x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Emiratisation finds success at Yas

Automobile Touring Club-UAE provides hundreds of volunteers at various tracks throughout the year.

ABU DHABI // The Automobile Touring Club-UAE forms the backbone of motorsport by providing hundreds of volunteers at various tracks throughout the year.

But the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is the most important event on the calendar for the club, which marshals and sanctions every race in the country, and calls for its biggest recruitment drive.

"We have the diversity, knowledge and the experience, but at the same time we have never had this volunteer culture in the UAE," said Mahir Badri, chief executive of the ATC-UAE, which is also the local representative of the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (Fia).

In 2009, the ATC-UAE had to bring in 350 marshals from the UK to supplement the 350 UAE resident volunteers. And last year, 150 marshals came from Bahrain and Hungary to join the 500 from the UAE.

But this year, every one of the more than 700 marshals is a resident.

The organisation has also made significant strides in Emiratisation since it started recruiting marshals for the capital's inaugural grand prix in 2009, and only 15 nationals signed up.

Last year that number jumped to 60, and at this year's Grand Prix, there will be 85 Emirati marshals.

"The ones we find have a huge discipline and passion," Mr Badri said.

Each position around the track has a specific role, some of which require professional expertise. The medics are practising doctors and engineers take on the role of the scrutineers who make sure the cars comply with Fia regulations.

"There are millions of people watching," Mr Badri said. "Any mistake is counted not only for Formula One, but in front of the world."

He said getting the right people was crucial. Recruitment for the Grand Prix began in January.

"We went to schools and colleges looking for young, dynamic people who have passion," Mr Badri said.

"It's important to select those who have the interest. Retaining them is very difficult but we only have the F1 once a year. We keep them interested with different events."

Throughout the year, there are several races at the Yas Marina Circuit and the Dubai Autodrome, and desert rallies that require the ATC-UAE's marshals.

"We've introduced rally training and an assistance programme with top officials," said Mr Badri. "It's more training to transfer this knowledge to the next generation."

Paul Velasco, the communications manager at Dubai Autodrome, said participation in motorsport had been growing.

"It's a sporting culture here and many Emiratis have embraced it off-road and now in track racing," Mr Valasco said. "It's not going to grow overnight. It took over 100 years to grow in Europe and it's young here."

Mr Badri attributed much of the success to the president of ATC-UAE and the Fia vice president of sport, Mohammed ben Sulayem, who won the Middle East Rally Championship a record 14 times and raced in the World Rally Championship.

To create "more ben Sulayems", Mr Badri said it was necessary to train racers from a young age.

The ATC-UAE holds workshops at Higher College of Technology to explain the different roles volunteers can take.

"There is a lot more to a career in motorsport than speeding around a track," Mr Badri said. "They could work in engineering, marketing, as a sponsor or a photographer … there is a broad spectrum.

"The more drivers, marshals and fans we have, the better it is for us."