x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Racers hindered by lack of funds

Petrolheads in the UAE are unable to translate their dedication to motorsport into time on the track because of a shortage of sponsorship.

Liesette Braams, one of the five members of Racing Divas, at Dubai Autodrome. She said there are few opportunities for female drivers.
Liesette Braams, one of the five members of Racing Divas, at Dubai Autodrome. She said there are few opportunities for female drivers.

DUBAI // Without sponsorship, Emirati racing enthusiasts have found it difficult to make an impression in local motorsport competitions.

The funding shortage affects female racers in particular but men face the same obstacle.

Of the 80 teams registered for the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai race, which starts this afternoon at 2, only eight are Emirati-owned. Just five of the 400 drivers are from the UAE.

There is one all-female team competing, the Racing Divas from the Netherlands, and they are racing because they were able to find sponsors.

Mohammed bin Sulayem, the vice president of motorsport's governing body FIA and the president of the Automobile and Touring Club, said female teams had participated in the Emirates the past.

"If you go racing, you have to be serious about it. If a lady driver comes along, she has to do it right and have the consistency and not do it for just one season. We encourage it a lot. As long as they know they have to take it seriously," he said.

Nahla Al Rostamani, a 27-year-old Emirati who holds a FIA racing licence, said it was not a lack of dedication that kept her off the track, but a lack of sponsorship.

She said: "It's not just stopping females but UAE drivers as a whole. We are dedicated 100 per cent to these sports but if we don't get sponsorship we can't do anything about it. To race, we have to spend our own money, which is a lot."

Once Ms Al Rostamani realised the expenses required to race, she opted for a career in motorsport and works at Yas Marina Circuit. A typical season of racing would cost Dh35,000, she said.

"If I had a sponsor I would definitely dedicate myself and race. It's not just me. There are some brilliant drivers but they don't get the chance to get proper sponsorship."

She said some pay their own way in the beginning, but over time it becomes unaffordable.

Khalid Al Mutawaa, 27, echoed her sentiments.

The Emirati took part in the 24-hour endurance race last year, but will watch from pit lane this weekend, citing sponsorship as the chief reason he is not behind the wheel.

Previously, he said, when overseas teams raced in Dubai, they offered a seat to a local driver in return for local media coverage. This year, those seats are for sale.

Mr Al Mutawaa, who also manages his younger brother, said he was quoted Dh93,700 for a race seat.

"At the same time you want to know if the other drivers are good so that on the third corner they don't crash and all your money is gone." Mr Al Mutawaa said. "It happened last year. It was Dh50,000 for a seat and seven or eight hours into the race, the car went into the wall. The money is gone and you don't get to finish the race.

"Realistically, if you look deep into the sponsorship of motorsport in the region, last year there were only two or three drivers who were really fully sponsored by a company. The others are either shareholders or people who own those companies."

Liesette Braams is one of the five members of Racing Divas.

"I think there are not so many female drivers - not only in the Middle East but even in Holland. We're a group of five friends and just had the opportunity to go [to Dubai] to race with the [Renault] Clio. We had a lot of sponsors and that is reason we are here."

As one of the few female racing teams in the Netherlands, it was easier for them reach their target of €40,000 (Dh187,500) which was necessary to cover racing costs.

"In the Netherlands, there is a lot of publicity for us in newspapers, on TV and websites," Mrs Braams said. "We asked a lot of male drivers to support us and they were laughing at us."

She said if the women's team had not received the sponsorship, she would have found a mixed team to race with. Last year, she competed in Dubai's 24-hour endurance race and her team included men from Japan and Holland.

Nonetheless, women drivers find it hard to break stereotypes as they try to find proper sponsorship.

"I only race against men," Mrs Braams said. "There are not so many women drivers.

"It's very expensive and most of the time it's the men who bring in the money. If you are not supported, it's very difficult to race."

eharnan@thenational.ae