Dubai track struggles to compete with Yas circuit

The days when the Dubai Autodrome was being touted as a possible venue for a Formula One race appear long forgotten.

DUBAI // The days when the Dubai Autodrome was being touted as a possible venue for a Formula One race appear long forgotten as the race circuit, located on the edge of Emirates Road, struggles for recognition in a region where government backing is helping to create some of the finest tracks in the world.

The Autodrome, bankrolled by Union Properties, was once the premier motorsports facility in the region, yet now seems destined to be forever overshadowed by its new neighbour, Yas Marina.

Without the big-money investment required, it appears the Dubai-based track cannot compete for international events any longer.

The launch yesterday of the Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup was held in the pits of the Autodrome, yet the venue was conspicuous in its absence when the 12-race calendar was announced moments later.

Walter Lechner is the owner of Lechner Racing and the organiser of the series, which is held over six weekends and features four races in Abu Dhabi, two in Saudi Arabia and potentially six in Bahrain. He said he was reluctant to exclude Dubai from the schedule and maintained it remains a possible host site in the future.

"The reason we chose to launch the event in Dubai was because we don't race Dubai and I wanted to give the drivers a chance to drive here," Lechner said.

"But there are people - even people from the UAE - who have never raced the grand prix circuit at Yas because it is too expensive. We wanted to give them a new challenge, so we were willing to pay more for it."

Lechner said it costs Dh90,000 to host a race at Yas Marina, while the Autodrome charges Dh60,000.

He added that it is sponsorship opportunities that often hold sway.

"Where do sponsors go? They go to Formula One.

"This year, we will host two races at Yas Marina on grand prix weekend and hopefully another two in Bahrain on grand prix weekend next season.

"That is two grands prix; who else can offer that? Nobody else can offer that.

"But it is a give-and-take situation. We offer [the venue] space on the car for advertising and if they can sell it then they can keep whatever percentage is agreed beforehand.

"It seems though, Dubai Autodrome has no chance to find sponsors; if you look they don't have any international races, except the 24 hours race, which is a self-financed race from Europe."

Khaled al Qubaisi, the only Emirati to compete in the series last season, said he was disappointed Dubai was missing from the calendar and said he hopes to see it involved next season.

"I would love to have a race in Dubai. It is a great track, it is close to Abu Dhabi and offers ideal facilities," he said.

"In the future, if this series is to grow, we need to utilise all the tracks available as it will add variety to the championship and ensure that this is truly a Middle Eastern series."