Faisal Al Sahlawi, Dubai Autodrome’s General Manager, is confident about the future of UAE motorsport. Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE is only 50 years old but the country boasts two of the best motorsport facilities in the world. It has six go-kart tracks and if that wasn’t all motorsports idol Mohammed Ben Sulayem sits in the top office of the pyramid as the President of the FIA.

The growth of motorsport in the UAE is impressive to say the least and Faisal Al Sahlawi, Dubai Autodrome’s General Manager couldn’t agree more. “I think what we have achieved in the past 50 years is remarkable. It is something that is not communicated enough.”

The UAE has the busiest motorsports calendar in the region as there is at least one race competition happening every single weekend ranging from circuit racing, motorcycle racing, moto-cross, rallying or drifting. “This in itself shows how successful we are when it comes to motorsports and how much it has grown,” says Faisal.

But just why is motorsport so popular here in the UAE? “It goes back to genetics,” he says. “If you think about it from a different perspective, every form of transportation that we’ve used in the UAE has been used for racing. Camels, horses, sailing have all been different options before and cars are no different. The country has a passion for speed and that is why motorsports became extremely popular.”

Motorsport passion

Faisal was working at Yas Marina Circuit before the first Abu Dhabi Formula One took place and then was approached to join the Dubai Autodrome in 2017. His passion for motorsports runs in the family – his uncles, who he grew up with, loved cars and he would go to watch the spectator stages of the Dubai International Rally next to Hyatt Regency in the 90s. But does he believe that there will be a Formula One champion hailing from the UAE? “Yes I do. However, I believe the mistake that we keep on doing is labelling anyone who does not make it to Formula One as a failure, which does not represent well. There are far more race drivers in other disciplines of motorsports. Formula One is not the only way to follow a professional racing career and we need to stop putting that idea into children’s minds. They can race in Le Mans, become a touring car champion or rally drivers, there are far more successful professional drivers in these motorsports disciplines and Formula One just happens to be the only one with a Netflix show. There are only 20 Formula One drivers so we have to be realistic when how many Formula One drivers we think we can produce.”

Dubai Autodrome
There will be many events at the Dubai Autodrome this winter to look forward to.

The UAE authorities are doing their utmost to promote motorsports and a visit to the Kartdrome proves that the scene here is very healthy. “The competition on the track is fierce and we need these kids to feel special and make other kids to look at the kids that are racing in go-karts and think ‘that’s cool, I also want to do that’,” adds Faisal. “We need to create heroes because if you are working on developing two people, your chances are very low. Therefore, you need to increase the number of drivers that are starting because only one per cent would make it to Formula One. Again, I don’t think Formula One should be the ultimate goal. It should be motorsports in general because if you keep making children think that they should make it to F1, they will not continue in motorsports. As a result, if would be difficult to get more people interested in the sport.”

The topic of diversity and inclusion has entered Formula One and Faisal feels the sport can act as a catalyst for progress in society. “Having women in motorsports is normal now as there are many female drivers and officials involved and it’s no longer a surprise that they are on the grid. They are also proving that they can compete as well and give the male drivers a hard time. In terms of diversity and inclusion, we have recently introduced the hand-controlled go-karts for People of Determination so they can enjoy go-karting without experiencing any challenges.”

It is set to be a busy end of the 2022 season at the Dubai Autodrome what with several big events and races to come. The international competitions begin this month with one of them being the Dubai Grand Prix Revival, organised by Gulf Historic. The legendary racing event will feature F1 cars from the 70s, 80s and 90s. There will also be vintage Le Mans cars and GT1 cars. “This event is something that I’m very proud because with the support of GP Extreme, they have created an event that is truly unique - and the atmosphere around the whole venue is so cool. Only classic cars are allowed close to the paddock and it’s a different atmosphere compared to other racing.”

Dubai 24 Hours

In the second weekend of January, Dubai Autodrome will host the Dubai 24 Hours which has now established itself as a prominent event on the Dubai calendar. “We are expecting 80 or 90 cars to take part which would see between 400 to 500 drivers in action,” says Faisal.

Ferrari APAC is a new event that will see all the Ferrari Challenge cars from around the world race at the Autodrome while it will also host the Asian Le Mans Series for the third time. The Porsche Middle East Sprint Challenge will also be held as well various regional and local events such as the UAE F4 Championship and Superbike Championship.

There are plans to increase the popularity of Dubai Autodrome which is not only a race track, it is an automotive hub for vehicle testing and development as well as being an events venue. “We are working to position the venue as the ultimate hot weather testing destination for international manufacturers. With more electric cars being built by manufacturers for everyday use, we are gearing up to ensure that our charging facilities and power capacity is sufficient for these vehicles.”

In terms of the environment, Faisal says they are offsetting the emissions that motorsports create through solar panels which are installed on the rooftops around the venue. “All the power that we use during the day is generated from these solar panels and the extra power goes back into the grid,” he says. “Since the energy is produced by solar panels, we are reducing the emissions by the power plants which is equivalent to removing 300 cars off the streets. For us this project is vital as we want to play our part in making motorsports eco-friendly and sustainable.”