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1981 - Martin Hone gains some experience at the Dubai Grand Prix



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After the successful ‘The Lucas On The Streets Sport Spectacular’ in 1980. Martin Hone and his company, International Festival Services wasted no time and started to organise the Al Nasr Sport Club Dubai Grand Prix to be scheduled in December 1981.

The Grand Prix was organised to coincide with the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Martin Hone had to start from scratch as there was some problems that revealed itself.

“There was no racing circuit, an insufficient public road network to make a street circuit, no racing cars in the Emirates, few racing drivers, no trained marshals and no officials.”

He first visited Dubai in January and he realised the enormity of organising the whole thing with a certain amount of apprehension ahead. So basically he have to design a new circuit with 1.85kms worth of road around the Hyatt Regency Hotel not too far from the city itself (it was proclaimed as the most luxurious race headquarters in motorsport at the time!) as shown from a Cargolux advertisement featured in the 1981 Dubai Grand Prix programme. He brought in contractors to build the circuit and even clerks/marshals from the United Kingdom to help out with the proceedings of the Dubai Grand Prix! Some people would say that the Dubai authorities was using motorsport to promote Dubai internationally and as an exercise to show off their new shipping ports and airport as most of the cars that featured at the Grand Prix was all shipped by boat and air. The paddock was built up from shipping containers which the cars were shipped out for the Grand Prix.

There was drama before the proceedings as Joe Wiedmer decided to lift his Porsche 917/10 attached to a helicopter from the car’s roll bar from the airport to the circuit. But then during transportation, the roll bar broke and the car got badly damaged when it hit the deck. It was repaired in time for its race though.

The Dubai Grand Prix kicked off with an international Grand Prix parade featuring a beach buggies motocross presentation organised by the Al Nasr Motor Club, marching military and police bands and many other parades. American astronaut, Walt Cunningham was invited to drive the pace car to spice up some publicity of the Grand Prix.

The weekend kicked off with a Citroen CX celebrity race with established Formula One drivers such as Stirling Moss, Carroll Shelby, John Watson, Nigel Mansell and others. All of the Citroen CX cars were in white apart from Patrick Tambay’s whose car got a tricolour stripe on it. Some additional drivers who weren’t in the original entry list were David Kennedy, Phil Hill, Marc Surer and Dr. Helmut Marko who took part in the Citroen DX celebrity race.

John Watson took pole position with Dan Gurney completed the front row line-up with Marc Surer and Bruno Giacomelli in the second row. There was some panel bashing incidents during the race but then Bruno Giacomelli came first with an average speed of 58.84 mph with Marc Surer and David Kennedy (took the fastest lap with 1m 34.74 with an average speed of 61.98 mph).

Behind the three frontrunners, the older Formula One drivers capped off the race (in order) Innes Ireland, John Fitzpatrick, Dan Gurney, Derek Bell and Richard Attwood.

The Pace Petroleum Aston Martin Trophy race started off with Roy Salvadori taking the lead in his DBR1 with Mike Salmon staying close to him in his Project 212. Mike Salmon overtook Salvadori for the lead and won the race at an average speed of 64.68 mph and also he clocked up the fastest lap of the race with 1m 27.70.

After the exciting Aston Martin trophy race, the Production Saloon car race was next. The grid was made up of championship contenders from the British Saloon Car Racing Championship with fifteen cars mainly made up of Ford Capris, Dolomite Triumphs and other cars. Tom Walkinshaw in his Mazda RX7 took the lead from Vince Woodman’s Ford Capri into the first corner but then Jean Michel Martin makes a hash of approaching the difficult first corner and turned his Ford Capri into the run off area lined with tyres inside the corner and collided into two Ford Capris of Charles Sawyer-Soare and his team-mate Gordon Spice. Tom Walkinshaw continued on to win the Production Saloon car race with the fastest lap of 1m 20.74 (72.73 mph) ahead of Vince Woodman, Graham Goode, Terry Nightingale, John Spiller and James Burrows.

