x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Lack of regulation puts 'drifters' at risk

Delays in regulating the motorsport known as drifting are putting lives at risk, motoring officials have warned.

A driver performs vehicular stunts, burning tyres and making plumes of smoke, during the Gulf Car Performance Championship in Al Ain Sportplex in May.
A driver performs vehicular stunts, burning tyres and making plumes of smoke, during the Gulf Car Performance Championship in Al Ain Sportplex in May.

Delays in regulating drifting, the motorsport in which young drivers perform dangerous stunts in supercharged saloon cars and four-wheel drive vehicles, are putting lives at risk, motoring officials have warned. In the past year, the federal Government and motorsport clubs have been trying to devise rules for the sport but some federal officials complain too little progress has been made.

Lack of regulation means drivers would continue to take the sport to public streets, they said. Competitions are immensely popular among Emiratis and regularly take place in car parks, on public roads and in the desert, with little or no safety precautions. In unsupervised events drivers rarely wear helmets even though cars crash regularly, and ambulances and firemen are often not there to treat the wounded and douse engines, which regularly overheat and explode.

"Hundreds of these guys have died in the streets and out in the desert," said Mohammed al Darmaki, the general manager of the Al Ain Sportplex, a club where drifting events are held regularly. "If we don't do anything, these drivers will do dangerous things without any supervision or regulation. I spoke with the police about reckless driving and racing, and they told me that people are doing this out in the desert and that they're dying out there because there aren't ambulance crews or anything like that to help them."

Peter Lanz, the director of motorsport events at Emirates Motor Sports Federation, which governs motorsport in the country, said: "In my opinion, the process is moving in a half-acceptable way. If I had the choice, I'd have this under control by the end of the year." The relevant official at the Al Ain Traffic Police and Patrols department could not be reached for comment. The federation has created a national system of rules and regulations for motorsports such as drag racing, bike racing and autocross, and Mr Lanz said there should be more of a concerted push to do the same for drifting.

He said drifters should be licensed by the local representative of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), the global governing body of motorsports, while the Emirates Motor Sports Federation should co-ordinate with emergency services and motorsport clubs for drifting events. "The faster these guys are under the regulatory umbrella, the better it is for them," Mr Lanz said. "It's a safety issue first, and if these events aren't properly sanctioned and if anything bad happens during one, it will reflect poorly on motorsport."

Regulation would make it easier for the federation to co-ordinate with police to penalise reckless drivers, which Mr Lanz said would be a deterrent to dangerous driving. If competitors were caught driving dangerously on roads, for example, they could have their professional licences revoked and be banned from events. "Officials and competitors should be registered, and that goes for any event, not just drifting," Mr Lanz said. "Our main goal here is to get all these events sanctioned and all competitors licensed."

He said part of the reason it had taken so long to draw up regulations was that drifting in the Gulf is different from that in other countries, performed mainly in four-wheel drive vehicles instead of saloon cars. Other clubs in Abu Dhabi, Umm al Qaiwain and Ras al Khaimah have been holding their own unsanctioned competitions. Mr Darmaki said competitions at the Sportplex are attended by ambulances, fire engines and police to ensure safety.

"By doing this it will encourage them to do it here, in the safety of the Sportplex, instead of on the roads where they might hurt themselves and other people," he said. Mr Darmaki said the Government had not made enough of an effort to sit down with Sportplex officials to write regulations. "What we need from the Government and the Abu Dhabi Sport Council is help with improving and formalising this thing, to get it in motion for these drivers," Mr Darmaki said.

"We need them to sit with us and get the safety regulations and rules in place. But without all these people, it will go slowly." hnaylor@thenational.ae