x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Yas Racing Series kickstarts experience ride for UAE drivers

Six days of action seen as a stepping stone for those with an eye on the budget.

The Yas Racing Series opening round got underway yesterday where drivers share cars and fund themselves for the experience.
The Yas Racing Series opening round got underway yesterday where drivers share cars and fund themselves for the experience.

ABU DHABI // There were no promises of packed grandstands and no plans for global expansion. Instead, yesterday, under the scorching sunshine at Yas Marina Circuit, there was a genuine sense of patience and realism as the Yas Racing Series got underway.

A smattering of families stood in the stands watching the chequered flag wave on the NGK Racing Series opening race, while a group of Emiratis sat in hospitality, enjoying the shade having earlier witnessed the season-opening Radical Winter Series race.

Between now and March 15, Yas Marina will host a further five race days that will feature several different types of racing, from Radicals to Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge to Formula Gulf 1000.

All appear to have a common understanding that this is not about filling stands and making money: it is about gaining experience and enjoying motorsports.

The UAE series of Radicals has been in existence for six years, but Carl Rolaston acquired ownership rights in 2010 after he sold his shipping company and found himself with spare time on his hands.

The Englishman, who also owns AUH Motorsport race team, says while he expects his series to break even this year, the majority of funding continues to come from the drivers' own pockets.

"We're never going to get many eyeballs at the track," Rolaston said. "So, while we do have some sponsors, the drivers fund the majority of racing themselves.

"We try to make it as easy as we can by, for example, allowing two drivers to share the same car and also using only one set of tyres for both races. These things help keep the budget down, while still ensuring fun racing."

The NGK Racing Series, organised by the Dubai Autodrome Motorsports Club, is of a similar understanding. DAMC entered 12 drivers in yesterday's action, all of whom funded their own participation, and Paul Velasco, the club's communications manager, says developing experience is key.

"Racing is expensive, that can't be underestimated" he said. "This is a national race series and, apart from the United States where they have Nascar, most countries don't fill their stands on a race weekend.

"Particularly at this level - this is amateur-level sport, remember - it is not about sell-out crowds, it is about building experience."

Both Rolaston and Velasco are quick to make clear that the experience gained from competing is invaluable.

Humaid Al Masaood competed in Radicals before joining Oryx Racing. Last year, he made history by becoming the first Emirati to win in the American Le Mans Series when he triumphed at the Baltimore Grand Prix.

"It's a stepping stone," Rolaston said. "If you get a local driver going through sports cars, then he can race in a team and is automatically dragged up to his teammates' level and can win races. Then you end up with your national hero."

Velasco added that with the European season approaching a winter shutdown, the national race series in the UAE provides perfect conditions for testing.

"The objective is to make this an alternative winter series for those teams who can't race or test because of the weather in Europe, as well as kick-starting the domestic racing season."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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