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Tue 23 Oct 2007 01:05 PM

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Red light, green light… go!

Situated within the Dubailand region, the Dubai Autodrome is at the heart of the burgeoning Union Properties MotorCity development and has plenty to offer as a successful leisure facility, as sales and marketing executive manager Peter Burns tells Leisure Manager.

Situated within the Dubailand region, the Dubai Autodrome is at the heart of the burgeoning Union Properties MotorCity development and has plenty to offer as a successful leisure facility, as sales and marketing executive manager Peter Burns tells Leisure Manager.

What sort of facilities do you have at the Dubai Autodrome?

The Dubai Autodrome is at the heart of motorsport in the UAE and is the region's first fully integrated motorsport facility, which is fully certificated to the highest FIA standard for international competition. We have three track configurations, which are all pretty multi-purpose tracks. There is the club, international and Grand Prix circuits and they can be broken down into different sections, and so we can do up to six different activities at any one time.

The grandstand opposite the pits can accommodate 7000 people and includes suites with fantastic viewing areas from which you can see most of the circuit.

There is also a new state of the art hospitality facility being built above the pits, which will be able to cater to 2500 people and will be used for the first time at the Dubai Motorsport Festival, which will be held on November 16 and 17. Companies will be able to have individual hospitality suites for 30 or more guests, whilst smaller groups can be accommodated in the Paddock Restaurants. In addition there will be the "Pitstop Bar" which will open to everyone in the Paddock and to Gold and Platinum ticket holders. The atmosphere will be very special because guests will be at the heart of the action, literally right above the pits. The facility can be used for all sorts of corporate functions - so companies will be able to have their product launches or conferences there, and then have the unforgettable experience of driving on the track.

Adjacent to the circuit is the popular Kartdrome which is an ultra-modern outdoor karting facility, built to FIA-CIK standards, which hosts national racing, international events, arrive and drive sessions and corporate events. In October 2007 we are scheduled to launch an indoor karting facility which will add another dimension to our Motorsport complex.

Essentially the Dubai Autodrome is an entertainment venue which is all about experiences.

In terms of the experiences available here, what are you able to offer to guests?

Motorsport is all about passion, excitement and adrenaline whether that is through spectating or participating. The more you learn about the sport the more you want to be involved, which is a powerful combination when mixed with business objectives. The Dubai Autodrome is an entertainment venue, so not only can people watch motorsport and be entertained, they can also experience the actual adrenaline rush of driving either on the race track or at the Kartdrome.

To start off we offer the Kartdrome's arrive and drive experience whereby anyone can sign-in to participate in 15 minute hotlap sessions with other drivers. Corporate packages can be designed for team building and general company entertainment sessions.
At the Race and Drive Centre we have vastly different cars available for a variety of hands-on on track experiences. This ranges from the Audi TT experience through to the powerful Audi RS4, or the very exciting Subaru Impreza. We also have F1 style single seaters with wings and slicks, which is probably one of the closest ways that many people could ever get to drive that sort of car. It depends a lot on what individuals and companies are looking to achieve, how much time they have, and of course the budget. Some might have a lot of time, others might just want to provide a taste of it - but we can tailor packages from a corporate point of view. The starter is the Audi TT, which is a great car for your first experience on the track. Then you might do a run in the Subaru, which has 316 bhp [power], and then you might do an Audi RS4, which has 420 bhp - all fantastic cars in their own right. Ultimately, you have the single seater experience, which is not for the feint hearted, but which is probably about as close as a member of the public will get to actually driving an F1 style car.

The first time out on the track drivers do a number of laps behind a pace car, to control them and twenty minutes is about the maximum on the track for drivers in terms of concentration and pressure of driving these pukka race cars especially in the heat. That's the time we bring them in. Thereafter we have more advanced sessions for drivers who feel the need to take their experience to another level.

So do people race on the track, or are they kept separate from each other?

At the race and drive experiences they don't race each other on the track. This is a controlled and highly supervised experience with a qualified instructor in the seat next to you, whilst the single seaters are controlled by a pace car. However drivers can race against each other at the Kartdrome, and at the end of their 15 minute session drivers are given a record of their fastest laps.

If drivers do want to race [on the track] then they take an approved race driving course at the Autodrome to get their ATCUAE competition licence and then compete in events organised by the Dubai Autodrome Motorsport Club (DAMC). This is another aspect of our venue which hosts over 20 national races each year.

How do you see the facility fitting in with the other attractions on offer in a city like Dubai?

The Dubai Autodrome is essentially an entertainment facility, the main product of which is motorsport.

However you must remember that whereas in Europe motorsport has been established for many years, here in the UAE it is in its evolutionary stage and the Autodrome is a key factor in helping to develop the sport with track days, auto tests, national and international race meetings and help developing national UAE talent through the HSBC Racing Academy under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

There is a huge amount of effort being put in by interested parties to develop that motorsport knowledge and culture here, and it is a constant campaign to attract the motoring industry, motorsport enthusiasts and competitors for both cars and bikes to our venue.

