x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Drag racing gets good vibes from UAE fans

The earth shook in the UAE capital last night as the annual Yas Drag Racing Festival produced a show of seismic proportions.

One of the 8,000 horsepower Top Fuel Dragster starts a run during the Drag Racing Festival at Yas Marina yesterday.
One of the 8,000 horsepower Top Fuel Dragster starts a run during the Drag Racing Festival at Yas Marina yesterday.

The earth shook in the UAE capital last night as the annual Yas Drag Racing Festival produced a show of seismic proportions.

Experiments involving instruments usually reserved for recording earthquakes have, in the past, measured the force of a drag race to be as high as 3.9 on the Richter scale and yesterday, under fading light and watched on by an enthusiastic crowd, Rod Fuller, the UAE's resident Top Fuel drag racer, and Urs Erbacher, the FIA European champion, combined to produce good vibrations.

Muscular, tattooed men wearing baggy black T-shirts bearing the motto "Harley Davidson of the UAE" were juxtaposed against young Arab women wearing abayas and neon-pink lipstick. But all fell quiet as the 8,000-horsepower top-fuellers positioned themselves adjacent to each other at the start line of a 402-metre straight.

As the two drivers released the clutch to fill the air with fumes and reach speeds in excess of 470kph, the deafening roar and the crowd's realisation of the danger in front of them resulted in those in the stands taking a sharp and intense intake of breath.

Less than five seconds later, they were able to collectively exhale - which many followed up with squeals of excitement.

"Wow," was all one woman could muster as she removed her fingers from her ears only to reveal a pair of yellow earplugs.

"That was awesome," gushed one young boy, sporting a Ferrari cap and an awestruck smile. "Will they do it again?"

The smell of fuel hung in the air and an eerie quiet fell as the cars were towed slowly towards their respective workshops. The impact such a severe exertion of acceleration has on a top fueller's motor is so fierce that the entire engine has to be removed and renovated by the race team's dozen or so mechanics. All in the 40-minute break before the car is due back on the strip.

Most motorsports, Formula One included, tend to work on their machines in the privacy of the cordoned off pit-lane, but for spectators the rehabilitation process can be watched first-hand and within touching distance.

Fuller, who drives for the Yas Marina team, earlier this week described the drag pits as being similar to a hospital's emergency room with doctors all working quickly and diligently on their patient.

Last night such a comparison was proved incorrect: no human being requiring treatment by a doctor could ever appear as fearsome as a Top Fuel dragster in full flow. Yet as Fuller's car sat jacked up with its scarred rear wheels removed, a more apt analogy became apparent.

The pits of a drag race should be likened to a veterinary clinic with surgeons working to save the life of a lion; the formidable beast rendered harmless and helpless as the experts carry out a heart transplant.

Each lion requires 18 gallons of blood to compete in one race and as Rashed al Qubaisi, head of the Yas Drag Racing Centre, stood pumping the petroluem into its tank, spectators weaved around it.

"The fact we can get this close to the top-fuellers for Dh50 is just incredible," said Daniel Clements, an Australian. "Back home you would need to pay AU$50 and that would be for a seat on the grass." Clements's friend and compatriot Michael Hadjuk piped up. "Don't print that though," he joked. "They might put the prices up for next year if they know that."

Last year's sold-out festival was voted the "Motorsports Event of the Year" by Car Middle East, but last night's stands were quieter than Friday's opening session and organisers may consider moving next year's festival, which starts in the early evening and runs into the night, to Thursday and Friday.

As well as the top fuellers, spectators were able to catch a glimpse of a jet funny car - so long as they did not blink at an inopportune time. Powered by a jet engine, the oddly shaped four-wheelers - hence the name - can reach speeds of up to 480kph. Last night, Martin Hill clocked a top speed of 441kph in a time of 5.8 seconds.

 

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae