x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE racing enthusiasts finally get to test their limits

Drivers can now legally test both the limits of their cars and themselves at a new event at Yas Marina Circuit, the Extreme SuperLap.

A modified Honda Civic brakes into a corner at Yas Marina Circuit. Pawel Dwulit / The National
A modified Honda Civic brakes into a corner at Yas Marina Circuit. Pawel Dwulit / The National

Speed limits and increasingly severe penalties for transgression, infuriating traffic congestion, inconsiderate drivers - it's almost enough to make you leave the car at home; if only it wasn't so hot. And it's bad enough when said car is a normal family saloon, so the daily frustrations felt by owners of high-performance cars in the UAE must be palpable. Just how do speed freaks get their jollies when the odds are so heavily stacked against them enjoying the one thing their cars offer in such abundance?

Some take to the streets in illegal races and speed trials, like in The Fast and the Furious films. But there are other more sensible and socially acceptable options of organised track days at venues such as the Dubai Autodrome or Yas Marina, where people can drive up to (and often beyond) their own and their cars' limits in the relative safety of a racing circuit. At least on track, everybody's heading in the same direction.

There's a drawback with track days, though: you're not allowed to time your laps. Some drivers do time themselves, but it's not something that can be discussed in open forums and there's no official way of measuring one's performance against one's contemporaries. And in the world of the aftermarket tuner, there's a huge amount of competition for track-bred kudos. The racetrack, it would appear, is the great leveller.

It took the Japanese to come up with a solution: Time Attack. Also known in various circles as Super Lap or Tuner Battles, generally speaking it's open to three classes of car: street, modified and open, and you're allowed to take part in anything you like, whether it be a modified Mitsubishi Evo or a Rolls-Royce Phantom. If you have the correct licence and your car passes muster with the scrutineer, then you're in. And once you're in, the idea is to tear up the racetrack in pursuit of not only your personal best lap time, but the best in the class in which you find yourself competing.

Welcome, then, to Extreme SuperLap; the UAE's take on Time Attack. If you were anywhere near Yas Marina a couple of Fridays ago, you would have heard them battling for a podium finish on the South Course of the famed circuit; a selection of the UAE's finest taking part in a brand new event that the organisers hope will become a firm fixture on the area's motorsport calendar.

Tuning company Extreme MotorSports from Abu Dhabi is the main organiser, with invaluable help from "Uncle" Zlatko Mulabegovic of Dubai's aftermarket tuning magazine, Top Performance. "This has been a long time coming," remarked Mulabegovic. "What started in Japan many years ago quickly spread around the world and finally we have our own event in UAE. We couldn't be happier. It gives these drivers the opportunity to prove their talents in a totally legal, organised way that has the full approval of the FIA [international motorsport's governing body]."

So the basic gist of Extreme SuperLap is that drivers of production-based sport cars compete for the fastest single lap around the circuit. Yet it's obvious that, despite the fact anyone can bring any car, this event was set up with the aftermarket tuning scene in mind. The majority of the 19 cars going through scrutineering when The National arrived at Yas Marina were highly modified, and some were being entered into the competition by the tuning companies themselves; companies such as Sharjah's Lap57 and Abu Dhabi's Tensai Tuning, who specialise in race preparation and parts supply for modified performance cars.

According to the organisers, participating cars are classified from factory-ready sport cars through to modified and all the way to unlimited modified cars. Classes are based on the engine capacity, drive type (FWD, RWD or 4WD) and levels of modification. Wandering around the garages where the cars were being fettled and talking with their enthusiastic owners, it's clear there was a wide mix of machinery ready to be thrashed. A totally stock Porsche 911 GT3 shared space with a factory-fresh Ferrari 458 Italia and tricked-up, stripped-out Japanese road warriors such as Mitsubishi Evos and Nissan 350Zs; there was even a Honda Civic that was entirely bereft of any interior niceties bar a deep bucket driver's seat.

Mulabegovic himself was competing that night, piloting a modified Evo X, and he stopped by to explain a few things. "We've worked hard with Yas Marina and the FIA to get here, and we're hoping that, after tonight, everyone will want to come back and try to improve their times. We'll be retaining the same layout for future events here, which will allow competitors to chase their records through the season."

After the driver's briefing, it was time for the various classes to get in a few practice laps before the competition began in earnest. The sky turned black a couple of hours previous, but the circuit was extremely well lit, making for excellent visibility, essential for safe, high-speed track driving.

True to the whole "turn up and drive" ethos at play here, most of the cars had been driven to Yas Marina, only to have their tyres changed at the circuit. Some, like the GT3 and the Ferrari, didn't even go through that - they were just driven (extremely hard) around the track and then driven home. If anyone ever doubted the crushing all-round abilities of cars like the GT3, even in standard form, it's time to keep quiet because they're designed and built to do exactly this. A Honda S2000 present was also one of those driven to and from Yas. Its owner, Salim Tabei, said it's pretty standard, but not for long. "I'm definitely coming back and the car will be different next time, with better brakes and maybe more power. I'm not expecting to do very well tonight. But next time, who knows?"

With cars of such differing levels of performance, it's heartening that each was competing only against its peers. It's obvious which were setting the fastest lap times: the Corvettes, the Ferrari, the GT3 and a four-door Cadillac CTS-V that could seat the entire family all looked incredibly quick and definitely made the most noise. The ground shuddered every time they tore past the spectator stand; a heavenly experience for any petrolhead. Yet even the lowly Civic and a very standard-looking Seat Leon Cupra seemed to be doing okay.

The competition drew to a close just after 11pm and, as the cars sat with their bonnets up to get some extra cooling and some of the owners and teams went about refitting the road wheels and tyres, there was a camaraderie in the air that's missing from so many avenues of motorsport today. Sure, there was a rivalry, but it was tempered with a deep respect and good humour between combatants; backs were slapped, hands shaken. Evidently a good time was had by all and the Dh950 entry fee was money well spent.

Perhaps the final word should go to Corvette driver Mohamed al Falasi: "They should do this every weekend; everyone has had a very special experience tonight." And what about his car, a stripped-out, fully prepared ZR1 that looked (and sounded) like a former Le Mans racer? This fearsome machine is the perfect encapsulation of what Extreme SuperLap is all about. "When I bought it, it was stock, but look at it now. It's totally track- focused and every aspect of its transformation was carried out right here in the UAE, which just shows how serious the scene is here."

Indeed it does and, somehow, we think he'll be back for more.

For information on future events visit www.extremesuperlap.com