x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Air Bag: When 24 hours isn't long enough

Alongside the world-class excitement of Formula 1, the UAE has opportunities for spectators and participants at all levels of motorsport.

We're pretty spoilt for choice here in the UAE, especially when it comes to motorsport. If you have any interest at all in noisy vehicles and feats of daring, there is a wide variety of world-class events to take in here involving some of the best drivers in the world on some of the best tracks and racing venues available.

Events like the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which brings the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One, right to our doorstep. Or the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, where the best endurance off-roaders from around the planet converge for the gruelling event. (In fact, you can watch many of them compete right now in the Dakar Rally.) Why, even Al Ain held the World Karting Championships in November, bringing the top karters - again, from around the world - to the excellent Al Ain Raceway.

And now, we've got something else to look forward to. Next weekend, the red lights go out on one of the biggest racing events in the UAE -the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai. The seventh edition of the endurance race starts at 2pm on Friday at the Dubai Autodrome with no fewer than 74 teams signed up on the provisional grid (up to press time), which is among the largest fields of any endurance race in the past few years. The grid also represents 31 different countries, making it one of the most international endurance races on any circuit in any country. So, again, the world comes to the UAE to race. And, if you're anywhere near Dubai this weekend, you should go, too.

Why? I suppose I could talk about how people here need to start supporting the local racing events and tracks. I could talk about how these guys and girls who are undertaking such a dangerous and demanding sport would appreciate the encouragement of a good crowd. But if you're a racing fan, all that wouldn't matter once you experience the 24 Hours. Because I guarantee you'd find your own reasons to love it.

With so many cars in various classes of machinery, you'll enjoy tight racing and lots of passing at every corner, on every straight, at all times of day and night. It's not like F1, where the parade of cars passes by and then you wait a couple minutes for them to come back; this is constant action, no matter where you are.

Speaking of, because it goes for a full 24 hours, you have the chance to walk all around the circuit, taking your time at each corner. It's a great opportunity for a unique perspective and to see how different cars and different drivers tackle each apex and then, when you've seen enough, you move on to the next corner.

You'll also enjoy the vast array of machinery out there, too. Everything from Ferraris, Corvettes, Porsches, Mercedes SLS AMGs and other exotica fill out the top tiers, while smaller cars such as Lotus, Renault Clios and BMWs fight it out in the lower classes; there will even be some diesel-powered cars. And there are quite a few characters and stories behind the wheels, too. For example, Nissan is sending a four-man team made up entirely from its GT Academy, its race school that turns Gran Turismo video game players into real race car drivers.

Couple that with the excitement of night racing and the unprecedented public access to the cars, drivers and pits, where you can watch teams furiously working on the vehicles, and this is an event that anyone with even a remote interest in cars just can't miss. And if you're reading this column, you probably have at least a remote interest in cars. Ahem.

Oh, and did I mention that admission is absolutely free?