Yas Marina circuit drags out the dragsters of Abu Dhabi

Speed lovers leave the streets behind to race each other.

Drivers compete in the Yas Super Street Challenge Drag Racing at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhbai. Satish Kumar / The National
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ABU DHABI // Amid the roar of engines and the smoke from burning rubber filling the air at the Yas Marina Circuit, Abdul Hamid Al Awadhi stands quietly psyching himself up, knowing his dreams of victory could be over in less than just a few seconds.

The veteran of more than 20 years of racing, was preparing for the Yas Super Street Challenge, his first event after a seven year hiatus, and wants everything to be perfect on his return to the sport he has loved with a passion for almost all of his life.

“Basically, I’m a dragster and a tour racer,” says the Emirati. “There were great days in Umm Al Quwain before, but the races stopped, now we’re back and the big hope comes with the Marina Drag racing. This is making our dreams coming true again,”

Being an old school racer the car Mr Al Awadhi chose to compete in for last night ‘s races was a far cry from the shiny new Nissan GTRs and AMG Mercedeses he lined up against. He still drives the Suburu WRX STi from his years on the track in UAQ.

“This car is very special to me, I have collected over 30 podiums in that time, now it’s become very old but I still race it,” says Mr Al Awadhi. “The car isn’t heavily modified because I use it daily but I came here to practice.”

He used to drive what dragsters refer to as an eight-second car, a highly modified non street-legal monster that was tuned to reach over 200 kph in mere seconds.

However, winning a drag race isn’t all about who gets behind the wheel of the most powerful car.

Rather, says Mr Al Awadhi, it comes down to who is the smartest driver with a instinct for racing.

“It’s about commitment and punctuality, you just have to focus, everything has to be 100 per cent. It has to be a passion because you can’t drag race without that, it’s in your blood.”

Moments before he approaches the starting line, or as drag racers call it the “Christmas Tree”, so-called because of the countdown colours of the traffic signal lights, fellow racer Ali Al Kaabi goes into a state of complete focus.

“You know it’s stress, adrenaline, it’s all about your reaction. You want to catch the signal to beat your mate,” says Mr Al Kaabi. “Some people have to practice for it, others it comes naturally, it’s in their blood.”

Still relatively new to the sport, Mr Al Kaabi says the drag racing events at Yas Marina Circuit creates a sense of family, one from which he hopes to learn and hone his skills.

The Emirati races in a 700-hp Corvette C7 2014 Stingray, Hennessy edition specially imported from the US. Driving the car, he says, is just as enjoyable on a trip to the mall with this wife as it is when he takes it to the racetrack.

“Yas is a perfect place for doing car racing, it required a lot of work to make it perfect, to show the whole world that Abu Dhabi can provide a safe environment for the race.”

Saud Al Qaydi, manager of Yas Marina Circuit and Head of Motor Racing Club in the UAE, says that the spirit of competition born from the streets and brought in a professional environment keeps the racers keen and in a safe environment.

“Previously we used to see drivers gathering somewhere with their friends and you’d have guys saying ‘my car is faster than your car – then let’s hit the road and see,’” says Mr Al Qaydi.

Now he says that Yas Marina Circuit provides an environment to capture that sense of competition at the heart of all forms of racing.

“Nowadays they’ll say let’s had out to Yas Drag Centre and try out car out there, it’s safer it’s easier, they get time slips and the proofs,” says Mr Qaydi. “Now they can have their bragging rights for everyone to see.”