Racing season gets underway

The roar from 78 supercharged engines heralds the start of a defining year for motorsport in the UAE.

Dubai January 9 2009-The Toyota 24 Hour road race kicked off in Dubai with 78 cars starting the race. Mike Young / The National
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The roar from 78 supercharged engines heralded the start of a defining year for motorsport in the UAE this afternoon. Competitors in the gruelling 24 Hours of Dubai race got underway in the city's Autodrome. The rolling start, at 2pm, followed a two-minute silence the track's board members had announced in sympathy for the people of Gaza. Now in its fourth year, the race has grown in popularity and attracted teams from across the world.

Drivers and pit crews must cope with the demands that a full day of racing can have on a car and themselves. Most of the 78 teams has at least three drivers who will drive in two-hour shifts until the race ends at 2pm tomorrow. First on the grid was a 440 horsepower Porsche 997 belonging to the Autolando Sport. Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum is taking part as a driver in a powerful Ferrari 430 GT for the Dubai-based team Khaleji Motorsport, which started in 16th place on the grid.

Khaleji has also entered a Porsche 997 which is being driven by the UAE Touring Car Champion Kharim al Azhari. Speaking to The National before the race al Anhazri said: "In a normal race you go out full-on sprint racing, you use the car to the maximum. "Here you have to watch yourself, the car, the mechanics. It's a whole combination you rely on." The 24 Hours of Dubai is seen as a curtain racer for the racing season that culminates with the first Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov 1.