x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

For UAE GT champion, the circuit is his road, and the car is a Corvette

My Car Karim al Azhari says he's still finding the limits of his 2009 Callaway Corvette GT3 race car.

Karim al Azhari has fine-tuned his racing around the world and is currently the four-time champion of the UAE GT Championship series. Siddharth Siva / The National
Karim al Azhari has fine-tuned his racing around the world and is currently the four-time champion of the UAE GT Championship series. Siddharth Siva / The National

Karim al Azhari isn't your average UAE driver. And for that matter, neither is his car your normal runabout.

Al Azhari is the current UAE GT champion, and has been for the past four years. What gets him around the tracks and usually into first place is his 2009 Callaway Corvette GT3.

"This car has been constantly impressing me with its incredibly high levels of balance around all types of corners that we are faced with on the circuits, along with amazing stability under extreme braking," says al Azhari of the US-designed sports car that he races for House of Portier & TAM Auto Engineering in the UAE GT Championship series.

"I still get excited every time I take it out for a test session or race weekend. I push myself to explore its limits despite being convinced I must have reached them at some point before.

"It still manages to award my efforts of that extra edge I ask for, and of constantly improved lap times," he says.

The GT3 Corvette that al Azhari drives was modified by Callaway in Germany in 2009, and was immediately flown to the UAE to House of Portier & TAM Auto Engineering to kick-start its racing journey.

The custom-built racing car comes with an V8 engine and light carbon fibre doors and roof panel. It is also equipped with a state-of-the-art safety system that includes a fully plumbed fire-extinguishing system and a full safety cage.

Al Azhari was named the Gulf Radical Cup Champion for two years before he followed it with a four UAE GT championship titles. But the UAE hasn't been his only playground and classroom for racing.

"After fine-tuning my skills in Formula BMW in Europe, I was a contracted driver for Porsche Dubai during the years of 2005 to 2009, and I won every championship we entered, the last one being in a Porsche 911 GT2," he says.

He was then contracted by House of Portier & TAM Auto Engineering to join them in their maiden entry into the UAE GT Championship in 2009, and to whom he brought their first championship title.

Al Azhari's journey in professional race car driving got started when he was just 12 years old. He developed his driving skills in baby steps taught by various teachers along the way.

"My father was the first one who taught me how to drive. He was followed by my brother, all the way up to data engineers from Formula BMW, as well as all the teams I have raced with over the years," says al Azhari.

Growing up in Sharjah's Al Khan Street, al Azhari, a current resident of Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, remembers his childhood driving adventures and how they somehow shaped his current driving skills.

"I remember every night asking my mother to sit next to me in her Mercedes while I pretended our neighbourhood streets of Al Khan in Sharjah were a race track.

"I still wonder how she put up with me, but all those hours everyday experimenting with big cars have been good to adjust my natural skills," he jokes.

Al Azhari's passion for sports car racing gave him the qualities he needs as a racer to pursue his dream in as many ways as possible.

"I stayed close to my passion and developed into a Porsche instructor, a senior instructor at the Dubai Autodrome in 2005, and eventually, an instructor at Yas in 2010.

"When I am done racing in the UAE season, which is typically October to April, I go to race with different teams in Europe to continue challenging myself with higher levels of racing at every opportunity," al Azhari adds.

Though a German national, the 37-year-old al Azhari has lived most of his life in the UAE, roaming between Dubai and Sharjah.

Having studied for seven years in the US (every summer of which he spent in Europe racing), al Azhari tried almost every kind of driving, both on the track and on public roads.

"In the US, roads there are very relaxed and cars are mostly huge SUVs and trucks. Driving skills are average to a large scale, while as in Europe, the roads are a bit more challenging with the changing topography and mixed weather.

"When it comes to the UAE, roads are wide and flat and the weather is consistent and dry. Personal cars are luxurious and relatively new, and despite an incredible variety in nationalities that share the roads, the driving standards are acceptable across the range," al Azhari says.

"I have been observing that the RTA is doing a great job and is constantly improving our roads and traffic in our fast-developing country," he adds.