A Kurdish-backed racing team who barely missed out on the podium at this year's 24 Hours of Dubai is having to call it quits for now due to the instability in the Middle East. Economic activity in Kurdistan has come to a halt due to threats from ISIS, and thus, the team's financial support has dried up.
29-year-old driver Isaac Tutumlu was born in Spain, but wears his Kurdish ancestry with pride. He's been a proud representative for the region in international motorsport, wearing the Kurdish flag on his cars' liveries as well as on the podium. When Tutumlu's Barzani Racing Team team was formed, part of the goal was to represent Kurdistan on an international stage.
According to an interview in Erbilia, Barzani Racing Team partner Jenabe Seroke told Tutumlu, "I approve and support all kinds of promotion through sport because sports can get things done that politics and conflicts can't."
The racing driver routinely visits the region, often appearing in refugee camps to lend a hand in the face of increasing violence and instability. Tutumlu also runs a soccer management company, and has used his connections with other sports teams to gather warm clothing for displaced Kurds. He is a fierce supporter of Kurdish independence and has used his racing activities in various sportscar series to draw awareness to the region.
Kurdistan stands in sharp cultural contrast to the ultra-conservative ISIS terrorists which threaten the region. For example, most Kurds are fine with women fighting alongside men, while the ISIS militants they're fighting are afraid of being disgraced for eternity if they're killed by a woman. Tutumlu's international racing career is simply no big deal in that culture.
Unfortunately, Tutumlu posted bad news about the team last week on his Facebook page:
Sadly I have to inform you that this year the Barzani Racing Team will not continue its carreer. Due to the crisis caused by the conflict with ISIS and that the Iraqi government is not paying to Kurdistan the agreed some months ago, the companies in Kurdistan are bankrupted and so we haven't had the enough support to continue.
The economic situation in Kurdistan is terrible. Most recently, a dispute over oil exports with Iraqi capital Baghdad kept Kurdish companies from receiving money they were owed. Furthermore, there is the constant threat of ISIS, the terrorist group that has crippled the region. When people can't go about their normal activities without fear of harm, the economy goes downhill fast.
The crisis in Kurdistan meant that the sponsorship funding for the Barzani Racing Team Tutumlu ran with in international GT and endurance series dried up.
In a statement to Kurdpress, Barzani would like to express "gratitude to Kurdistan and its companies supporting me in motorsport in recent years. It is such a pity that at this stage at least we were forced to stop our racing activities. Motorsport turned into an international showcase for Kurdistan, but without financial backing this adventure can't go on."
Tutumlu hasn't lost hope. According to a Facebook update, he's testing with another team in the meantime while he tries to resurrect the Barzani Racing Team.
"I am a Silver driver according to the FIA but I proved to be as fast as Gold or Platinum drivers," Tutumlu told Kurdpress. "It has drawn to the attention of several team managers and I have much to offer in terms of driving skills. Now we need to work on these options and decide which one is the best for my career."
Barzani told Kurdpress that he has several prospects in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series. Perhaps he can continue waving the Kurdish flag on another team participating at an even higher level of motorsport.
As for the team, Tutumlu is currently seeking other means of sponsorship for the Barzani Racing Team and plans to resume racing with the team as soon as possible. From his statement on Facebook:
The Barzani Racing Team is the first and only team in the history that has represented officially Kurdistan and this year we have had the approval from different Motorsport organizations and teams to rename the team as Kurdistan Racing Team to make it more official. In the history of the team we have raced in 4 different continents more than 30 races with 5 victories and many podiums as well as winning the Iber GT and Super GT Cup Championship. This is not a good by, this is a see you very soon!
In order to put his region at the center of attention, he wants to rename the team the Kurdistan Racing Team and keep going.
Ever the promoter, Tutumlu urged companies to support the team in an interview with Erbilia:
I know that the situation nowadays is not good in Kurdistan, we are in war against ISIS, Baghdad is not paying the budget agreed, etc, but NOW is the most important moment to continue doing promotion for Kurdistan, we have to show the world that Kurdistan is safe for investors and tourists, we have to give some prosperity and happiness to our people, we have to get more international support and recognition, and the best way to do it is through sports!
With a decent recent record as well as trememdous support for his homeland in the face of terrorism, I hope they're able to find the support to reopen the team and keep going. That's part of what you do in motorsport: keep going. You don't give up and go back into the pits when the back end gets loose or you bork a corner entry much in the same way that you don't throw in the towel in the face of adversity. You keep going—and that is exactly what Isaac Tutumlu and the rest of Kurdistan as a whole hopes to do.
Photo credits: Isaac Tutumlu