A new class of motor racing promises to make the track accessible to a broader range of drivers.
Entering the fray
With costs to match the level of adrenaline it sends through drivers' veins, motor racing is one of the most expensive and explosive sports available to residents of the UAE. But in spite of all the grease and glamour associated with motorsport, racing cars is far more accessible than most people would think.
The UAE GT Championship starts in October at the Dubai Autodrome. A new class of racing for this country, it will pit the great and the good of performance motoring together for the first time without slower saloons getting in the way of the giants. The grid will see the likes of Porsche GT3s, Dodge Vipers, Corvettes, Ferraris and Lotus Exiges fighting it out with their phenomenal horsepower. And while motorsport in the UAE used to be the domain of pocket-filled privateers, more recently, racers have begun to band together as teams, splitting the support costs involved.
According to Dubai-based Porsche specialist Alex Renner, with two months until the first race of the season, there is still time to secure a ride. "All you need is the right car and some track experience and you are ready to race," he says. "Drivers who have spent time in autocross and karts will be in an excellent position to take on the GT Championship." Not including the cost of a car, such as a Porsche 911 GT3, drivers should expect to spend at the very least between Dh60,000 and Dh80,000 - which covers race and repair fees - for a race seat across a season. Of course, there is the potential to spend much more, depending on how competitive a driver wants to be. As well, this doesn't factor the cost of repairs for any major crashes that might happen on track.
A number of potential racers will already be driving their own race cars on the street, as Harris Irfan was doing before he decided to take the pit-side plunge. "I had a Porsche GT3 as my daily drive," said the British racer, who was Class 2 runner-up in the UAE Touring Car Championship last year. "It then had to be mildly modified for the track to meet the race regulations, and I will be taking the car into the GT Championship this October."
Rules dictate that cars have roll cages, cut-off switches and tyres made of a controlled compound, among other tweaks. Other than that, it's up to drivers to work within the regulations to produce the most competitive car possible. Alternatively, those with the budget can invest in pre-prepared "cup cars". Renner's company, ARM, specialises in sourcing cars and components and providing on-track support for competitors.
"We can import Porsche cup cars from Europe in time for them to race this season at the Autodrome," he explains. "We can also tune the cars to get the most horsepower out of them, and then support them before, during and after races." As well as the traditional staples of UAE racing, this year will see a new name on the Autodrome grid. Ginetta is a household name in motorsport around the world and is now available for the first time in this country through Dubai's GulfSport Racing.
Owners of a Ginetta G50 race car won't have to make any modifications to their vehicle, as the car is a purpose-built racer. "Racing certainly isn't cheap, but with the G50 the relative performance versus the cost of the car is tremendous," says Barry Hope, GulfSport's managing director. "For a new or seasoned racer, the ability to have someone to take care of the upkeep of the car is ideal," he adds.
In fact, having someone else to take a share of the load when you're new to the sport is the perfect way to get started. Not having to worry about working on the car as well as racing it is highly recommended. "The racers we support range from beginners to experienced race winners, but most of those have only been racing for five years at the most. If you want to get into motorsport there has never been a better time."
ARM ranks among the specialist car tuners who can provide full mechanical and logistical assistance for the duration of the event. Pit-side packages include garage supervision, technical expertise, the provision of mechanical tools and other specialised equipment, and all required fluids and fuel. "Our involvement doesn't end with the chequered flag," Renner continues. "We can also provide inter-race support for customers' cars, with transportation to and from the event on the back of a transporter, and storage of the car at our secure premises in Dubai. For peace of mind, the cars are fully covered by ARM's premises and contents insurance policy during this time."
A full service package removes the headache of taking care of the car between races, making life as simple as possible for owners and allowing the driver to simply turn up on the day of a race, jump into their car and fire up the engine. Even though he races his own tried-and-tested car, Irfan subscribes to race day support. "It makes a lot of sense to align with a good marque specialist," he says. "Using a respected team of mechanics gives you more time and attention; you need to have people who can look after you."
Steve McLintock, meanwhile, is part of a team from Axis Engineering that has a number of race cars available for the GT Championships. On their books are a 2000 Dodge Viper GT3 Series, a Lotus Exige that is currently under construction, an "extreme" Mitsubishi Evo 7 that's worth 650 horsepower with next to no weight, and an R32 Nissan Skyline that they "try not to use too often". In spite of his team membership, McLintock says it is "absolutely feasible" for racers to run their own cars. "Only recently have people started teaming up, but you don't need to be part of a team. You'll see a lot of drivers out there in the pits changing their own tyres and performing their own repairs, ourselves included."
He says the best way to become involved in the sport is to buy a car and get as much on-track experience as possible. Assuming a driver has had experience in other racing disciplines, all he or she has to do is go to a track such as the Autodrome and take a preliminary test before applying for an FIA international licence. "This is relatively easy if you have had experience on a circuit," he says. "They are looking for safety, not speed."
This year's debut season for the UAE GT Championship, which is devised along the lines of similar international GT series, will feature three classes: GTA, GTB and GTC. Because of the wide variety of cars, an objective classification has been chosen based on a power-to-weight ratio. In this way, the series' aim is to equalise cars participating in a class as fairly as possible. "The GT Championship will be extremely competitive, with some beautiful cars on the circuit," Renner concluded. "The thing about this level of motorsport is that it allows anyone with the right car and a love for racing to get on the track and enjoy every minute of the action."
For some people, he concludes, doing the daily commute between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in a high-performance car is not enough: "Unleashing your car's full power within a competitive environment is just about the finest way to enjoy a car. It's so much better than making hay in the traffic." email@example.com