x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Britain's Middle East pride

It is something of an industry secret that the UK is home to a huge amount of the world's motorsport experise. And it is even less recognised that Britain is a massive supporting influence for motorsport in the Middle East region.

It is something of an industry secret that the UK is home to a huge amount of the world's motorsport expertise. And it is even less recognised that Britain is a massive supporting influence for motorsport in the Middle East region.

But I was pleasantly surprised to hear a British government representative explaining just how proud they are of this heritage, and the extent to which they're involved. Did you know that the UK government supports female racing drivers in Palestinian territories? Nor did I.

In March, a team of five women competed in an annual racing event in Jenin. It was the first of five races taking place under the auspices of the Palestinian Motor Sports Federation, with the women taking on the men for the top prizes.

The ladies were driving a white BMW and wearing matching suits and helmets, as part of a project funded by the UK, named the "Speed Sisters". It aims to support women in Palestinian motorsports and eight female drivers are involved with the project. This year, they were given special training, courtesy of the UK racers Helen Elstrop and Sue Sanders. And the car was modified with new suspension and tyres, ready to handle the challenging twists and turns of the autocross competition.

This was being taken seriously, and rightly so. Khalid Qadura, president of the Motor Racing Federation, explained: "The racing circuit can be very hard on the cars, and one of the obstacles preventing more women from taking part is that they can't afford their own car, and, therefore, can't practice between races.

"Also, culturally speaking, it is less acceptable for a girl to dress up her car with stickers and a loud engine, especially if she has to drive to her place of work.  This project is going to make a real difference in helping women to compete, and nothing would please me more than to be handing the 2010 trophy to one of the lady drivers at the end of the year."

Karen McLuskie at the British Consulate in Jerusalem explained that this project was a very natural partnership between the UK and the Palestinians. "Although it's very well-known that the last Formula One world champion, Jenson Button, is British, it is less well known that British engineers lead the way in terms of innovation in racing car design. It's a privilege to be able to share a little bit of that glamorous world with Palestine."

Queen Elizabeth II presented McLuskie with a prize for the Speed Sisters project and you can follow the progress of the girls through the Facebook Speed Sisters page.

Here in the UAE, where I have lived on and off since 1977, it was largely British expertise that did the pioneering work to create our karting, motocross, rallying, race circuits and race championships.

A recent dinner in Abu Dhabi hosted by the British ambassador celebrated the British contribution to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. At this dinner, my British-managed team was fortunate enough to display three British-built UAE racing cars to illustrate the heritage. We had a Caterham, a Ginetta and the Formula Gulf 1000 single seater, combining a history of more than 130 years. And, looking at them, it was no wonder we were celebrating.

 

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is seeking the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com