x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Explosive start by drag car at Yas Marina Circuit

Dramatic video of Kuwaiti car going up in flames at drag races attracts more than 90,000.

A second grab from YouTube shows a car exploding during a Pro Drag meet at Yas Marina Circuit  last month.
A second grab from YouTube shows a car exploding during a Pro Drag meet at Yas Marina Circuit last month.

ABU DHABI // A racing car exploded on the starting line in front of hundreds of fans at Yas Marina Circuit but no one was injured.

At the Pro Drag Racing Series on March 30, a Camaro Pro Mod belonging to a Kuwaiti team went up in flames after the air duct on the bonnet expelled a blast of fire.

A video is being circulated on the internet, and has so far attracted more than 90,000 hits.

According to Yousif Al Sayegh, manager at Yas Drag Racing Centre, there could have been a range of reasons behind the explosion in the US$300,000 (Dh1.1 million) car, but he said the most probable was that fuel accumulated in the intake manifold.

In the video, the car rolls to the start line and the lights flash amber. A fireball shoots from the engine through the bonnet duct. The driver then turns off the engine. An engineer can be seen running up to the car immediately after and appears to blow into the duct, putting his head perilously close to where the flames were. A marshal approaches with a fire extinguisher.

"He looks like he cranked it [pressed the accelerator] with the ignition on," Mr Al Sayegh said. "A small flame came out and he should have released the pressure."

In the video, the engineer, who is not wearing a fire suit, then signals for everyone to move away from the vehicle, then opens the car door. While he is speaking to the driver, the engine explodes.

"It might have been the nitrous or the pressure," Mr Al Sayegh said.

The driver can be seen escaping from the car as marshals with extinguishers attack the flames on the now-blazing car. Part of the bonnet was blown about 10-metres away with the rest of it upright on the charred blue car.

More than 10 people were within metres of the car when it exploded, including race officials, team members and photographers.

The team from Kuwait were testing the car for the first time. It was one of several entries in this year's series which had six classes of professional racing including Pro Mod, 7.5 Index, Pro Bike, Super Street Bike, Pro 6 and Super Street 8.

Mr Al Sayegh said the damage was repairable.

Sam Zian, a Dubai-based driver who used to race dragsters in the US, said explosions in the sport were not unusual. "I've blown up many engines," he said.

Safety in drag racing, he added, is up to the team and not the circuit.

"Every drag team runs themselves. They build their own car, manage their own people. Everyone is responsible for their own level of safety. If that's his car, he's the mechanic or the owner," Mr Zian said of the man who put his head near the air duct.

"It is up to the owner to monitor his safety and behaviour."

However, he said that it may seem like common sense not to place one's head near a part of the car that shoots fire, if "he's a mechanic, he may know better".

All motorsport drivers outside of karting must wear fire-retardant gear.

In drag racing, the cars are primed for extremes that last only seconds, as opposed to most race cars which are built to race for hours.

"There is no way to say this is normal," Mr Zian said. "Nothing is normal in drag racing. Everything is on edge and over the limits trying new parts and bits. They are trying to get the best bit of torque out of the car, which is built for a very short time."

Factors that can affect the engines include changes in barometric pressure and even sea levels. "Even a three per cent humidity level can make a difference," Mr Zian said. "If you're running some kind of mix [of fuel] it has to be adjusted every time. A run in the morning to a run in the evening could take different settings and you would have to adjust the fuel map to get the max out of the car.

"Its like no man's land. Its experimental."

eharnan@thenational.ae