x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pole Position: Youth needs help to progress in motorsport

Motor racing is a very tough business that requires mentoring and support from parents and sponsors if talented drivers are to progress.

The FIA Institute recently published its shortlist of 30 young drivers who will be evaluated during a four-day shoot-out later this month in Austria. They will be competing for only 18 places in the FIA's second Young Driver Excellence Academy.

The shortlisted drivers come from 26 different countries and include eight rally drivers, to remind us that this is not just about motor racing.

Of the 12 youngsters that graduated this year from the first academy, it was 22-year old Dutch rally driver Kevin Abbring who won the prestigious Driver of the Academy award. That will now see him introduced to the most influential people at a World Rally Championship event to help further his career.

Meanwhile, Sahara Force India F1 Team has also announced the winner of its own driver search programme, One from a Billion Hunt.

After a series of nationwide karting events,14-year old Arjun Maini, from Bangalore, was chosen as the winner. Maini will receive a fully funded European driver development training programme.

The Middle East has a well-established kart racing scene, although the FIA's Mohammed bin Sulayem believes the UAE is in desperate need of fresh blood, so he is busy drawing up plans to attract more youngsters.

All three of the young regional drivers shortlisted by the FIA for the shoot-out in Austria have good karting and motor racing backgrounds.

Syrian Yazan Hamadeh, 18, started leisure karting at the age of 12, came third in the 2008/09 Middle East Karting Cup, was Saudi Karting League Champion in 2009/10 and was vice champion in the Saudi Formula BMW series this year.

Joe Ghanem, 21, started his career in karts, winning a championship in his native Lebanon before he turned to single-seaters, where he raced Formula Renault and Formula Three. He is the current UAE GTC champion.

And, at just 18, Emirati driver Mohamed Al Mutawaa has four years of race experience. He started out in the Autosport Academy single-seater series, then competed in the UAE Touring Car Championship and, last season, in the UAE GT championship in a GT4 Corvette.

These are top class young drivers who will become great role models for their compatriots. I am also delighted to tell you that all three compete in Formula Gulf 1000, where they are gaining great experience of racing slicks and wings Formula cars on two of the world's best circuits.

But motor racing is a very tough business that requires mentoring and support from parents and sponsors if talented drivers are to progress.

I was hugely disappointed when I found out that two-time UAE Rotax champion Mohamed Al Dhaheri, who won the very first FG1000, has been unable to continue car racing due to a lack of funding.

There are so few local drivers with this level of experience that losing just one is a huge setback. Let us hope that someone reading this column will be as appalled as I am and will want to help this likeable and deserving driver wave the UAE flag again.

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 GulfSportRacing.