Since Martin and Barry Hope turned their hobby into a businessin 2004, GulfSport Racing has worked with and in many cases trained more than 100 racing drivers from 22 countries at circuits in the UAE, Bahrain, Malaysia and the UK. Many of these were what are called 'gentlemen drivers' who race sports, saloon and GT cars as a hobby.
But some were ambitious young drivers attempting to make their way on the difficult path towards becoming a professional racing driver. Over the years of course some have retired, some have continued to simply enjoy racing at a club level, but a few lucky ones have made progress with their ambition.
After focusing on the development of a new market and race series for the UK's Radical Sportscars in the Arabian Gulf, GulfSport turned its attention to helping young racing drivers:
The very first young driver to test GulfSport's Formula Gulf single seater with its 185bhp Suzuki engine was Dubai's Ed Jones back in 2010. Jones would go on to race F.Renault, European F3 Open, FIA F3, and then won the 2016 IndyLights development series which provided a million dollar budget to enter the IndyCar Series where he is now making great progress. Ed is Dubai's most successful racing driver.
- Formula Gulf Academy, now a recognised international racing school and driver development programme, saw Lebanese driver Joe Ghanem win the first season (2011/12) and graduated to the UAE GT Championship where he won his class in a GulfSport run Ginetta and then into UK Formula Renault and the Maserati Trofeo Middle East series.
- Rahul Raj Mayer, who took his first steps in single seater racing with GulfSport in the 2012/13 season, subsequently moved on to the UK's BRDC F4 series and then Formula Renault NEZ. Most recently testing with Campos in GP3.
- Fellow Malaysian driver Weiron Tan, who raced alongside Rahul that year, and won his first ever car race with Formula Gulf has pursued his career with some considerable success in UK and German F3, the ProMazda series in the USA and is now signed up to drive the Bentley Continental GT3 in the 2017 China GT Championship!
"The Formula Gulf Academy provided me with a strong platform in single seaters moving up from karts. Working together with Andy Pardoe, Barry and Martin Hope, I gained a lot of experience on top of bagging 4 wins out of 6 races entered and drove on amazing circuits like the Yas Marina in Abu Dhabi and Dubai Autodrome." Weiron Tan
- In 2013/14 young Tom Bale took the Formula Gulf title at his first attempt and then pursued a drive in BRDC F4 but has since decided to move back to international karting where is still winning races and championships.
- Another potential superstar who did two seasons with GulfSport was young lady driver Natasha Seatter who won 7 of 14 races in 2012/13 and went to race in the GT Asia Cup and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia at the F1 event in Shanghai 2013.
- Omani racer Al Faisal Al Zubair, who also did his first season of car racing with GulfSport has recently celebrated his first pole position and race victory in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East after a couple of seasons doing F4 and F3 in the UK. Al Faisal, who is about to compete in the prestigious 2017 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup is also a Red Bull Athlete.
- Azerbaijan's top single seater driver who started his career in the Formula Gulf Academy will shortly start his second season in the very competitive EuroFormula Open (F3).
- Current Formula Gulf Academy Champion, Alex Karkosik has moved up to F3 with RP Motorsport with a goal of winning the rookie cup in the 2017 EuroFormula Open.
- Omar Gazzaz of Saudi, who has completed two seasons of Formula Gulf and earned the place of Vice Champion this season, will compete in the UK this summer with GulfSport Racing in the UK F3Cup.
Some young drivers have found that the foundation skills acquired during the Formula Gulf development programme have been relevant to off-road competition:
- Mohammed Al Mutawaa, who would be the first of three GulfSport drivers to become official Red Bull Athletes would go on to race for Citroen in WRC.
- 2014/15 Formula Gulf Champion and now Red Bull athlete, Tejas Hirani, after a promising 2016 season of RX Lites will now contest the 2017 RX2 International Series, a feeder series to the FIA World Rallycross Championship.
It would appear that the UAE's Formula Gulf Academy has quietly become the world's leading race school for ambitious young drivers. Applications are now being accepted for Season 7 later in October this year.
See a full list of Formula Gulf Academy Graduates HERE