x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Pole Position: Middle East should take note of Le Mans

Gulf region participation was just one reason to watch the world's most famous endurance car racing event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

You can't help but have noticed the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans race produced a great finish this year with the diesel-burning LPM1s of Audi and Peugeot finishing less than 14 seconds apart after 355 laps of a 13.6km circuit. I still fail to understand why the organisers give the diesel teams what appears to be a significant advantage as using "clean-diesel" is more fuel-efficient than petrol, but that's another matter.

The race was notable for several reasons from a local perspective. Firstly, there were a couple of regionally based GT drivers taking part. Dubai resident Fabien Giroix was a member of a three-man team racing the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage, which went well until one of his teammates crashed after 13 hours of racing. The Saudi Porsche specialist Abdulaziz al Faisal was having a great time in the Team Felbermayr-Proton Porsche until a tyre blow put him into the barriers in the 18th hour. It's an extremely tough race and only half of the 56 cars finished.

In LMP2, the privateer's version of the factory-based LMP1 teams, we saw a great victory by the Greaves Motorsport team's Zytech-Nissan. Team owner Tim Greaves won GulfSport Racing's inaugural Radical Sportcar race, which was run to support the first A1 Grand Prix in December 2005. But the second-placed Oreca-Nissan LMP2 car had a very interesting driver in the shape of one Lucas Ordonez.

Having run out of money to fund his karting, 23-year-old Ordonez, along with 25,000 other computer gamers, decided to try his luck by entering a competition called GT Academy, which aimed to turn a Gran Turismo gamer into a real racing driver. Having won the Spanish rounds of the event, he went to a Silverstone shoot-out and came away with a life-changing prize of three months of training, an FIA international race licence and a drive with Johnny Herbert in the 2009 Dubai 24H race in a Nissan 350Z.

This went well enough that he was given a drive in the European GT4 Cup in 2009 and 2010, which led him to getting to race in the Signatech Oreca-Nissan at Le Mans. So after just two full seasons, this talented young driver was on the podium at the world's biggest race. Amazing.

This demonstrates that talent can be spotted and developed on both games and professional simulators. Our FG1000 driver, Usmaan Mughal, who uses the Pure Tech Racing simulator for race preparation, believes simulators are never going to replace a proper preseason testing programme but are an essential component to development. "Physical competency is the obvious requirement for a racing driver, but many fail to address that mental training is just as important," he said. "A racing simulator allows me to practise maintaining my concentration for distances and to evaluate my consistency, which is an essential ingredient to being a fast racing driver and winning races."

If you haven't yet witnessed the drama of a 24-hour race first-hand, then I highly recommend you visit the 7th edition of the Dubai 24H race on January 13 and 14.

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.