x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Yas bosses: crowds will be back

Organisers of the GP2 Asia Series motor racing at Yas Marina Circuit play down the modest attendance and begin looking forward to the track's next big event.

Drivers coming around a curve on the north side of the course during the GP2 Asia event at Yas Marina Circuit last week.
Drivers coming around a curve on the north side of the course during the GP2 Asia event at Yas Marina Circuit last week.

ABU DHABI // Organisers of the GP2 Asia Series motor racing at Yas Marina Circuit played down the modest attendance yesterday and began looking forward to the track's next big event. Yas officials did not disclose attendance figures for last weekend's meeting, the first major racing event since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November, which attracted a 50,000 capacity crowd.

Only two of the track's five grandstands were open for the GP2 races, and neither was completely full. Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Yas Marina Circuit, said the two days of GP2 motorsport had "achieved everything we set out to achieve" in raising the profile of open-wheel racing in the UAE. "We had a good turnout, considering that the weather wasn't great on both days and there were a lot of other events going on at the time," Mr Cregan said.

"In general, we were very happy, we had very good feedback." Track racing in the UAE is still in its infancy. The first events at the Dubai Autodrome were held in 2004. When the GP2 Asia Series raced there in 2008, 15,000 people attended during the weekend. For that event, unlike this past weekend's, admission was free. Hosting the GP2 Asia Series was part of Yas's mandate to develop open-wheel racing, which was not as popular in the region as saloon car competitions, Mr Cregan said.

The circuit's five-year strategy involves building a motorsport culture and developing young talent to produce an Emirati driver in Formula 1 within 10 years. "To develop open-wheel racing in the region is a key element of why we exist," Mr Cregan said. "Taking a young Emirati all the way to Formula 1 is obviously a very big agenda point to us and one we believe we will achieve." Mr Cregan said feedback from fans, race teams and the media had been positive, and the event helped the Yas team to see how it could improve the running of race weekends.

Saturday's featured event saw plenty of overtaking and the race winner, David Valsecchi, who made his decisive pass with two laps to go, heaped praise on the track. "In the night it is amazing, and with the two long straights it is really easy to overtake," said the Italian. "[It is] one of the most fun circuits that I have driven, with Spa - perfect." Mr Cregan anticipates a bigger crowd when Yas holds the first race of the Australian V8 Supercars season on February 19 and 20, boosted by the large Australian expatriate community.

"In terms of spectacle, it will be the second-biggest event that we will hold at Yas Marina Circuit this year next to the Grand Prix," Mr Cregan said. "The Aussie V8s is saloon car racing at its best." He expects more than 10,000 fans to turn up over the race weekend. There will be an open paddock area, where fans can get close to the drivers and their cars. The event has been widely publicised in Australia, where the series attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators, some of whom are expected to travel to the Abu Dhabi event.

The track will be reconfigured for the V8 race, which will be broadcast on Australian television. "The biggest reason to have this great facility is the fact that it's a communications tool for Abu Dhabi," Mr Cregan said. mchung@thenational.ae