x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pole Position: UAE has a rich history of circuit racing

A look at the origins of circuit racing in the UAE and why it has a bright future.

One tends to assume that circuit racing started in the UAE with the LG Super Racing Weekend at the Dubai Autodrome in October 2004.

This fantastic event saw Andy Priaulx sew up the European Touring Car Championship title (in a non-European country) and the Ferrari 550 of Bobbi and Gardel beat the Maserati MC12 of Herbert and de Simone in a thrilling three-hour FIA GT Championship race.

But the history of this type of race in the UAE goes back further than you might think.

I guess we cannot truly consider the 1981 Dubai Grand Prix as a circuit race as it was run on a temporary road course around the Hyatt Regency Hotel, but it was certainly eventful.

It had a far more star-studded entry list and was notable for some interesting incidents.

Joe Wiedmer's extremely valuable Porsche 917/10 was being airlifted by helicopter to the circuit when the roll bar it was attached to broke and the car dropped to the ground. The car was repaired and made it in to the race.

The late great Juan Manuel Fangio was in Dubai to do some demo laps in the Mercedes Benz 300 W196 but, as he was feeling the effects of his non-stop schedule and flight from Buenos Aires, he spun the car wildly on track and ended up in Sheikh Rashid Hospital for two weeks recovering from a heart murmur.

One of the highlights was Sterling Moss, who only recently announced his retirement from racing at the tender age of 81 after 212 race victories, demonstrating how to drive the famous Maserati 250F at the Dubai Grand Prix 30 years ago.

In addition to 1981, there were other minor circuit events in the UAE that predated the Dubai Autodrome.

One such forgotten event is an international Speedway meeting (ethanol-burning single-cylinder four-stroke motorbikes) which took place on the running track at an Abu Dhabi stadium. This hardy team of speedway riders raced in Cairo and Kuwait before coming to the UAE and the tour was won by Belle Vue's Chris Morton.

A permanent tarmac circuit was also built at the old Al Nasr football ground in Dubai for a fledgling stock car racing series which saw rivalry between competing teams lead to the first and only punch-up at a UAE race meeting back in the 1980s.

Interestingly, as rare as appearances in the UAE from some exotic Maserati race cars are - including Moss's 250F in 1981 and the factory MC12 in 2004 and 2010 - we now have the thrilling prospect of seeing the first fully factory-owned race series being based here.

The one-make Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK Middle East series will offer gentlemen drivers a chance to race a 488hp 4.7L V8 GranTurismo MC at circuits throughout the region and enjoy amazing Maserati-style hospitality. Having run two of these cars successfully in the UAE GT Championship last season, and tested the upgraded 2011 car at the Dubai Autodrome yesterday, I can assure you that the 16 lucky drivers are in for a treat.

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.