x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Race car explosion at Yas Marina Circuit a hit

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

ABU DHABI // A race car exploded in dramatic fashion in front of hundreds of fans at Yas Marina Circuit but no one was injured.

At the Pro Drag Racing Series in March, 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 of the explosion making the rounds on the internet 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 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 the flames. 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 car and 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 now-blazing car as marshals with extinguishers attack the flames. Part of the bonnet blows about 10 metres from the charred blue car. More than 10 people are within metres of the car when it explodes, 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 not irreparable.

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 him 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 barometric pressures 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.

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

eharnan@thenational.ae