x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Looking to form a bond between drivers and spectators at Yas

Yas Marina Racing School hopes Aston Martin GT4 will generate interest in fans.

ABU DHABI // A gleaming, speeding Aston Martin may conjure up images of James Bond, but the Yas Marina Race School is hoping the sight of the famous car negotiating the chicanes of the capital's grand prix track will inspire residents to get behind the wheel in search of their own inner-thrill-seeker.

Tony Whitaker and Saeed al Mehairi are competing in the Aston GT4 during this season's UAE GT Championship, which saw them this weekend pit their wits against some of the country's best talents in the series' sixth round.

The race, which lasted one hour and included a mandatory pit stop to allow a driver change, was yesterday won by House of Portier duo Karim al Azhari and Fabien Giroix.

"Spectators often go to race meetings and think, 'Wouldn't it be great to drive that or be a passenger?'" said Whitaker, who is also the chief instructor at the race school. "But what we are doing is showing people the car and then actually giving them the opportunity to race it at the school."

Whitaker said the initiative's main aim is to help the country develop a growing interest in not just the annual Formula One race, but motorsports in general.

"More often than not, the people who come to the school will come more than once. They get the bug," he said. "Some of them then take things two or three steps further and apply for their race licence, so it's very much a way of getting more people on to the grid in national racing as well as creating an interest in people who have never had the chance before."

Al Mehairi, an Emirati driver who started in karts before moving to touring cars, said the feeling behind the wheel of the GT4 is hard to describe.

"It's a great feeling, but that doesn't do it justice," he said. "It makes you feel like a professional racer and the fact you are driving on one of the world's best tracks makes it even better."