x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pole Position: World's best kart drivers head to Al Ain

After the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Al Ain hosts another major motorsport event.

Look at the CV of any successful young racing driver and you'll likely find many years of kart-racing experience.

Since Art Engels built the first kart in southern California in 1956, relentless development of chassis and engine technology has ensured that the modern kart is now a sophisticated racing machine. It is effectively a lightweight single-seat racer, albeit without bodywork or suspension, providing an exciting and relevant experience for drivers stepping up to open-wheel racing.

Just one week after the Formula One race in Abu Dhabi on November 13 at the Yas Marina Circuit, 264 of the best karters from 60 countries fly into the UAE with their mechanics and families to compete in the Rotax Max Challenge World Finals at the Al Ain Raceway.

The 125cc Rotax Max long life two-stroke engine was introduced in 1998 in response to the increasingly high cost of 100cc engines that dominated kart racing for some 30 years. But better still, the engine could be started with the touch of a button and had a clutch. This might not sound very important, but believe me, this was revolutionary.

My experience was with a couple of world championship-winning 100cc air-cooled, rotary valve Ital Sistem MV21 engines that needed an expensive rebuild after just 90 minutes of use. With no starter motor or clutch, you had to pick up the rear of the kart and run and bump-start it with your driver jumping into the seat the second the engine fired up to get to the throttle. This took considerable practice; the Rotax brought an end to both regular engine rebuilds and chiropractor bills.

Over the last 12 years, the Rotax World Finals have become a de-facto world championship with thousands of karters trying to qualify for the honour of representing their country. With finals in such exotic locations as Puerto Rico, South Africa and the Canary Islands, you can imagine their determination.

Racing has separate classes for juniors and seniors with another class for the DD2 engine, which has two gears. Each of these groups has 72 drivers, so there are plenty of heats and semi-finals to sort them all out. Additionally, there are another 48 older drivers competing in a Masters group.

A new chassis is provided to each competitor by the leading manufacturers - Birel, CRG, Sodi and Haase - and the organisers of the event and Rotax ensure every driver uses a brand-new engine, creating a level playing field for competitors.

The Rotax World Finals are a prestigious event and is supported by various government bodies including the Yas Marina Circuit.

So if you like to see proper racing, Al Ain is the place for you. And don't forget to support our local drivers and stars of the future. Mohammed Al Dhaheri and Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa represent the UAE in DD2, Sanad Al Rawahi and Patrick Jarjour are racing in the seniors and young Omani Abdullah Al Rawahi is aiming to win the junior title.

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 in Motoring every week. Join the UAE racing community online at www.gulf-sport.com or on Facebook at GulfSportRacing.