The creation of the Dubai Dirt Donks club in 1978 kicked off motocross in the UAE, which has evolved to draw annual visits by the MotoGP and Superbike championships.
Pole Position: Motorbike racing, from Donks to Yas
Much is written about car racing in the UAE, but I have to tell you that the motorcycle racing scene, which goes back more than 30 years here, is very healthy. Although I earn my living running a motor racing business, like many people in this industry I have a passion for bikes and admiration for the guys who make it all happen.
The inspiration for the creation of the Dubai Dirt Donks in 1978 and its Dubai Motocross Championship was a used Honda Elsinore 250 that we bought from an American working at Aramco. With a few Suzuki RM400s and an RM125 promptly imported from Japan, and with a former Bahrain Sandblaster champion, Dough Hasson moving to the UAE with his trusty Yamaha YZ250, the off-road racing scene blossomed. We were well supported by the various importers and had the use of Sheikh Mana's old Al Nasr football ground near the Sheikh Rashid Hospital where we built a supercross circuit. Events took place regularly in Dubai and Muscat - we even took our team to compete in the fourth Indian Motocross Grand Prix in Pune in 1985.
Fast forward three decades and the motorcycle scene is unrecognisable from those early pioneering days, with thousands of motorcycles sold every year. Although the off-road scene continues to grow, the big change is that we now have thousands of road-going bikers on superbikes and cruisers, and we have circuit racing in the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain, including annual visits by the MotoGP and Superbike championships.
These local bikers benefit from being able to buy extremely high-performance machinery at unbelievable prices relative to their sports car-buying colleagues. Just compare the price of a supercar with a superbike of similar performance. The bike is typically 10 per cent of the cost of the car.
Motorcycle racing started at the Dubai Autodrome in 2006 and has developed into a two-class affair for 600cc and 1000cc production sports bikes. Over the years, experience has been gained and the standard of racing is now at a very high level.
We even celebrated our first UAE biker racing at the Isle of Man last year. Stephen Blackney, who has spent most of his life racing off-road in the UAE, fulfiled a lifetime's ambition by racing in the 2010 Manx GP. He did extremely well, finishing three races on a Yamaha R6 with a best-lap averaging more than 170kph on the 60-kilometre mountain road circuit.
Just like most of the car racing guys in the UAE, nearly all of the bike racers are self-funded. However, credit must go to Yas Marina Circuit for supporting one of the bike teams in an attempt to help raise the profile of the sport and encourage other organisations to get behind our sportsmen. Even with the experience, commitment and entertainment value that all of these competitors deliver to the public, local commercial interests have still not woken up to the reality of motorsport as one of the most effective branding and marketing platforms in the world. Let's hope this all changes with the advent of television coverage of our heroes.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to produce the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com