If you thought GP Extreme was ‘just’ a showroom for Formula 1 memorabilia…well, okay, you’d be partially right. It’s what lies behind the showroom though that’s peaked our interest…
Where possible, and especially in polite company, I do my best to keep my inner motorsport nerd tightly leashed. Primarily because, when I don’t, I usually receive a tap on the arm from my better half, a knowing look, and a gentle “sweetheart, you’re boring everyone.”
On this occasion though, I can’t help myself. I’m perfectly happy – nay, ready – to bore those around me to tears with ‘interesting’ facts, because in front of me, on pride of place in GP Extreme ’s main headquarters in Dubai, stands a Caterham CT03 Formula 1 car. More specifically, chassis 06 used by French driver Charles Pic following his switch from Marussia for the 2013 season, and in which he raced 19 times, hence the well-grooved Pirelli slicks. Of course, given that the Caterham F1 Team – previously Team Lotus – were perpetual minnows during their three-year F1 tenure, Pic’s season highlights were a couple of 14th places in Malaysia and Korea during a point-less season for the team. Oh, and you can ignore the ‘K. Kobayashi’ name written across the driver headrest, as chassis 06 was actually converted to a show car at the end of 2013, the removal of the Renault turbo V6 and a 2014 livery the most visually striking modifications.
Like I say. Motorsport nerd. And I’ve only just started.
For starters, the Caterham CT03 is not even the first full-sized F1 car GP Extreme ’s Middle East showroom has showcased. Upon its official opening in Dubai just over a year ago – which former Le Mans winner Stefan Johansson officiated – a Ferrari 126 C2 from 1982 was flown across from GP Extreme ’s sister facility in France. Since then the showroom has also displayed an F1 Marussia MR02 from 2013, the plan being to cycle its ‘halo display’ once every six weeks. Given that there’s already 20 Grand Prix cars in GP extreme ’s 35-strong collection from five different decades, they’ll have plenty to choose from.
Clearly my barely contained enthusiasm – and the 20 minutes I’ve already spent circling the display like an attention-starved Jack Russell – is amusing Stéphane Clain, GP Extreme ’s main man in Dubai. And while my loitering would have alerted security teams in most showrooms, it’s exactly the enthusiasm Stéphane is looking for from his patrons.
“Our original target was to further develop interest in motorsport in the Middle East, and bring the spirit and passion of motor racing to casual fans,” he explains, a heavy accent betraying his French background. “But our goal has grown from there. We’re all fans, and I won’t say it’s a hobby to work here, but it’s something that I really enjoy doing. We want the people who visit us to be inspired by that.”
Planning and preparation for the showroom’s opening last year has been four years in the making, Middle East paperwork and bureaucracy only one – albeit the most maddening – part of the operation. The collection around us for instance is up to 2000 items strong, and there’s barely half of it on display as we talk. And, give or take a few replica pieces here and there, it’s all the real McCoy.
On the wall over Stéphane’s shoulder hang two race suits, one used by Giancarlo Fisichella at Renault in 2006, the other by Jean Alesi while he was at Prost in 2001. Draped nearby, waiting to be suitably displayed, is the bespoke ‘Dragon’ racesuit worn by Jenson Button during the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix. On the walls nearby are high-res prints of an ‘exploding’ Porsche 956 and Ford GT by acclaimed artist Fabian Oefner. Mounted on the ceiling(!) is the engine cover from a 1997 Prost JS45, and on the main counter leading into the showroom itself sit three full-scale helmets from Lewis Hamilton, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, the latter of which is signed and was designed for the championship-winning 2005 season. All of which, save the odd item here and there, are for sale. Not that you’d realise it, given the distinct lack of price tags.
“This was a very deliberate decision we made,” Stéphane continues. “We didn’t want GP Extreme to feel like a store. We want our customers to come in and relax, and to help us forge, maybe not a relationship, but certainly what makes them fans. We want to create a comfortable atmosphere that will encourage people to come back and see us, and maybe watch a race in our lounge area.”
The collection is quite incredible, and yet even this is not the crown jewel of GP Extreme ’s Dubai showroom…
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