x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Pole Position: Hometown racers vie for victory around the globe

In the UAE we have had well-organised national karting since 1975, motocross since 1978, rallying since 1979 and circuit racing since 2006. So who is doing what?

At the time of writing, the 2012 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is about to take place across the eastern region of Liwa. This is one of the world's toughest cross-country events and has been running for 22 years. It has attracted more than 100 international teams this year from some 40 countries to join the 50 or so UAE-based drivers and riders, among which are five female competitors.

Over the years the event has been won by some very well-known professionals such as ex-World 250cc Motocross Champion Heinz Kinigadner, two times World Enduro Champion and 10 times Paris-Dakar Rally winner Stephane Peterhansel, Paris-Dakar winner Jean-Louis Schlesser and the first Arab driver to score World Championship points, Saeed Al Hajri.

It was Schlesser who, before his success in off-road racing, had raced in F3 and eventually got what was to be his only start in F1 when he substituted for Nigel Mansell in the Williams at Monza. Unfortunately, he had a coming together with Ayrton Senna, who was leading the race with only two laps to go. Senna had to retire the car. Whoops.

In the UAE we have had well-organised national karting since 1975, motocross since 1978, rallying since 1979 and circuit racing since 2006. We are now seeing home-grown talent moving from the UAE into international competition. So who is doing what?

I recently wrote about multiple UAE Sportsbike champion Abdul Aziz bin Laden taking part in the 2012 British Superbike Championship. It will be extremely tough for him but I am confident that, after a learning season, we could see him getting into the points.

Another experienced UAE bike racer is Steve Blackney, who has managed to convince his wife and mother that he should have another crack at the Manx GP in the Isle of Man this year. We will follow that one with interest, as Steve said to me, "I'm sure I have a 110mph lap in me!"

Abu Dhabi's Humaid Al Masaood, who successfully raced an LMP1 last year in the American Le Mans Series, is all set on his next big challenge - taking his Oryx Racing team to the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series. His first event was at the Barber Motor Sport Park last weekend.

Dubai-based karter Shahaan Engineer, 16, has also been busy testing single-seaters in preparation for the 2012 Formula Renault UK series. Unfortunately, with the surprise cancellation of that top series as it only had six confirmed entries just one week prior to the first race, Engineer has entered the lesser Formula Renault 2.0 Northern European Cup, which, ironically, will offer him a better chance to shine.

Meanwhile, the UAE's most successful karter, Edward Jones, is to move from a F.BMW-based series to the World Series by Renault to race in the Eurocup Formula Renault 2.0 with Team Fortec on a two-year programme before moving up to F3.

Last but not least we will see Dubai-based Frenchman Fabien Giroix campaigning a Lola B12/60 Coupé Nissan in the new FIA World Endurance Championship under the UAE flag.

Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.