Abu Dhabi to host new self-driving car race series on F1 track from 2024

The new Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League aims to advance research and development in driverless vehicles and bring a new spectator sport to the capital

Yas Marina Circuit will soon be home to racing for self-driving vehicles. Photo: Shutterstock
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Abu Dhabi will host a new autonomous racing league on its Formula One track in 2024, aimed at advancing driverless technology and bringing a new spectator sport to the capital.

Also known as self-driving racing, the sport involves the racing of vehicles that are controlled by computer.

The Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League will start at Yas Marina Circuit in the second quarter next year, although no set date has been announced.

With a prize pool of up to $2.25 million, the new league is looking to push the boundaries of autonomous mobility by hosting challenges to advance research and development in autonomous racing and artificial intelligence, while at the same time boosting fuel efficiency and safety.

Faisal Al Bannai, secretary general of the Advanced Technology Research Council, said the league will create a community platform for motorsports fans.

"The Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League will feature an open development model, supporting faster progress, faster testing and greater innovation," he said.

"Machine learning and reinforcement learning will be key to collecting data and developing the technology of these vehicles.”

The league will use Dallara-built Super Formula cars with support from Japan Race Promotion, which manages Japanese Super Formula Championship.

The Super Formula cars are the fastest in the world, outside of Formula One, and will be equipped for autonomous racing, according to the league.

"Our SF23 race car is a huge leap forward in technical performance and, importantly, carbon neutrality, so it’s very exciting to see it being driven by an autonomous technology stack," said Yoshihisa Ueno, president of Japan Race Promotion.

"We cannot wait for the first race.”

Spectators in the drivers seat

The league also wants to provide a new way to watch motor racing.

Spectators will have access to virtual reality and augmented reality technologies, allowing them to get in the drivers seat and see firsthand head-to-head autonomous car racing, with live updates and real-time displays shown on screen.

It is early days for the new strand of motorsport but autonomous racing leagues and events are popping up all over the world.

The annual Indy Autonomous Challenge, hosted at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the US beginning in 2021, is the first to head-to-head race between autonomous racing vehicles.

Organisers of the IAC event say they were inspired by those who competed in the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) Grand Challenge, which put forth a $1 million award in 2004.

That competition of mostly university-affiliated teams gave rise to the modern automated vehicle industry.

Aspire, the organisers of Abu Dhabi's new league, are taking a similar approach, opening to all teams from previous autonomous racing challenges as well as universities and public and private research institutions.

The research hub is the programme development arm of Abu Dhabi’s Advanced Technology Research Council (ATRC).

ATRC is responsible for defining Abu Dhabi’s research and development strategy, consolidating funds for efficient investment, and driving policy and regulation. It also launches grand challenges and international competitions to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.

The autonomous car race will be the first among a series of autonomous vehicle races in the Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League launching in 2024, according to organisers.

Ambitions are also set for racing autonomous offroad vehicles and drones.

Updated: March 17, 2023, 1:38 PM