Historic Dubai GP sees classic F1 and Group C desert duel

WORDS and photography: daniel lackey

The recipe was simple. Take 12 DFV era Formula 1 cars, the same number of Group C and IMSA GTP cars, and a smattering of professional drivers, and let them loose under the warm glow of the Emirati sun. The result was… well, quite delicious.

Needless to say, the cars were the stars. The F1 grid included some prime examples from the likes of Hesketh, Arrows, Shadow and Tyrrell. Among the Group C / GTP contenders were a March 84G, a couple of Spice-Cosworths, a Rondeau M382 and an iconic Rothmans-liveried Porsche 962. But, in addition to the superb machinery, a portion of the event’s success must also be credited to the employ of some very serious pedallers. Romain Dumas, Oliver Webb and Mathieu Baumel were among those competing.

Although boasting only two racing grids, the organisers managed to fill the time adequately without it feeling sparse of on-track action. Thursday was open for free practice and qualifying, while Friday was reserved for racing. The event was much smaller than what we are accustomed to in the UK, but attendance appeared healthy with plenty of spectators taking to the main grandstand. Despite being a modern F1-style circuit, the undulating nature of Dubai Autodrome allows fantastic visibility with numerous vantage points close to the action. The open paddock and garages ensured that everyone could get up close to the cars and drivers.

The F1 cars kicked off the day with their first of two 25-minute races. Teams, drivers and VIPs mingled in the pre-race grid walk, while a group of traditional Emirati folk musicians set the tone. Oliver Webb in the ex-James Hunt Hesketh 308 lined up in pole position, and took the win with a commanding lead. Next up was the first 45-minute race for Group C and IMSA GTP cars.

The win went to duo Marc Devis and Martin O’Connell in the bright pink Spice-Cosworth SE90 – a car that contested the 1991 Le Mans 24 Hours with an all-female driver line-up. After a break for lunch the afternoon continued in the same vein, with the same car and driver combos claiming their second victories of the day.

“At the end of 2020 the opportunity to get my hands on this Spice arose at the worst-possible moment, namely when I couldn’t stop myself from buying it!” said Devis. “We’d never even tested it before sending it to Dubai. We thought we’d give it a shakedown in race conditions here, but it soon showed that it was as reliable as it was quick. I’m very satisfied with these two victories shared with my tuner and friend Martin O’Connell.”

Webb was deemed by many to be the star of the event, taking podium positions in all four races. “Two pole positions, two fastest laps and two victories. You could say that it all went pretty well,” said a delighted Webb. “A week ago, I didn’t even know I’d be driving the car.”

If you’d arrived expecting an historic festival on the level of a well established European event then you might have left a little disappointed, but that would have been missing the point. As a region, the Middle East is now host to four Formula 1 Grands Prix, it was only a matter of time before it added a historic event – and rightly so. The region’s commitment and investment in motor sport cannot be ignored. The passion here is real, and it has a lot to contribute.

The first-ever Historic Dubai Grand Prix Revival gave us a flavour of what the Middle East can bring to the table. For many of us, all we require is the sound of an unsilenced Cosworth DFV to have a good time, but the Historic Dubai Grand Prix Revival offered a lot more. The atmosphere was warm and inviting, and its hosts were thoroughly charming. It was a breath of fresh desert air. Gulf Historic has drawn a line in the sand, and if it continues with this level of commitment and attention to detail then the future of historic motor sport in the Middle East is very bright indeed.

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