Development programmes in the country and beyond are writing the beginning of future racing success stories.
Pole Position: Drive on to discover UAE motor racing talent
In 2004 the governing body of world motorsport created a division dedicated to improving safety and education within the industry; the FIA Institute. It is currently trialling a Young Driver Excellence Academy in the form of a series of workshops that is helping to prepare 12 lucky young race and rally drivers from around the world to compete at the pinnacle of the sport.
Recognising the potential of such high levels of professional support and guidance to help develop the UAE's most talented and committed young drivers, the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE recently identified five top Emirati drivers. A team consisting of a leading sports psychologist and a senior lecturer in the physiology of exercise, both professors at the University of Ulster, carried out assessments of these drivers over a two-day period.
The joint winners of this development programme, Mohammed Al Dhaheri and Mohammed Al Mutawaa, will now benefit from a one-week intensive training course at the Sports Institute for Northern Ireland in September.
However, the course does not involve driving. It is about developing the key attributes required of a professional driver, such as fitness, nutrition, interpersonal skills and communications.
The five shortlisted UAE racers are, of course, already successful drivers. I had the pleasure of seeing Al Mutawaa, 18, a former single-seater driver, mastering the mighty Callaway Corvette so brilliantly in Class GTB of the UAE GT Championship last season. He has a great future.
Al Dhaheri is a two-time UAE kart-racing champion. He graduated recently from one of our Formula Gulf 1000 three-day training/testing programmes at Yas Marina Circuit. It was evident from day one that he has a real talent as he quickly mastered the art of driving a junior Formula car with downforce. Even more impressive was that, at a follow-up test at the Dubai Autodrome, he was as fast as the experienced Edward Jones.
I realise that many people tend to assume all drivers have to aim for stardom in Formula One. But the fact is that there are numerous other avenues for talented, well funded and committed drivers - provided they have been properly trained and have had plenty of time in a racing car.
By way of example, I was approached in February 2008 by a semi-pro tennis player who, despite having very little track experience, expressed a real interest in taking up motor racing. After a number of private coaching sessions with race engineer Martin Hope, he started racing in the GulfSport Radical Cup. Since then, he has taken part in a variety of race series and cars in both sprint and endurance series, including an Aston Martin GT4, a Maserati GranTurismo Trofeo and a Ligier sports racing car. Now only three years later, the very talented Humaid Al Masaood has just finished on the podium after racing a Lola-Mazda LMP1 with Steven Kane in the American Le Mans Series with Dyson Racing. Al Masaood will probably compete at 24 Hour of Le Mans next year.
Barry Hope is a director of GulfSport Racing, which is hoping to find an Arab F1 driver through the FG1000 race series. Pole Position appears every week in Motoring. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSport Racing.