Race fans get up close and personal

Preview of this weekend's racing, the first real test of motor sports popularity following the AD Grand Prix.

February  3, 2010/ Abu Dhabi /  GP2 race car driver Giedo Van Der Garde shows Noor Rashid around a GP2 race car at the Yas Marina Circuit February 3, 2010. (Sammy Dallal / The National)

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ABU DHABI // As GP2 Asia series drivers prepare for their first spin on the Yas Marina Circuit this weekend, race officials say it will be a challenge for them too - organising the first major competition at the track since the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

"It's a test for our own organisation. It's a test for the circuit itself in terms of amenities and facilities," Richard Cregan, chief executive officer of Yas Marina Circuit, said yesterday. "This is a learning event for us. It's our second big international motorsport event, and we want to make sure we get it right for the people of the UAE. "Every event we run at Yas Marina Circuit has to be an improvement on the previous one. Now what we are doing is we are developing our own team internally to run these events. Every event we do will build on that."

Organisers hope that more access to the track, special admission for children and the opportunity to see cars and drivers from just a few metres away will draw crowds this weekend. The GP2 series is one step below Formula One, and many top name F1 drivers, such as Lewis Hamilton, Nelson Piquet Jr and Nico Rosberg, got their start driving a GP2 car. Kamui Kobayashi and Sébastien Buemi, who finished sixth and eighth respectively at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November and will suit up for F1 teams again this year, are past champion and runner-up in the GP2 Asia Series, an offshoot of the GP2 series.

Ticket-holders can access the paddock area behind the pits, take walks along pit lane and attend autograph sessions. But only the Main and West grandstands will be open for the event. Luca Filippi, 24, an Italian driver with the GP2 Asia team MalaysiaQI-MeritusMaharaGP.com who sits third in the series standings after the first race weekend in November, enjoys meeting the fans. "This is nice, because it is important that motorsport is also close to the people," he said. "For us, it will be a pleasure because in the end, without people coming to watch the race, this would not exist."

"That is something I would love to do, is get close to the drivers and the cars," said Claudio Pereira, 44. "For sure they are more open to the public, because they not have a massive public like Formula One." Mr Pereira, who drove a Ford Edge sport utility vehicle around the Yas Marina Circuit on the public track last month, said he hoped to chat with team members and see how they worked on the cars.

He joked he needed "a couple of tips" for driving on the circuit. "Just to have fun is the main reason I want to go. The GP2 is the closest one to Formula One. To see the races is really nice." Although open-wheel racing is not as popular in the Emirates as elsewhere in the world, Mr Cregan said the opening of a racing academy in a couple of months should help. This is the GP2 Asia series' second visit to the Yas circuit. The series supported the Formula One race last November 1. For some of the drivers, such as Giedo van der Garde of the Barwa Addax team, the race weekend is a chance to get familiar with the track. The final race of the GP2 series will be at Yas Marina Circuit in November during the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

There will be two days of racing - Friday and Saturday - with two GP2 Asia races supported by qualifying sessions and races for the Chevrolet Supercar Middle East, Porsche Middle East Championship races. Free parking is being offered to everyone; a park-and-ride service from Zayed Sports City on both days is available from 10am.