With regard to events we are working at developing motorsport for national competition but also to allow people either living here or visitors to have a motorsport experience. In addition many companies are using the facilities for corporate promotions and entertainment. For example Audi often use the venue to launch their cars here whilst Nissan recently broke the 24-hour distance world record here. In addition HSBC and Marriott have organised a lot of events here for their clients, guests and staff.
How important is the corporate market to the future success of the Dubai Autodrome? What are you doing to make sure you attract this market?

The corporate market is in its early stages here, but the number of hotels is increasing, the number of businesses is increasing and companies are having to work a lot harder to incentivise their guests.

For most people the opportunity to drive on a race track is a distant dream, so when they do, the experience is unforgettable. Whatever the corporate objective, the benefits are enormous, such as: saying thank you, promoting the company, enabling customers to mix, motivating staff or using it as an incentive prize.

Soon we will have the Renaissance and Marriott hotels being developed here as part of MotorCity, plus the sensational F1 Theme Park - so we will be getting closer to our aim of being the main centre for the automotive industry and the hub of motoring and motorsport.

The benefits are enormous, such as: saying thank you, promoting the company.

What is going to happen at the Dubai Motorsport Festival this year?

Having already held a series of international motorsport events, including the FIA GTs and A1GP, this year will see the inaugural Dubai Motorsport Festival on November 16 and 17, which will provide non-stop action and high quality international motorsport activities aimed at the racing aficionados and casual fans who want to be part of the big event experience.

We are now the motorsport element in the city's already well-established and prestigious sporting events such as the Dubai World Cup, the Rugby Sevens, the Tennis Open and the Desert Classic. Our aim is to grow the Dubai Motorsport Festival into the premier annual motorsport event in the Middle East outside of the two Formula 1 events in the region.

It is going to be more than just another race. Plans are in place to make it a must attend annual social sporting event aimed beyond devoted motor racing fans and appealing to a broader public. Hence there will be side shows throughout the weekend in designated entertainment areas to satisfy anyone from autograph hunting kids through to socialites wanting to be seen at the high profile event - and all those in between.

There will be three international categories, starting with the FIA GT3s supercars, which will feature cars like Aston Martins, Lamborghinis and Porsches. Then there will be the Speedcar series, which is based on the highly successful Nascar series in America, with the big V8 engines. That will be the Dubai debut of this category, and will feature former grand prix drivers Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert.

We will also have the Formula Renault Campus, which is a junior single seater category where we have three of our Emirati HSBC Racing Academy drivers who will compete in the season finale. There will be three national races as well, one for the superbikes, one for the saloons, and one for the Le Mans style radicals - the open seater sports cars.
What sort of people work at the Dubai Autodrome?

There is the distinctive management building which houses sales and marketing, events, operations, purchasing and accounts. Then there is the race and drive centre, with the instructors and mechanics, plus the Kartdrome, all of whom are fully qualified to international standards.

There is a very interesting international mixture of nationalities, including Europeans, South Africans and Australians, many of whom have been in involved with global motorsport for a very long time.

What are you doing in terms of changing the experiences which are on offer? Do you have any plans in this regard?

We have some plans to redevelop some of the experiences, and we are also going to be offering a skid car soon. It will be teaching people about skidding and what happens [when you skid], using a GM Lumina.

We are also starting an early drive programme for young drivers. A lot of people here in the Middle East use automatic transmission cars, but we will be teaching them how to drive a manual car. It's about learning what to do and how to drive cars before you actually get out onto the road.

We are also doing a safe driving campaign with the Road Transport Authority and HSBC, teaching people basic things to improve safety. Things such as braking, steering, changing direction quickly, learning about the correct tyre pressure to use and that sort of thing.

The training also applies to companies as well - for some people the car is an extension of their office and we have had a lot of companies using the course to train staff.

We are constantly looking to upgrade and develop new experiences and projects at the Dubai Autodrome. We want to keep abreast of the latest trends in the motorsport industry and adapt it to the conditions which we are faced with here to make experiences a success. We strive to be second to none in what our facility offers and will offer in the future.

What are the challenges of running the Autodrome?

We are [geographically] right in the middle of the development of MotorCity, which will be ready in 2009, so it is about maintaining our business while this happens.

We are the first integrated facility in the UAE, and as that we can provide experiences and infrastructure to develop motorsport.

The other thing is working in the heat, and the pressure that puts on the vehicles, but that's Dubai's environment for you!We are the first integrated facility in the UAE, and as that we can provide experiences and infrastructure to develop motorsport - it's very exciting.

Having previously worked in Formula 1, I can compare it to the pioneering days of the Grands Prix in the 1980s when all the infrastructure and marketing were being built up.

Dubai Autodrome is far more than a race track - it is an entertainment facility which offers the public access to a world class motorsport venue with numerous exciting experiences at their disposal.

Our chairman describes our venue as "the university of motoring and motorsport" and this aptly sums up what we are - throw in the entertainment and thrill factor.

The venue has also been used to host large music concerts, hasn't it?

Yes, we have had Shakira and Phil Collins. We have become the venue for it, but our main business is motorsport related activities complementing the experiences already existing in Dubai.

Many visitors come to Dubai to stay in fabulous hotels and enjoy the many amazing treats it has to offer.

People might want to go to the beach, and go shopping, and then they might want to have the adrenaline rush and excitement of driving a racing car - it's a completely unforgettable experience.

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