But not until this month has there been one dedicated to a sports car manufacturer. The iconic Ferrari brand is first off the grid.
With a 200,000-square-meter (2.1-million-sq. feet) roof painted Ferrari red and a roller coaster that will be the world’s fastest at 240 kph (149 mph), Ferrari World is aiming to woo Formula One fans and their amusement park-loving families when it opens Oct. 27.
It will be just down the road from the Yas Marina Circuit which hosts the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November in the United Arab Emirates capital.
The park will also feature a tower ride that shoots riders 62 meters (203 feet) in the air with G-forces that a race driver might feel, the largest collection of classic and modern Ferrari race cars outside of the company’s Maranello, Italy, headquarters as well as an Italian restaurant inspired by Mamma Rossella, which is a favorite haunt of Ferrari drivers when they are in Italy.
Visitors can stroll through a Ferrari paddock, handle tools used during races and train to be part of a pit crew which changes the tires on an F1 car.
“It brings motor racing. It brings together beautiful GT cars. It brings nostalgia,” said Andy Keeling, the park manager of Ferrari World.
“Let’s also not forget it is a great, fun place to go. It’s not a museum. It’s not a car salesroom. You ride great roller coasters. The icing on the cake is that it’s a Ferrari Formula One roller coaster.”
The decision by Ferrari to launch its first theme park in the Middle East in many ways shows how important the region is to the future of motor sports.
The Gulf already boasts F1 races in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, and Qatar is reportedly wanting to host a third.
Drag racing is taking off and desert rallies fill the racing calendar from Jordan to Saudi Arabia.
The growing popularity of F1 in the oil-rich Middle East can be credited to Gulf Arabs’ love of speed and their taste for luxury brands.
And with some of the highest per capita incomes in the world, Gulf fans offer plenty of enticements for a sport that has seen its fortunes suffer during the recent economic downturn with car manufacturers including Honda pulling out of the sport and several advertisers ending their sponsorship deals.
“The locals are very interested in cars, fast cars. You can see that when you drive around,” said Khaled al Qubaisi, of the United Arab Emirates, who is the only Middle Eastern driver competing in the lower-level Porsche Supercup Series.
“That is something within us going fast and outperforming in whatever we ride whether it be the horses or cars,” he said.
“If people are interested in cars, they are interested in car racing. If you give them the right product in motor sport, they will naturally be attracted and follow it.”
Racing has always been part of Arab culture. Tribesmen have raced camels and horses for centuries and Dubai hosts the world’s richest horse race in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
This passion for head-to-head competition has since morphed into the four-wheel variety with the introduction of road rallies in the 1970s that picked up steam with the Middle East Rally Championship in 1984.
With the arrival of Dubai Autodrome racing circuit in 2004, the interest in motor sports has exploded.
The Automobile and Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates says the numbers of racing licenses has jumped from 200 to 800 in the past five years and Gulf Arabs are increasingly flexing their muscle on and off the track.
Sheik Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, the son of the emir of Qatar, has invested $7 million in a new team that competes on the National Hot Rod Association drag racing circuit in the United States and an Abu Dhabi government-backed entity entered one of its top fuel dragsters in four NHRA races this year.
Sheik Khalid Al Qassimi of the United Arab Emirates is a rising star in the World Rally Championship while Qatar’s Nasser al-Attiyah finished second in this year’s Dakar Rally.
The Abu Dhabi circuit has also set up a drag-racing run aimed at developing Emiratis to compete at the sport’s top levels and plans to open a racing academy with the goal of putting an Emirati driver behind the wheel of an F1 car in the next decade.
“That is very achievable,” said Richard Cregan, the chief executive officer for Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management, which runs the Yas Marina Circuit, of an Emirati driver in F1.
“It’s a matter of providing opportunities for Emiratis to race and they will do so.” Among the F1 teams, Ferrari has been most aggressive in tapping into the popularity of racing in the region.
It opened a store at Abu Dhabi in 2007 selling Ferrari merchandise and last year unveiled its largest outlet in Dubai complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring former F1 driver Kimi Raikkonen and Ferrari reserve driver Giancarlo Fisichella.
On weekends, its huge store in Dubai is packed with conservatively dressed Emiratis shopping for everything from golf balls to perfume to children’s bikes – many painted Ferrari red and featuring the company’s prancing horse.
“I like F1. The race is like holding your breath,” said Asma al-Hammadi, who estimated she came to the Dubai store three or four times a month and spent 15,000 dirhams ($4,083) on tickets to an F1 race in Bahrain as a surprise gift to her husband.
Ferrari World is the company’s most ambitious effort yet in the region. At 80,000 square meters (861,120 sq. feet), it will be the world’s biggest indoor theme park and the first theme park in the Middle East with 20 Ferrari-inspired attractions, according to general manager Claus Frimand.
The roller coaster tracks are all that can be seen so far since they snake outside the air conditioned park.
And although entertainment is its main driving force, Ferrari’s head of new business, Michele Pignatti Morano, said in a statement that the park also should be seen as a “tribute to the passion, excellence, performance, technical innovation that Ferrari has established over the years and represents today.”
Frimand agreed, saying the park offered Ferrari a unique platform to share its storied, 81-year history and attract a legion of new fans.
“We are the ultimate brand experience for Ferrari,” Frimand said. “We tell the whole story of all the Ferrari victories over time and why it’s the biggest of the race teams.”-AP