x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pole Position: Some series feel the pinch

The worldwide recession has had relatively little impact on local motor racing, and its deep-pocketed participants.

You will find a bold type warning on your entry ticket and programme that reads: "Motor Racing is Dangerous". But what you're not told is that motor racing is addictive and expensive. Unsurprisingly, most drivers are business owners (or their sponsors are).

If you want to try it, the minimum budget for a season of racing is around Dh100,000. This will cover your helmet, race suit, boots gloves, nomex underwear and head restraint, plus the cost of "arrive and drive" in something like a Suzuki Swift or a Renault Clio.

Even experienced drivers tend to end up spending twice what they budget for, especially when they build a racing car. And aiming for the top end, racing in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge or Class A of the UAE GT Championship you will need a small fortune to compete seriously.

So, given the potential high cost of racing, has the economic downturn had an impact on motor racing in the UAE? Well, the key indicators are grid sizes and the introduction of new race series.

The global recession touched down in the UAE at the start of the 2008/09 season but the racing community carried on as normal. The Sportbike and Touring Car championships were largely unaffected that season and Bassam Kronfli beat 15 competitors to win the Gulf Radical Cup Championship title.

The following year, a championship for GT cars was introduced. It became the headline race at each event, with a healthy grid of GT4 and GT3 cars battling it out in a series of two-driver mini-endurance races. The GulfSport Radical Cup was still unaffected and saw 24 drivers score points, while Touring Car and Sportbike grids showed little sign of the downturn.

The 2010/11 season saw an even more spectacular GT grid, culminating in 19 cars at the mid-season event at Yas Marina Circuit. This event showcased exotica from 12 manufacturers including Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati and Aston Martin with class wins for Karim Al Azhari & Fabien Giroix (Corvette), Jon Simmons & Phil Quaife (Porsche) and Robert Cregan (Maserati). Jordan Grogor won the rebadged UAE Sportscar Championship, albeit with reduced grid sizes; Abdulaziz bin Laden and Jason Burnside won the Sportbike titles, and the Touring Car championship saw class titles for Khalid bin Hadher, Umair Khan and Mario Dias.

So where are we in 2011/12? The most noticeable change is a significant reduction in GT cars, which is not surprising, considering it had become the most costly national series, and Touring Car numbers are down a bit. On the positive side, there are a number of new bikers racing in the 600cc class. The UAE has a single-seater series for young drivers and has attracted Maserati's long-running Trofeo series from Europe.

But the big money in motor racing is now coming from India, where the i1 Super Car Series features no fewer than nine ex-Formula One drivers in an 18-car grid.

Recession? The jury's out.

Pole Position is written by Barry Hope, 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 a www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.