ABU DHABI // Mark Winterbottom, the Ford Performance Racing driver, believes racing at the Yas Marina Circuit this weekend is the first step to helping the Australian V8 Supercar series become a global attraction.
The touring car series first came to Abu Dhabi 12 months ago and proved a hit with spectators, and returns this year for the opening round of the 2011 season.
The trip to the UAE is the only time the series, which consists of cars converted from Ford Falcons or Holden Commodores, leaves Australasia all year, with competitions being almost exclusively held in Australia, apart from two races in New Zealand.
While Winterbottom acknowledges that switching two races in a 26-race calendar from the home of the sport to the UAE might upset some, he believes taking their show on the road can only be a good thing. "It is very important to come here," the 29-year-old said yesterday.
"It is hard perhaps sometimes for people in Australia to understand why we come here, but this is an incredible place and coming here encourages more Australians to come here, as well as the guys who are already living here.
"It is also accessible for people from Europe to come over here and watch us race and develop a new fan base for the series outside of Australia.
"The TV times don't suit Australia but they do suit Europe and it is a chance for the European audience to see us race live which is something they obviously can't normally do."
The Sydney-based racer enjoyed his first time at Yas Marina last year, but is looking to claim his first victory here this weekend to get his championship challenge off to a flying start.
"Last year was good for me. I qualified on pole one day and had two podiums, second and third, last time, so it was a very successful time," he said.
"But this time I am looking to try and win it and go home with a lot of points. It is important to be able to go to Adelaide for round two with a lot of points in the bag as this is the start of the season and I want to get off to a good start."
Winterbottom, who was third in the 2010 championship, is confident that the UAE public will enjoy what they see at Yas, where they will be racing on the shorter North circuit, which includes the corkscrew section.
"It is much more competitive than Formula One, though not as quick of course," he said.
"But under the lights, rubbing door handles, going for the win, with 30 cars covered by a second, that is pretty good racing in my eyes.
"I am sure the public will not be disappointed in what they see."
The V8s will practice today at Yas Marina, with qualifying and the first race taking place tomorrow and the second race being held on Saturday.
The GP2 Asia series is also in action this weekend and has races both tomorrow and Saturday.