x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pole Position: It pays for fans to attend free UAE racing

The majority of the people living in the UAE have no prior exposure to motor racing as a sport or provider of jobs.

Where else in the world would you find a race meeting that features motorcycle racing, a GT championship, a touring car championship, a sports car championship, a single-seater championship and a visiting international series from one of the top auto manufacturers in the world - and there is no entry fee for spectators. No, seriously. Nada. Completely free of charge.

Doesn't happen does it? Actually, it does. The Dubai Motorsport Festival must be the Woodstock of the motor racing world. And you don't event need to break down fences and deal with traffic jams to get in.

It happened last weekend. Three days of peace and love. OK, not quite. It was not peaceful. But everybody there loved racing.

I am one of the greatest supporters of the organisers of our motor racing events. Without them, I wouldn't even be living here. They have tried absolutely everything in their power to persuade people that we have a genuinely amazing sport going on. Yet, the grandstands are nowhere near full.

One thing I learnt in a previous corporate life was that if something is free, then it has no value. Here's a simple example. Try advertising a free business seminar. You'll get a handful of people showing up, likely middle management on a freebie, just an excuse to get out of the office.

Advertise the same seminar and charge Dh2,000 per head and you will pack the event with what are called "C" level decision makers - the people that matter.

But it's more complicated than that. Motor racing is a cultural issue. While we are very proud of the rainbow society that has emerged in the Emirates over the last 40 years, setting a benchmark for other nations to aspire to, it is also the case that the majority of the people living in the UAE have no prior exposure to motor racing as a sport or provider of jobs.

Hence, there is an uphill climb in front of us when it comes to letting them know that they could attend a very exciting event - for free.

For me, the race weekend could not have gone better. After many years of hard work by a number of extremely committed and talented people, we finally witnessed a glimpse of the future.

The new young driver's single-seater series, Formula Gulf 1000, race one - 1st place: 21-year-old Indian Zaamin Jaffer; 2nd place: Malaysian Natasha Seatter, 18; 3rd place: 21-year-old, Lebanese Joe Ghanem; 4th place: Emirati Mohamed Al Mutawaa, 18; 5th place: 18-year-old Syrian Yazan Hamadeh; 6th place: Emirati Haytham Sultan Al Ali, 20.

This small group of talented youngsters put on two of the best races Dubai has ever witnessed. And the relevance of what they doing was not lost on anyone who watched it.

No longer will people be able to say we don't deserve Formula One because we do not have serious young drivers. We do, and we should be extremely proud of them.

Maybe if we were to start charging entry fees, we may see more people coming through the gates.

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.