x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Pole position: motors central to party spirit

We set off from our race workshop to Umm Al Qaiwain with great anticipation. We were towing the No 38 single-seater racing car on the trailer having bought a variety of colourful National Day paraphernalia.

We set off from our race workshop to Umm Al Qaiwain with great anticipation. We were towing the No 38 single-seater racing car on the trailer having bought a variety of colourful National Day paraphernalia.

I had received a letter from the Citizenship Department at the UAQ Ministry of Interior inviting our race team to be special guests at their National Day celebrations. And we had no idea what to expect.

But what transpired was truly inspirational. They said there would be a parade of cars, but nothing prepared us for what was about to take place.

The Ruler of UAQ, Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mualla headed a parade that started near the Royal Palace along with his son and Crown Prince, Sheikh Rashid bin Saud Al Mualla, who was driving a beautiful Ferrari. Meanwhile, we were waiting by the park, where the parade would pass.

We could hear the police sirens, car hooters and helicopter as the parade slowly came into view. I kid you not, there must have been at least 3,000 brightly decorated cars, pickup trucks and bikes making as much noise as they could.

When the parade reached the roundabout by the park at the end of the dual carriageway, there was two kilometres of cars following behind it. Haytham Sultan Al Ali, who I was later to realise was a bit of a sporting hero in his hometown of UAQ, set off in the No 38 Formula Gulf 1000 to do a demonstration run on the closed side of the dual carriageway to the applause of thousands of families celebrating their special day.

When he reached the park entrance, we turned him around to drive the 2km back to where the Ruler was patiently waiting for him to slot in directly behind his car at the head of the parade.

They then set off again, with Al Ali appearing to have a side-by-side slow-motion race with the Crown Prince in the Ferrari. When they reached the park, we quickly pushed the single-seater onto the carpeted stand that had been specially constructed next to the park entrance to feature Al Ali and the race car.

As if this activity alone was not enough to demonstrate the high level of interest that Al Ali had generated in UAQ, the Ruler visited the stand, signed the car with a black felt pen and presented us with an amazing trophy depicting the historic North Tower that helped guard the local community so many years ago. Al Ali, who presented his Ruler with a beautifully framed picture of himself racing the car, spoke with the Ruler at length and was pleased to note that he was clearly aware of various levels of racing below Formula One level in the country.

One of the key organisers of the event, Sheikh Faisal Abdullah Al Mualla, then invited our team back to the Immigration building for dinner, where we continued to be amazed at the warmth and hospitality of these genuinely wonderful people.

If this is a sign of what could happen if we can attract more Emirati drivers like Al Ali into the sport, the future of motor racing will be guaranteed in the UAE.

 

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.