x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Yas steps on the gas to grow local talent

Richard Cregan, Yas Marina Circuit's chief executive, believes it is imperative that the UAE's racers have a chance to develop.

TThe elite of Middle East racing drivers take to Yas Marina Circuit today to show off their skills, and Richard Cregan, the track's chief executive, believes the meeting is as important as a Formula One race.

The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix has been on the F1 calendar since 2009 and has drawn attention to motorsport in the UAE and the surrounding region.

But while getting the chance to see Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso battling in the flesh for victory has proven successful, with two sellout races as prove to the popularity of the F1 race, Cregan believes the only way for the UAE to really develop its own motorsport identity is to have local drivers on track.

The Local Champions event at Yas Marina today will see the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge and the Radical Masters in action, and the field will be made up of drivers from the UAE and the GCC.

Cregan said it was vital to find talented local racers, providing inspiration for the next generation of Emirati drivers.

"I think the most important thing with creating any kind of sustainable motorsport is looking for local champions," he said.

"If you look at all the big events that we have they certainly have an international appeal, they have a far greater reach than even the GCC area, which is why we have them.

"But if you want to build sustainability into the business we're in then you have to get the local champions.

"That is to me why this weekend as is equally important as a F1 weekend, if that makes sense."

Khaled al Qubaisi is arguably the most high-profile Emirati racing today.

He is in the hunt for the Porsche GT3 crown, currently sitting third in the championship. Twelve points cover him, first-placed Sheikh Salman bin Rashid al Khalifa, of Bahrain, and second-placed Prince Abdulaziz al Faisal, from Saudi Arabia.

Al Qubaisi set the pace in the first recorded test session yesterday with the best lap time.

Al Qubaisi has also gained experience racing in Europe in the Porsche Supercup, and Cregan hopes that youngsters will want to follow in their Emirati compatriot's footsteps.

Said Cregan: "The ultimate goal for me, personally, is that the people who are racing now, like Khaled al Qubaisi for example, they will become the mentors for the kids going in, and they will able to help us help them find sponsors and support.

"What we are trying to do now is trying to build recognition for the sport. The next thing is recognising the local drivers that are in those sports and then using those as ambassadors to build the sport for the future and get young people in there.

Cregan hopes events like today's will give opportunities to Emirati and other GCC drivers to show what they can do, and that they have what it takes to make it in motorsport.

"I think there is a great level of talent coming through," he said. "What we need to be doing is giving them a platform where they can go out and show that.

"We have to grow it, we have to get to the opportunity where we are putting Emiratis into race cars. I think the Formula Gulf Cup 1000 is going to be great in offering a platform where kids can go from karting into single-seater cars.

"Then you have the Radicals, which are here this weekend, you have the Porsche Middle East Cup, and they are areas which people can go into at a club level and compete in."

Cregan has been anxious to get more Emiratis competing in motorsport. He said that one of the biggest developments in the last year at Yas Marina was the opening of their outdoor karting track, which now allows youngsters to get a taste of driving while watching racing at the track during events.

"I think that is a big step," he said.

"We had to have a karting track, whatever category it was. There obviously is the karting track at Al Ain Raceway, which is one of the best tracks out there, and it has the finals of the Rotax Max Challenge this year, which is great.

"But it was very important for us to have a track here at Yas Marina as it is the first rung, and adults and kids alike get a taste of what competition is about.

"You watch people come out here and get in the kart and they want to enjoy it, but as soon as they get in the kart they want to compete.

"They may say beforehand that they want to enjoy it, but as soon as they sit in you can see them think 'I'm going to beat my mate.'

"That is the great thing about it and you can do it in a safe environment.

"It has been a great success and we're very pleased with it."