Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Emergence of Motorsports in the Middle East

John Marine | 6/01/2010 05:07:00 AM | | |
(UPDATED: May 27, 2012)

The Middle East has really come along lately in motorsport. Before hearing of tracks like Bahrain, the ONLY motorsport I've heard of in the Middle East is the Middle East Rally Championship. The most popular sport of any kind I know of in the Middle East is football (soccer). I hear of football clubs like Al Ain and Al Shabab in the AFC (Asian Football Confederation). Even though I'm not a fan of Cricket, I do recall of Pakistan's cricket team. We're not talking about those sports here. Instead, this is about what kind of future Middle Eastern motorsport possibly can have in the long run.

How far can Middle East motorsports go? Is there a foreseeable future for racing in the Middle East? That's what I'll chat about and speculate in this blog entry. You're invited to offer your own input (as long as you play by the rules).


MAY 27 2012 - made several updates

--- Motorsports in the Middle East at a Glance ---

Time to take a brief look at what the Middle East has to offer for motorsport.

Tracks of the Middle East.

Most people know of the proper racing circuits in the Middle East. Formula One's history (at least in the modern era) in the Middle East began in 2004 with the Bahrain Grand Prix. The track for which to do battle on was the exciting Bahrain International Circuit. Even before and after F1's historic first-ever Grand Prix in the Middle East at the Grand Prix in Bahrain, there were tracks such as Losail and the Dubai Autodrome among others. Just last year was the first-ever Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The Losail International Circuit in Qatar made lots of attention in MotoGP as the first-ever night race was held at the Losail International Circuit starting in 2008. Iowa-based Musco Lighting provided the lighting. Istanbul Park is one of about three known race tracks in Turkey. Istanbul Park is a lovely facility with a very competitive configuration. Bahrain and Yas Marina Circuit have played host to rounds of other series, such as the Australian V8 Supercar Series.

In addition to circuit racing, there is also drag racing that takes place in the Middle East. The Yas Marina Circuit is an ultra-modern masterpiece. Its drag strip is even an acheivement for the NHRA. There is a great link to Middle Eastern drag racing and the NHRA as Al-Anabi Racing of Qatar is leading the charge and is a great contributor to the NHRA's expansion into the Middle East. The facility looks great from videos I've seen. Almost like I'm seeing a regular round of NHRA drag racing with this facility in the UAE.

[Some of the] Current Racers in International Motorsport from the Middle East.

Here are a few Middle Eastern racers:

• Kenan Sofuoglu - World Superbike racer from Turkey.
• Mohammed bin Sulayem - Middle East Rally Championship racer from Kuwait. Most ever MERC wins.
• Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah - Middle East Rally Championship racer from Qatar.
• Mashel Al Naimi - Qatar native who races in the FIM Endurance World Championship rider of the championship-winning Qatar Endurance Racing Team.
• Rashid Al Mannai - Qatar native who races in the FIM Endurance World Championship rider of the championship-winning Qatar Endurance Racing Team.
• Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal - Saudi Arabian race car driver in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.
• Sheikh Salman Bin Rashid Al Khalifa - Bahrain race car driver in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.

Those are only a few of many Middle Eastern racers.

Other Motorsport in the Middle East.

The Middle East Rally Championship is the only series I've really heard of before. A handful of other racing events happen in the Middle East ranging from local events to Formula 1 and MotoGP Grands Prix. The World Rally Championship has racing events in places like Cyprus and Jordan. The Losail International Circuit also plays host to an eight-hour endurance for the FIM Endurance World Championship. Lots of racing goes on within the Middle East. The only other series I know of with racing in the Middle East is the Speedcar Series, but that series is now defunct.

--- Middle Eastern Motorsport in Pictures ---

Time to share a few pictures to prove a point. Any pictures that may be from Flickr will only take you to the Flickr album for which they come from.

24 Hours of Dubai
^ from: automobilsport.com - a BMW 24 Coupe competing at the 2007 24 Hours of Dubai. This car would win the 2007 edition of the 24 Hours of Dubai.

FIA Middle East Rally Championship
^ from: lecopilote.com - a Peugeot 207 kicking up dirt in the FIA-sanctioned Middle East Rally Championship. This was from 2009 in the MERC round in Kuwait.

Qatar Endurance Racing Team
^ from: flickr.com (above image links to Flickr album for where it came from) - the Qatar Endurance Racing Team in the FIM Endurance World Championship. They are one of the better teams in motorcycle endurance racing.

--- How Far Can Middle Eastern Motorsport Go? ---

That depends. It looks like there is a great deal of competition already in the Middle East. There are series like the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and the FIA-sanctioned Middle East Rally Championship. I even just learned of a series called the Chevrolet Supercar Middle East Championship, which is kind of like the Australian V8 Supercar series of the Middle East, only with Chevrolet models (no Holden or Ford Australia). The cars remind me a bit of HSV Clubsport R8 models. If you're talking about international presence, however, that's where I'm curious. Could there be room for a competitive Formula 1 racer from the Middle East? Can there be some great Middle East racers in MotoGP (unless Sofuoglu wants to go to MotoGP)? Could we see some Middle East Rally Championship racers want to make an impact in the World Rally Championship? Could some Middle East racers want to race in America (like NASCAR or the IndyCar Series)?

To give you some persepective on racing in the Middle East and with racers from the Middle East, please check out these YouTube videos I've found:

^ Middle East Rally Championship round in Qatar for 2010

^ a look at racer Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal (he is the driver in the green and silver #7 Porsche)

^ The Festival of Speed at Yas Drag Racing Festival

^ QNRRC (Qatar National Road Racing Championship) race at Losail International Circuit

--- Final Thoughts ---

Whatever the future holds for Middle Eastern racing, it will be great to see a lot more competition from around the world try their hand at racing and even international racing. The success of almost any sport is for the sport to be translated and enjoyed by nations other than where the sport originated from. Basketball and football (soccer) have translated VERY well to various nations around the world. I just wonder if we'll see a better emergence of racing talent from the Middle East. Not once have I mentioned politics or conflict in this blog entry. The premise of this blog entry is on motorsport, not motorsport plus any non-motorsport issues. Even if it means that somebody like Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal wants to enter Formula One or start in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, best of luck. Even if it means that even if Kenan Sofuoglu wants to challenge MotoGP in the future, best of luck to him as well. I have even mentioned in my blog entry about expanding the Asian Le Mans Series about perhaps the series looking into races across mainland Asia in addition to the current venues.

The Middle East does have something going in trying to have great racing and great racing venues. I still think the Bahrain International is a great circuit despite recent changes to it. Losail is a very tough and rather long course. The Dubai Autodrome and the Yas Marina Circuit are two spectacular world-class courses. WRC rally courses at Jordan, Cyprus, and Turkey are intense courses that nicely represent the Middle East in rally racing on a global stage. The MERC has some intense desert stages. It really is interesting to envision how far Middle East motorsport can go, especially if it sustains itself for years to come. Same goes for if more Middle Eastern racers will try out motorsport around the world including within the Middle East.

That concludes another blog entry. To learn more about any of the material I've discussed, here are some links for you to visit:

Middle East Rally Championship
Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East
Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal's Official Website (available in English and Arabic)

NOTE: This blog entry may be edited to include more material.

Thank you for reading!

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