x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The Air Bag: the costs race away with the sport

Racing is fun, but can be a very expensive hobby, and for motorsport to really catch on in the Emirates, businesses and government must be willing to pitch in.

Hey, brother, can you spare a few thousand dirhams?

I don't need it to eat or pay for my flat or anything like that. But the reason is as much sustenance for my soul as food is for my stomach.

You'll see with our lead story how expensive motorsport can be, on every level. Even kart racing for a 10-year-old requires a certain level of financial commitment that can go far beyond what parents would pay for, say, rugby or football. Kudos to those parents who sacrifice for their kids' karting; though, it may be they're having just as much fun as the kids are.

And that cost just rises the higher up you go in the racing scene. Get into car racing - even local, grassroots motorsport with a beat-up Civic or Clio - and the amount of money needed to run a season escalates. Talk with any driver at one of the UAE National Race Days and you'll hear how difficult it is for them to find funding.

Consider this: for the least inexpensive form of racing here - the Suzuki Swift Cup - it costs Dh66,000 a season to run, cheap by racing standards but still no small sum. But they supply the car; if you want your own car, the Touring Car drivers will spend up to Dh250,000 a season, plus Dh100,000 on entry fees, tyres and all the other stuff. If you want to run with the big boys, the GT guys can spend anywhere between Dh300,000 and Dh1.1million on just the car; you want to actually use that car racing, it'll cost up to Dh500,000 extra during a season. You could get away with just spending half that, but it just means less practice and fewer performance tweaks; basically, you're not competitive.

Because of this, racing isn't just going fast on the track; it involves plenty of legwork trying to drum up any kind of financing you can find to pay for tyres, fuel, repairs and other incidentals that come with the sport.

Don't I know it. With a taste of racing late last year, I want more. But, well, the finances are a little tight, what with two hungry cats at home to feed.

In this age of austerity, it's getting harder and harder to find the kind of funding needed for race teams here; even the larger, more established teams have a difficult time in getting money to pay for the season. But, especially in this country, it shouldn't have to be that way.

Motorsport is still a relatively young venture in this region; the Autodrome officially opened in 2004. And with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix now two years on, the focus on the sport is ever increasing here, and the pressure to find an Emirati F1 driver is high. The Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai finished two weeks ago with the largest number of teams ever, and most of those were from Europe. Indeed, racing is playing a part in turning the world's attention to the UAE.

But for racing to really catch on in this country there has to be a commitment on the part of business and government to open up their wallets. And that means at every level, not just Formula One; without karting or grassroots racing, the top levels of motorsport will never gain a hold here.

How many Michael Schumachers or Sebastien Loebs or Valentino Rossis do we have in the UAE right now? You can be sure that we have at least a few with the right talents needed to get to the top, the ones who can not only compete in F1 or WRC or MotoGP, but who can win, too. But we'll never know them if they can't afford to try it out on the track. Think of it not as spending money, but as investing in the future of the country.

And, if you feel like investing in my racing future, too, I'd love to hear from you.