x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The Air Bag: UAE racing scene could use spectator boost

The UAE is lucky enough, considering its small size, to have two unbelievably good race tracks. And yet, the events held here are largely ignored.

There's a reason we have Barry Hope write for us here at Motoring.

Not only is he one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet, he knows his racing. He's been a part of the UAE's race scene for decades and he's seen a lot of growth here.

One thing that hasn't improved, though, are the crowds. Barry laments the lack of fans showing up for the local races that happen every few weeks, mostly at the Dubai Autodrome and occasionally at Yas Marina here in Abu Dhabi. Believe me, it's good racing, and it's free. So where is everybody?

Unfortunately, the same can be said for crowds at other motorsport events here in Abu Dhabi. Oh, I'm not talking about the grand prix; that has been an unmitigated success with people coming from all over the world - as well as the Emirates - to take in the grand spectacle. No, I'm talking about almost everything else that has been held on the Yas Marina Circuit, unfortunately. And this lack of interest has its repercussions.

Just this week, Richard Cregan, the head of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, said that the circuit wasn't going to bring in any other standalone racing events, such as the V8 Supercup from Australia, the GP2 Asia series and the FIA GT series, to run outside of an F1 weekend. These extra race weekends cost plenty of money to host, but with spectators having numbered in the low thousands at best, there's no way the track can keep up spending this cash without sufficient returns.

And I don't blame them; for a country that professes its love for the car, these race weekends should be packed. The prices for these events are relatively low compared with other races around the world, and it's world-class competition.

As well, plans to hold a MotoGP motorcycle race have been put on hold indefinitely. And while I would love to see these bikes buzz around the Yas track, with the lack of interest in other races here, I don't blame them for that decision, either. Would you take that chance?

Thankfully, Yas Marina will continue to run its drag racing, something that does seem popular and, believe me, is well worth the price of admission. And it will also continue to host the National Race Days that feature a wide variety of cars and bikes and some very intense racing. That stays free, but will that be enough to draw spectators?

The UAE is lucky enough, considering its small size, to have two unbelievably good race tracks. The Autodrome in Dubai is a fantastic venue and hosts a successful 24-hour endurance race every year, and Yas Marina is world renowned, thanks to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. And yet, the events held here are largely ignored.

We're not at the point yet of "use it or lose it" but at the very least this lack of interest hampers the growth of a local race scene, making it difficult for the small-time racer to get sponsorship and pay his expenses. And if these aforementioned big-time race series can't make it in Abu Dhabi, we won't be seeing any other racing (apart from F1) anytime soon. And that's a shame.

This weekend is the grand prix; if you have tickets, enjoy the race. On November 25, the Autodrome hosts the next National Race Day while, on December 16, the local racing will head to Yas Marina. Come down, bring the family and meander around the pits to see the cars and the racers up close, something you can't get in F1. You'll find some excitement watching these guys and girls jostle at speed on the track.

You'll also make me and Barry Hope very happy people.