24-hour endurance race at Dubai's Autodrome sorts men from boys
As the song says: what a difference a day makes. And an entire 24-hour day of racing really does sort the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys. Because 24 hours is a very long time, indeed, for anything to work at full pelt, whether it's man or machine.
Starting today at 1pm at the famed Dubai Autodrome, the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai will be fought and won by the best that exists in this gruelling, tortuous sporting event. While France's Le Mans and the Nürburgring in Germany have their own, incredibly famous and successful 24-hour race events, the Dubai race has been something of a slow burner since its first outing in 2006, woefully undersubscribed, with empty grandstands despite the fact that the on-track action is some of the best. Even with free entry at the gate, it's nigh on impossible to get local spectators interested and that is an utter travesty.
The Dubai endurance race is on the up, however, and the world is slowly but surely turning its spotlight onto it. It's now a serious event and has become a pivotal part of the motorsport calendar.
After a month or so of being shipped from all over the world, the containers with their precious cargos were delivered to the venue and were opened on Tuesday so the teams could start preparing in earnest for one of the region's most exciting motorsport meetings. So what can we expect this weekend?
According to the FIA's licence, the 19-turn track at the Autodrome is 5.39km point-to-point. The circuit is one of the most modern and challenging in the world, but it's safer than many others due to large run-off areas and no gravel. That does not mean, however, that accidents don't happen. They do, and they're often quite spectacular. That's what happens when the track is full of all types of cars, driven by people of differing abilities - you'll see fully prepped Corvettes, Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsche GT2 cars battling it out with BMWs, Nissans, Renault Clios, Mini Coopers and Seat Leons, with amateur and semi-professional drivers at the wheels.
Last year, Abu Dhabi's Black Falcons crushed the competition in their Mercedes-Benz SLS-AMG GT3 cars. But there's a new kid on the block in the form of Ram Racing from the UK. Ram's team principal, Dan Shufflebottom, was formerly Michael Schumacher's chief mechanic at Mercedes' F1 team and Ram has financial backing from our region. The Ferrari 458 GT3 cars, too, had their liveries designed by Awesome Group in Dubai (who took care of the team's entire corporate look), so there's a strong local connection.
"Our goal is to under-promise and over-deliver," says Shufflebottom, "because otherwise you're just going to disappoint people from the outset. We may be relatively new at running our own team, but we know what it takes."
Ram's driver line-up is impressive. Guy Smith, a former Le Mans-winner with Bentley in 2003 and LMP1 competitor, is joined by Brazilian Jaime Melo (another Le Mans victor), "gentleman driver" Cheerag Arya and lead driver, Johnny Mowlem - who is the only team member to have previously taken part in the Dubai race.
Whatever happens when it comes to the final results, one thing's certain and that is the adrenalin rush experienced by drivers, team members and spectators alike. You owe it to yourself to get down to see the action, even if it's just to witness the spectacle of night-time racing, when literally anything can - and does - happen.
The atmosphere at these 24-hour races is quite unlike any other. While the world of Formula One is often stuffy and unapproachable, this is altogether more welcoming, with visitors free to wander around the team areas, see the cars up close and chat the hours away with drivers and other enthusiasts. It's a celebration of high-octane motorsport and it's right on our doorstep. Don't go taking that for granted - this is one race that will have you on the edge of your seats and it deserves support from all of us.
Updated: January 11, 2013 04:00 AM