Barry Hope sees the end of the amateur era of racing as teams are becoming more professional.
Season starts as era finishes
The days of entry-level club racing may be behind us given what transpired with the first round of the 2010 UAE GT Championship. The paddock looked like a European GT event: the drivers were experienced and the teams professional - in fact, three of them turned up with huge race transporters that cost half a million dirhams each. Some teams flew in specialist engineers for the two-day event.
Drivers compete in one of three classes based on the power-to-weight ratio of their cars, most of which were built for the European GT4 and GT3 Championships. You have to see it to believe it.
I think soon we will see UAE drivers competing in the GT2 European Cup that starts next year, or perhaps in the FIA GT1 World Championship, which was won this year by Maserati. Modena recognises the racing revolution that is taking place here and has provided GulfSport with two factory Maserati GranTurismo GT4 cars to run in Class C of the UAE GT Championship.
The high humidity on race weekend proved to be extremely challenging for both teams and drivers. My team would work non-stop, 12-hour days preparing and running five red-hot race cars in open garages. They ran both factory Maseratis for the first time, the incredible exhaust note from their 4.7L V8 engines generating a lot of interest.
We were also running two Ginetta G50s in Class C. Joe Ghanem, one of the region's most experienced single-seater drivers, was to race in GT for the first time, and Kuwaiti driver Khaled al Mudhaf was sharing the weekend with Jan Vandenbeek in another Ginetta G50.
Raed Hassan and Bassam Kronfli had entered the 2010 series in a mighty 4.5L V8 Ginetta Zytek, a car that should be able to take the fight to the current champions in their Class A Corvette. But as it happened, the test day didn't go well for either of these sophisticated and mega-quick cars and both were withdrawn from the event.
The race day went much better with a trouble-free warm-up session in the morning and a 30-minute qualifying session. We now had four cars competing in Class C in the one-hour endurance race. One of Abu Dhabi's most experienced GT drivers, Robert Cregan, was immediately very quick in the Maserati and positioned himself behind the faster Class A and B cars. Coming from the discipline of Formula Renault Eurocup and British F3 single seaters, Ghanem was driving beautifully in the Ginetta G50 and was tracking Cregan. Al Mudhaf pitted at the halfway point to hand over to Vandenbeek, who did a remarkable job in his first race in the Ginetta, and Radical driver David Field was getting to grips with his first GT drive.
All the hard work and planning paid off. GulfSport's drivers dominated Class C and we had the joy of seeing Cregan take the win for Maserati, Ghanem taking second place and al Mudhaf and Vandenbeek on the third step of the podium. Cregan went straight to the airport he was racing next day at Hockenheim to try and secure second place overall in the Porsche Sports Cup. We didn't even have the energy left to celebrate.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is seeking the first Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Join the UAE racing community online at www.singleseaterblog.com