Neil Vorano chats with Humaid Al Masaood during a brief pit stop on the racing circuit while his Audi R8 undergoes extensive upgrades.
Life in the fast lane is a comfortable pace for Emirati racer
For Humaid Al Masaood, the term "slowing down" means something a little different than it does to most people.
The 31-year-old Emirati, deputy chairman of the Al Masaood Group business conglomerate in Abu Dhabi, has had his foot firmly planted on the throttle this year, both literally and figuratively. Besides helping to run the family business here in the UAE, he also owns and drives in his own race team, Oryx Racing, in the Rolex Grand Am series in the US, which can make for a busy balancing act during the summer.
"When I go racing, it depends on the schedule," says Masaood, who is currently back in Abu Dhabi. "If I have a weekend there, I'll fly back after the race. If there are two weekend races back-to-back, I'll stay. But I have a home in Tampa, Florida, so I can stay there and have my family with me. So yes, it's busy, but you just have to plan it out. And I'm so used to flying, there are so many flights and it's pretty convenient."
But lately, Masaood has had a bit of time to himself; relatively, at least. After two races earlier this year his Audi R8, which is new to the series, was found to need extensive work to be competitive, and Masaood thought it best to skip a few races until the work was done. Originally the R8 was an all-wheel-drive platform but the Grand Am rules state that it must be rear-wheel drive, which changes the balance and driving dynamics. "It's the first year where the car has been allowed into Grand Am; obviously, Audi has built the car to American regulations and, when that happens, there are always teething problems. Sometimes the car could be way too fast, sometimes it would need some help to be competitive. When you come in with a new car, it makes life a little difficult."
But it's a difficulty Masaood was perfectly aware could happen when he formed his new team this year. Last year, he raced in the American Le Mans Series with Dyson Racing, driving a Mazda prototype car and even winning a race in Baltimore. But with that experience, he preferred to go independently with his own team and entered the Grand Am sports car series. "From a driver's standpoint, it's more competitive, with more cars on the grid. But from an operations standpoint, it wouldn't be as intense as with a prototype car. We wanted something where we could get in and maybe was more simple to operate and run but still have a high level of racing. And since I hadn't done it, I figured it would be a good starting point."
He first got behind the wheel of a race car at the Yas Marina Circuit four years ago and fell in love with sports car racing, eschewing the hype of Formula One and open-wheel cars that the region is infatuated with. But with his new team, Masaood has reached a level of success with international racing that is still often overshadowed by the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. "The Formula One race is an amazing event and it puts Abu Dhabi on the map. It accomplishes those goals of building a reputation for Abu Dhabi. But, as a motorsport fan, I would like to see other forms of motorsport come to the UAE. There's a lot of motorsport out there, at very high levels.
"But motorsport is very new here. It's culturally there in the US, as well as Europe. Hopefully, it's not a sign of 'that's how it is', hopefully, it's a sign of 'early days'."
Masaood expects his R8 to be finished in a few weeks, when he'll travel back to the US for testing and where he expects to race at Indianapolis at the end of July. He talks about plans to eventually race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and the possibilities of driving in other series alongside the Grand Am circuit. Clearly, Masaood is a man who is comfortable being in the fast lane.
"When you enjoy doing something, it really takes the effort out of it. When you love what you do, it's not so much hard work."