ABU DHABI // The country's ambition to produce a local-born Formula One driver before 2020 took a major step forward yesterday as the KartZone at Yas Marina Circuit was officially opened to the public.
With Ferrari World looming in the background, the KartZone sits beside the Yas Racing School and welcomes anybody over the age of eight. A fleet of cadet karts are offered to those under 14, while senior karts, capable of speeds in excess of 50kph, are also available.
"KartZone is a significant milestone for us," Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, said. "It will create an essential entry level to professional motorsport and, we believe, will provide a fun and safe racing environment. It will also encourage young racers to aspire to be the next Sebastian Vettel."
The track is the latest to open in the UAE, with drivers already able to race karts in Dubai and in Al Ain.
Karting is often viewed as the first step into F1, with the majority of the drivers who competed in last season's thrilling championship having used it to start their careers.
Lewis Hamilton, the McLaren-Mercedes driver crowned world champion in 2008, and Vettel, the German Red Bull-Renault driver who became at 23 the sport's youngest ever world champion when he won at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix earlier this month, both began in karts.
The track, which is 800 metres long and consists of a series of 14 turns, a testing chicane and short straight, is aimed initially at corporate events and groups of friends. It opened temporarily for three days over the grand prix weekend and attracted more than 200 visitors.
Abdulla al Shammari, a business development officer at Yas, said the circuit is perfect for young drivers hoping to turn professional, but for now organisers are focusing on fun.
"The track was designed with many turns - and turns that encourage overtaking. So for professionals, this is a great place to train," al Shammari said.
The Yas KartZone is open between 2pm and 10pm from Tuesday to Saturday and a 10-minute session costs Dh100, including racing suit, helmet, gloves and fully operational kart. Lap times are recorded using advanced technology, while grand prix and endurance race formats are both offered.