x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Yas Island's plans for round-the-clock motorsport

Action 300 days a year is promised for the Yas Marina Circuit under an ambitious project to bring a series of major-league events to Abu Dhabi next year, including a 24-hour endurance race and concert performances.

Cars race through the night at Le Mans 24 Hours in France last month. The company managing the Yas Marina Circuit hopes to host races in the Le Mans series as well as in other racing categories.
Cars race through the night at Le Mans 24 Hours in France last month. The company managing the Yas Marina Circuit hopes to host races in the Le Mans series as well as in other racing categories.

ABU DHABI // While all eyes are on November's Grand Prix in the countdown to the debut race at the Yas Marina Circuit, organisers are working on plans to keep up the momentum with a full calendar of leading motorsport events.

Following the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 1, the track is likely to be the venue for up to half a dozen different races during 2010, including the world's best-known endurance series as well as races between supercars such as Aston Martin and Lamborghini. Other projects include a business park for the motorsport industry and the possibility of using the circuit as potentially the capital's largest concert venue.

Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management (ADMM), which will manage the circuit, confirmed it was negotiating with the operators of a number of events to bring them to the capital. "We are looking at having between four and six major motorsport events a year," he said. "We are in discussions with various different groups to have a GP2 stand-alone race, Le Mans, and FIA GT.

"We are looking at some classic [car] events and then we are looking at club events, satisfying the needs of every sector within motorsport. "We would very much like to have a motorcycle event, so we are in discussions over those." A GP2 race, featuring single-seater cars similar to F1 cars, would bring with it the possibility of seeing future Formula One drivers. Many current F1 drivers graduated through the ranks of GP2, including Lewis Hamilton, Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock. The GP2 Asia subdivision has been running for two years.

As well as the 24-hour Le Mans series, which will be possible on Yas Island thanks to floodlights installed around the track, the FIA GT would provide another endurance race, pitching Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and Maseratis against each other in races lasting between two and 24 hours. Mr Cregan said announcements about the exact events taking place would be made over the coming months, in the run-up to the Grand Prix.

"We have to work on them in parallel with the F1, because we have to deliver [them] by 2010," he added. GP2 races often take place at the F1 circuits on the same weekends as Grands Prix, capitalising on the ready-made fan base. While not as high-profile as the F1 itself, support races often prove highly profitable in their own right. The V8 Australian supercar series, which takes place every October at the Bahrain International Circuit (BIC), generates US$85million (Dh312m) of income to the kingdom every year.

Martin Whitaker, the chief executive of BIC, which has staged a Grand Prix for the past five years, said the key to the success of a circuit was ensuring it was not used for only one weekend a year. "It is one of the things we have pushed - it is not just about the Grand Prix, but about attracting international events, whether it is V8 or GP2 Asia. We have held events here for every single global motor manufacturer, pretty much."

Including the Grand Prix, the Yas Island track is expected to be in use on 300 days of the year. Mr Cregan said it would not even be off-limits in the midsummer heat - adding that he had already joked with F1 drivers about the opportunity of travelling to Abu Dhabi to undergo endurance training in the humidity. Apart from the planned events on the 5.55km track, several facilities will be made open to the public, most notably a drag strip that is almost a kilometre in length and a karting circuit that will be used to train young drivers and for corporate events. Both will open soon after the November Grand Prix.

Driving aside, the Yas Marina Circuit is also likely to be opened up for concerts, with each of the five grandstands seating about 10,000 people. Mr Cregan said: "When it would come to using the facility for something like a concert, we would run the facility but then hand it over to experts to run the concert. "We don't want to get into that, there are people [for whom] that is their speciality."

He added: "We have to open it up to the people, to make sure they have an opportunity to go out there and enjoy the circuit. "F1 is only one of the events. A very key element is to make sure we serve the community." One of the biggest plans being considered is a large business park adjacent to the track. If it goes ahead, Abu Dhabi will follow the lead of other F1 circuits in becoming bases for motorsport manufacturers.

Bahrain is home to the BMW Performance Centre and a Hummer driving academy, while Silverstone, the home of the British Grand Prix, has attracted a Ford Rally Academy as well as the Force India F1 team. Aldar, the Yas Island site's developer, said the business park was one of many options being considered. Mr Cregan, who said there had already been expressions of interest from manufacturers in moving to Yas Island, said: "Our hope will be that it is taken up by teams and manufacturers looking for a development base.

"We will support anybody who comes along and wants to use our facility - it could be Ferrari, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes - by creating a motorsport business park that would give them the opportunity to set up a research and development facility, for example. "With the track lighting, we have the possibility of 24 hours, and the possibility of doing car launches. There are huge possibilities here. "The only restriction on our project is our own imagination. We need to think outside the box."

rhughes@thenational.ae