x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pole position: Young league of nations

Racing brings together all nationalities to compete, but there is a lot of work behind the scenes, writes Barry Hope

This coming week sees the first phase of the UAE's single-seater racing initiative as the start of several three-day driver test and training sessions gets underway at Yas Marina Circuit. Amazingly, it has been almost a year since we announced Formula Gulf 1000, a scholarship series for the region's most ambitious young racing drivers at the Habtoor Grand Hotel in Dubai Marina.

It's truly amazing the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make something like this happen. But we've had great support and encouragement from Mohammed Ben Sulayem at the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, Richard Cregan at the Yas circuit, Hamish Brown at Dubai Autodrome and my business partner, Ghassan Tabbah Shalabi at Strata Group, whose faith in our vision is unwavering.

We are in the middle of testing six brand new Formula racing cars to ensure they are ready for purpose on Tuesdays when the first group of drivers take to the track. With only four drivers in each group, they will benefit from personalised education and coaching relative to their experience from Andy Pardoe, one of the most distinguished international instructors around.

The nationalities of the drivers reflects the demographics of the region with resident Emirati, Palestinian, Indian and British drivers being joined by drivers from Oman, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Two delightful young men, Haitham Suleiman Al Saqri and Maher Suleiman Al Shibani, have been working tirelessly over the past year to find sponsorship to support their quest to represent Oman in Formula Gulf 1000 and I am pleased to say they have found the support they were looking for.

They will be joined by Indian national Harsh Rajpal, just back from Kuala Lumpur, where he was testing with one of the Formula BMW teams and the more experienced Usmaan Mughal, who raced under the Pakistani flag in our Radical series.

The following week we will be joined by a very talented 18-year-old Malaysian woman, Natasha Seatter, who was beating many of the lads in last year's Formula BMW Pacific series; rising star Edward Jones, a young karting champion from Dubai who I believe has a great racing future ahead of him; talented young Omani karting champion Sanad Al Rawahi and another experienced Emirati karter, Haitham Sultan Al Ali.

The last test session, which started yesterday, features several extremely talented Abu Dhabi drivers, including karting ace Mohammed Al Dhaheri, UAE GT Championship racer Saad Salman, and - subject to confirmation - Radical Cup race winner Jassim Al Shamsi and young rally driver Mansour bin Jebr Al Suwaidi.

This will be a significant milestone for all concerned because it goes right at the issue of encouraging young Emirati drivers to race only in the safety of a race circuit. They will be good examples for the entire country.


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