NOVEMBER 9, 2009
The Gulf is open to business - for everyone
At the moment Formula 1 and NASCAR live in mutually exclusive worlds. Since the demise of the United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis there has been no crossover at all between the world's two biggest racing championships. That may change, however, in the years ahead as motor racing in the Gulf develops.
Bruton Smith, the chairman and CEO of the US circuit developer Speedway Motorsports Inc, says he is negotiating with the Emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani to build a major motorsport complex in the country. Smith says that he was approached by the Qataris and that a design has already been completed with the facility expected to have three different tracks. This would be similar to SMI's Las Vegas Motor Speedway, which includes a 1.5-mile oval, a third-of-a-mile oval, a half-mile dirt track and a 2.4-mile road course, all on a 1300-acre site. There might also be a drag strip, as this is a popular form of motorsport in the Middle East. The whole facility would be located on the waterfront, probably somewhere to the south of Doha, as the existing Losail International Circuit is located to the north. The project is independent of any plans in Saudi Arabia, announced a few weeks ago by NASCAR team owner George Gillett.
Qatar built the Losail International Circuit five years ago and it has hosted the MotoGP series, putting on the first ever night race for the series in 2008.
While Formula 1 has made a big impact in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi there is a feeling that local motorsport is likely to follow the stock car model. This was tried in Dubai with the Speedcar championship although this died out when Union Properties ran into financial trouble. The sport could well revive if others build suitable facilities. At the moment the market is relatively small as travelling from country to country in the region is not easy but the huge infrastructure projects in the region in the planning stages include road and high speed rail links between Bahrain and Qatar (including a 40-mile causeway) and between Qatar and Abu Dhabi (which would require a 60-mile causeway). Work on the first will begin in a few months and will be completed in four and a half years. The key link would be between Qatar and Abu Dhabi as this would open the way for access to Qatar for the 5m residents of the United Arab Emirates.