x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Belgian killed in Dubai Autodrome crash was 'a racer's racer'

Tributes continued to pour in yesterday for the Belgian driver Christophe Hissette, who died at Dubai Autodrome on Friday.

Christophe Hissette after winning in the GulfSport Radical Cup at Dubai Autodrome earlier in the season.
Christophe Hissette after winning in the GulfSport Radical Cup at Dubai Autodrome earlier in the season.

Tributes continued to pour in yesterday for the Belgian driver Christophe Hissette, who died at Dubai Autodrome on Friday. Hissette, 29, died after his car caught fire during a qualifying session for the final round of the GulfSport Radical Cup. It was this country's first fatality in motorsport racing. Hissette was "a racer's racer", said Paul Velasco, the communications manager for the Dubai Autodrome. "[He was] always the guy to beat, always the guy who could be counted on to give his maximum out on a racetrack. Yet off the track he was always friendly, laid back with no airs and graces that one would expect from a driver of such talent and accomplishment."

Mr Velasco recalled one of Hissette's greatest achievements, in the 24 Hours of Dubai karting race in 2007, when he raced for NFM Professionals and stole the race from Rosneft Team Russia in the very last lap. "Christophe reeled in the leaders relentlessly, never giving up the charge. He finally snatched the lead, halfway around on the very last lap to notch up a momentous victory and one of the closest in the history of 24-hour endurance racing," Mr Velasco said.

Hissette achieved international success, raising the profile of Radical racing on the world stage by winning the 2009 European Masters Radical Championship with his co-driver, Bassam Kronfli. Winning the European Masters, a form of motor racing involving low-to-the-ground single-seater and two-seater racers with an open cockpit, was the crowning achievement in Hissette's career, along with coming runner-up in the 2009/2010 GulfSport Radical UAE national championship.

Hissette also made time for karting, the sport in which he started his track career. Just two weeks ago, he competed for Batelco in round one of the Battery 24-Hour Endurance Championship kart series. The Bahrain-based Batelco team won the race convincingly, largely thanks to Hissette's contribution. As well as regularly competing at Dubai Autodrome and, more recently, at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, Hissette had been a professional driving instructor at Dubai Autodrome since 2006.

Hissette also worked for a media monitoring company. He was single and had no children. Tarek Elgammal, a friend and fellow driver, said everyone who knew Hissette "will sorely miss him". "Christophe was one of the first people I met when I came to Dubai and we were good friends; I am devastated at his loss. He was a wonderful person and had amazing talent behind the wheel of a race car. We had so many great times together both on and off the track."

Barry Hope, managing director of GulfSport Racing, the commercial rights holder for the GulfSport Radical Cup, said: "We are deeply shocked and saddened. Christophe was a very talented and popular competitor and will be greatly missed." "Christophe was a great advertisement for motorsport in the region. He was tough, fair and above all really quick on the track and a great guy off it; always sociable, happy and enthusiastic to chat," said Phil Tromans, the online editor for AutoMiddleEast.com. "For him to pass away at such a young age is a tragedy and he'll be sorely missed."

Lemagdugolfe.com, a website aimed at Gulf francophones, said in a profile of Hissette last year that he first tried karting on his 11th birthday. After a few laps of the track, young Christophe said: "Dad, can we start again tomorrow? I love driving!" glewis@thenational.ae