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Grand Prix gates opening at noon

Eugene Harnan

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ABU DHABI // The Formula One frenzy begins today when Yas Marina Circuit opens its gates to ticket holders.

The weekend of world-class racing got off to an early start last night when Lewis Hamilton drove the new McLaren MP4-C12 to its new showroom in Dubai.

This is the third Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and the first that has not sold out. Unlike last year, when the drivers' championship came down to the final race in Abu Dhabi, this season's title was decided on October 9 when Sebastian Vettel clinched the decisive points in the Japanese Grand Prix.

Yet for many fans the UAE spectacle counts at least as much as the F1 standings.

"Abu Dhabi is now one those must-see grands prix on the calendar," said Richard Douglas of the UK. The IT consultant has been to more than eight grands prix, mainly Silverstone in the UK and races at mainland European tracks.

"It looks so good on TV and it is seen as a good party race," Mr Douglas, 38, said. "Last year, everyone was glued to it because it was a winner-takes-all final race. This year, I don't mind.

"I booked it at the start of the season hoping for a finale like last year but what can you do? I will just kick back and enjoy the atmosphere."

Two new special overtaking zones were announced yesterday, and Mr Douglas is in prime position. The Drag Reduction System zones, which allow each driver to open the rear wing of his car, boosting speed and helping with overtaking, will add to the excitement of the racing.

Mr Douglas will be in the South Grandstand, which overlooks one of the two zones. It starts at turn 10 for 700 metres and continues until Turn 11, which is in front of the Marina and South grandstands.

The second activation point is in front of the North Grandstand at Turn 7, allowing drivers to overtake on the second-longest straight in F1.

"That's an added bonus. To see them go even faster and hopefully see some passing out will make the weekend for me," Mr Douglas said.

Gates open at noon today and people with three-day passes will be able to get close to the cars in the pitlane walk, which starts at 2pm. Teams will have their cars on show and fans will be able to chat with team members including some of the drivers.

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, a two-time world champion, and the 2008 runner-up Felipe Massa will be signing autographs in the F1 Village behind the Main Grandstand from 2pm to 2.20pm.

From 3pm, the seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg from Mercedes GP Petronas will sign autographs for 20 minutes.

It will not only be about the Formula One this weekend. Other races include the 2011 GP2 Final, the Porsche Mobil 1 Super Cup and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East.

Ticket-holders can also attend concerts by Britney Spears tomorrow, The Cult and Incubus on Saturday and Paul McCartney on Sunday evening.

The track will open at 9am tomorrow and Saturday, with the first practice session at 9.10am for the Porsche GT3 Challenge ME. The F1 cars will take to the 5.5km track for practice tomorrow at 1pm.

On Sunday, the track opens at 10.30am for the twilight race, the only one on the F1 calendar that starts in the daytime and finishes in the dark.

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