x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Race driver in gear for safer roads

Haytham Sultan, an Emirati race car driver, said young men drive recklessly as a way to release their "passion".

Haytham Sultan, a race car driver, wants to spread a message to young drivers that there are safer ways to vent their love of driving.
Haytham Sultan, a race car driver, wants to spread a message to young drivers that there are safer ways to vent their love of driving.

DUBAI //Before the Emirati race car driver Haytham Sultan hit the roads professionally at 18, he was no stranger to speed-related accidents.

These days, after Mr Sultan gets a dose of racing on the Dubai Autodrome tracks, he takes it easy on public roads - making them safer for himself and other drivers.

Mr Sultan, now 21, attributes the high incidence of reckless driving on the roads to a need for young, particularly male, drivers to "release their passion".

"These drivers don't realise that there are safer and more fun ways to do this," he said. "And because of this lack of awareness, they resort to dangerous behaviour on the streets."

As part of his rally for road safety, he participated in a three-day campaign at Mirdif City Centre under the theme of "Keep a safe distance" last week, in collaboration with Dubai Police and Al Jazeera University where he is a student.

The campaigner hopes to continue visiting schools and universities to spread his message. He believes the older generation also needs to get involved after the reaction of his parents to his decision to pursue racing.

"They thought that I was going to go racing on the streets," he said. "They didn't understand what professional racing actually involved."

Barry C Hope, the sales and race director of Gulf Sport Racing and founder of Formula Gulf 1000, said professional race tracks, such as those in the UAE, are all regulated according to standards set by the Federation International de l'Automobile (FIA), the governing body for world motor sport, Mr Hope said.

"Drivers are required to wear a helmet and a seat belt at all times, wear a fireproof suit and cannot drive more that 60 kph before they hit the tracks," he said. Drivers undergo rigorous training before obtaining their racing licence and marshals monitor the area at all times, he added. "The truth of the matter is motorsports is all about safety," he said. "If you look at the statistics, you'll find that only 11 per cent of Emiratis wear seat belts on public roads. This is completely the opposite than what you'll see on the tracks."

"With the Yas Marina circuit and Dubai Autodrome at their doorstep, drivers here are spoiled for choice," Mr Hope said.

"Would you rather have your child drag racing at 2am near Dubai Bypass Road, posing a threat to his life and to others, or have him drive in a controlled environment with all the cameras, helmets and equipment required to keep him safe?" he said. "I believe there's no contest in that."

mismail@thenational.ae