to the normal track, with a new corkscrew section cutting out part of the long back straight. The event proved more popular with the public than the GP2 Asia with 12,300 spectators coming through the gates. Cregan: The corkscrew section made its debut for the V8s and it really added to the track and it was another good weekend of racing as the track layout really did suit the cars. It was good television and the series really got Abu Dhabi a lot of exposure. It was great to have so many Australians come and cheer on their home series here. The V8s organisers were great and really did their bit to promote the series by having some of the drivers come out before the race.

Sold out crowds of 5,000 watched the action on both nights at the circuit's drag racing centre. The Top Fuel Dragster cars proved a hit with spectators as Rod Fuller and Tommy Johnson Jr put on a number of exhibition runs. Cregan: The NHRA [National Hot Rod Association] came over and were very complimentary of what we did. But the most important thing was that it was a sell-out and it was a clear sign that drag racing was something that had caught the imagination of the UAE public. It was a very enjoyable weekend and I think some of the success had come from learning from previous events about when people want to come and watch racing, and the amount of time they want between events. The drag racing was a great success for us and the winter series is going to be hugely popular.

Yas Marina hosted the opening race of the new GT1 World Championship. Romain Grosjean and Thomas Mutsch won the opening round, which was full of collisions and overtaking. Natacha Gachnang, the Matech driver, suffered a broken leg following a high-speed crash at turn eight during qualifying.

Cregan: It was our busiest weekend, apart from Formula One, in terms of spectator turnout with 13,500 there and I think it showed how far we had come and the interest and following we had managed to develop in such a short period of time. There was also the accident that Natacha Gachnang suffered at turn eight. If you see what happened with her brakes failing and the problem of accidentally pressing the accelerator pedal as she tried to brake, it was a testament to the safety of the track that it stood up well to the crash. But we are always looking to get better and find further ways to improve safety.

Cregan: The important thing for Yas is to continue to develop it as a meeting place in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. There are lots of things that we have lined up as well as races to try and promote motorsport in the country. We have the F1 in Schools programme and we have the opening of the driving school and other things, all of which are designed to get the community involved. We are in talks to bring other [racing] series to Yas. We have had a couple of chats with the organisers of MotoGP and that is ongoing. @Email:gcaygill@thenational.ae

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