ABU DHABI // The Yas Marina Grand Prix Circuit will find a new, quieter use in January when it stages an official Olympic-distance triathlon.
Tri Yas involves a 1.5-kilometre swim in the marina, seven laps around the 5.5km race track on a bike and then a brisk 10km run down to the drag racing centre and back up to the main grandstand.
If the Olympic distance is too much, competitors can enter the shorter sprint distance. The sprint consists of a 750-metre swim, a 20km ride and a 5km run.
The three disciplines can be split between a three-man relay team for either distance.
"We would like to attract a mix of first-time triathletes to give it a go for fun or those who want to take it seriously and want to complete an Olympic distance triathlon and really challenge themselves," said Troy Watson, a spokesman for the race.
Organisers expect 450 competitors to enter the January 14 race. Some could be world-class professionals. Olympic distance is what most triathletes use a benchmark for their times.
The Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, which has a 100km bike ride, will be in March. Organisers said Tri Yas is a perfect precursor to it.
Richard Cregan, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management (ADMM), said the capital was becoming a hub for athletes' winter training. "I think the more international events are here, the better it will be for the sport internally.
"The idea of this event is to open the Yas Marina Circuit up to the public and the different type of audience and competitor. This event is hopefully the beginning of something for the future. We are starting off on a very small scale," he said.
Mr Watson said it was normal to have so many serious triathlons. "It is not uncommon to have more races closer than that," he said.
Prizes are not decided yet and the date of the race has yet to the be confirmed.
"It's unique - we have closed roads, which means we can do a triathlon at sociable hours instead of early morning hours," Mr Watson added.
There is to be a carnival atmosphere with a barbeque for the 2,000 spectators expected to show up.
The first person to sign up was Mr Watson, who works for ADMM and has competed in Hawaii's famous Ironman triathlon.
The course will have some challenges for the athletes. "There is a hill from Turn 2 to Turn 3 and that can be a bit of a challenge," Mr Watson observed.
Lizzie Tricks, a housewife, signed up for the sprint triathlon yesterday morning at the announcement in the Yas Hotel.
"I am a strong swimmer but I didn't own a bike up until a month ago. I do lots of fitness classes but I've got bored with them and needed a challenge," said the Briton, 44.
Michael Haddin was also signing up for the first time. The 31-year-old had the advantage of being a fitness instructor.
"It is something I always wanted to do. The distance and the focus required are what I am looking forward to. I've done small ones before and really enjoyed it, which was about five years ago," Mr Haddin said.
Mr Watson said competitors need not train so hard as the 18 hours a week he typically puts in before the Ironman race.
"It depends on the person and their fitness levels," he said.
Professionals should be able to complete the entire Olympic distance in around 1 hour 45 minutes.
"The fastest times I'd expect to see would be around two hours and everybody should be able to come in between two and three hours," he added.
Which is fast, but not nearly as fast as a Formula One car.
While a seasoned triathlete would need about 12 minutes to cycle a lap of the Yas track, the German driver Sebastian Vettel holds the record for fastest lap in a grand prix car at 1 min 40 sec.