There was a break from racing but there were some demonstrations laps from former Formula One world champion Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss in his Maserati 250F, Roy Salvadori in his Aston Martin DBR4, John Harper in his Connaught ‘A’ series, Richard Pilkington in his F1 Talbot Lago and finally Ian Preston in his Bugatti Type 35B.

Juan Manuel Fangio took control of his Mercedes Benz 300 W196 car but then he was feeling unwell as he flew all the way from Buenos Aires without a break and he didn’t have enough rest till the Grand Prix. As a result he spun his car wildly during a lap around the circuit but the car was undamaged.

But it did cause damage to Fangio as he had a heart murmur soon after his demonstration run and remained in hospital in the city of Dubai for a few weeks until he recovered.

The Grand Prix continued where it was left off with the Marlboro Cup sportscar race that would last for 10 laps.

Gerry Marshall took some pride with winning the race in his Marsh Plant Lola T70 MKIIIB by beating John Brindley’s McLaren N1B in a fabulous dice for the lead and Richard Attwood in the David Piper Ferrari 272 LM. He certainly made an impression amongst the viewing spectators there and it was the fastest race of the day in Dubai was for these Super Sports cars. The fastest lap was produced by John Brindley with a lap of 1m 14.06 with an average speed of 72.73 mph. There was a bit of rivalry amongst brothers Mike Knight finished fourth in his Lola MKIIIB ahead of Richard Knight in his McLaren M1C with Richard Thwaites taking sixth place in his Chevron B6.
,br /> Finally the last race of the Grand Prix with the Citroen CX cars that were featured in the celebrity race were bashed back into shape. It was a locals-only race which was won by Capt. Alan Skennerton followed by David Ovey, Lt. Abdullah Omar, John Micklethwaite, Andrew Hedges (Former BMC works driver and based in nearby Bahrain) and Bruce Reid.

Between the races featured during the Grand Prix, there were some lap record attempts for the Hyatt Regency trophy for the fastest lap and a prize of $5000 to be awarded.

Patrick Tambay took the first lap attempt Theodore TY01 despite going out of shape at a corner of the track. John Watson stepped into his carbon-composite McLaren MP4-1 and clocked up a lap of 64.4 seconds with an average speed of 92.8 mph! It was the circuit’s first outright fastest lap. But then FISA had banned official lap record attempts so "a panel of judges" decided that John Watson's lap was the most meritorious effort and awarded him the $5000 prize.

Finally the last event of the Grand Prix was a repeat of the first parade that occurred before the first race of the Grand Prix weekend. As Juan Manuel Fangio couldn’t make it this time due to his heart murmur, Phil Hill made a rare appearance in the Mercedes Benz W196! Like what Fangio did, Phil Hill also spun the Mercedes at one point but it didn’t cause any lasting damage to the driver and the car itself.

There were more demonstration laps from Derek Bell with the new Nimrod Aston Martin and Denny Hulme with Robert Horne’s Can-Am McLaren M8D. It was a fantastic experience for the British drivers due to the unique surroundings of the Dubai circuit and sampled the Middle East culture as well.

Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Nasr Sports Club hoped that the event will be repeated annually in the UAE but it would not happen again but it did attract enthusiasm and attention until the Dubai Autodrome was designed by a group of experienced racers, including Anthony Reid, Warren Hughes and Aaron Slight led by circuit designer, Clive Bowen at West Surrey Racing and was opened in October 2004.

The Dubai Autodrome is the region's first fully integrated motor sports facility. The complex includes an FIA sanctioned 5.39km circuit offering six different configurations; also incorporating a Race Academy, Driving School and a CIK approved Karting Track.

Also His Highness Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Al Maktoum, nephew of His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and the ruler of Dubai at the time of the Grand Prix) founded the World Cup of Motorsport, the A1 Grand Prix racing series.

But we mustn’t forget that it was Martin Hone who introduced modern-day motorsport to the Middle East with the memorable and unique Dubai Grand Prix.