Barry Hope looks at the ways you can get into racing in the UAE.
Don't just watch: race
To race on the Yas or Dubai circuits, you will need three things: an FIA national race licence (which we looked at last Saturday), an FIA-approved race suit, helmet, gloves, boots, special Nomex underwear (which I will write about next week) and a race car. The question is, which race car?
You should first think about how much you can spend to support your new interest. You can rent or buy and costs can vary enormously. At the moment, the cheapest series is the Suzuki Swift Cup where, for about Dh9,000, you can arrive and drive in a race-prepared 1,600cc car. This gets you a qualifying session and three races. Great fun and popular with no hidden costs - provided you don't damage the car.
The most expensive race series is potentially the UAE GT Championship. However, I would not recommend you enter this as a novice: this is where many of the more ambitious and experienced drivers race cars that cost upwards of Dh1 million in a one-hour endurance race. Here you will find many of the top marques, including Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, Lotus and Viper. My team runs two factory Maserati GranTurismo MCs and two Ginetta G50s in this series and the annual budget for these cars is about Dh250,000 each, excluding the cost of the car. Most cars are run by professional race teams.
More appropriate for the first-time racer is the UAE Touring Car Championship, where you can use a stripped-out road car with a full race cage, racing seat and harness, fire extinguisher and external ignition cut-off switch. Here you will find all manner of Honda Civics, Renault Clios, the occasional BMW, Seat and Opel Astra. You can get started for about Dh50,000 and, if you run it yourself, you only need the occasional set of tyres and the money for entry fees.
We have started quite a few new drivers in the UAE Sportscar Championship. This series caters for amateurs in lightweight, open-top cars like the Caterham Seven, the Radical and Juno, and is aimed at encouraging similar makes like the KTM X-Bow and Ligier to participate. These cars are available from Dh100,000 for a good used model.
So there is something for everyone. I have found that racing is roughly 30 per cent cheaper here than in Europe for a variety of reasons, yet is run to the same high standards and FIA regulations. If you are an expat resident, then this is a great time to get into a sport that is right on your doorstep. Emirati drivers already make up about 10 per cent of the grids.
If you are a young karter who wants to get the training and experience required to have a motor-racing career, then take a look at Formula Gulf 1000, which is a junior single-seater championship. The car looks like a small F1 car, on slick F3 racing tyres, high downforce bodywork with an engine that revs to 11,000 rpm. A full season of testing and 16 races has a total cost of about Dh310,000, which compares very favourably to similar championships overseas. We are about to start an introductory season of 12 races at a much lower cost for those lucky enough to qualify. The winner will receive a scholarship package worth in excess of Dh360,000 so you can be sure of serious competition.
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