DUBAI // An amiable envy is growing between the Emirati Khalid Al Qubaisi and Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal as both drivers prepare to compete in this weekend's 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race.
Al Qubaisi, driving for the awkwardly named "Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon", triumphed last year in only his second 24-hour race at Dubai Autodrome.
Al Faisal, a Red Bull ambassador and driver with the equally elongated "Saudi Falcons Team Schubert 2", has been competing in the emirate's most prestigious endurance race since its inception eight years ago and is still awaiting his first victory.
"In eight years, I have never won here before, so I am a bit jealous of Khalid, who participates one year and wins the next," Al Faisal, the 29-year-old grandson of Saudi's King Faisal, said with a smile.
"Throughout the years, we have learnt how best to prepare and every year we fix small things, so hopefully we are set up for a good race because this is the biggest event in the region that local drivers can participate in."
This weekend's event, which starts tomorrow at 2pm, will feature 82 teams from 18 countries and more than 350 drivers of almost 40 nationalities. Local knowledge of the conditions, however, has proved key in previous years and Al Qubaisi is confident of defending his crown and, as is tradition, visiting the podium atop a camel.
"You would think being from here I am used to riding camels, but I'm actually not - and those were big camels," he said of last year's experience. "It's hard to explain how I felt on the podium.
"We knew we were aiming to win, but the last few laps and taking the chequered flag, it kind of felt unreal.
"Winning the title in only my second 24-hour race was a phenomenal experience and I'm in a very fortunate position to be able to try to do it again. It's going to be tough, but we now have the experience to retain the title."
One of the key objectives of the Abu Dhabi team is to provide Emirati drivers with an opportunity to compete at motorsports highest level, yet of the eight drivers in the two Team run by the Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon, Al Qubaisi is the only national.
The remaining seats are filled by two Dutchmen, a German, an Englishman, a Swede and a driver from Luxembourg. Of the 82 teams, only seven will race under the Emirates flag, while of the 350 drivers on the provisional entry list, only five are Emirati.
"We are working to open young drivers' eyes about the range of opportunities that await them," Al Qubaisi, who will compete in a Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, said.
"I'm looking forward to nurturing our national talent in the years ahead."
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