x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Masaood and Oryx go two hours to get to 24

Win at the two-hour Baltimore Grand Prix has Emirati driver Al Masaood thinking about 24 hours of Le Mans in 2012.

Humaid Al Masaood leads the pack in his Mazda-powered No 20 Oryx Dyson Racing Lola coupe during the Baltimore Grand Prix.
Humaid Al Masaood leads the pack in his Mazda-powered No 20 Oryx Dyson Racing Lola coupe during the Baltimore Grand Prix.

Humaid Al Masaood is targeting endurance motor racing's most prestigious event, the Le Mans 24-hour rally, after an impressive burst on to the scene during the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).

Al Masaood's UAE-based Oryx Racing team won the seventh round of the ALMS in Baltimore, Maryland, capping a remarkable rise for a team that was formed only at the end of last year.

But after a pair of third-place finishes in their first races and victory on the Baltimore street circuit, there is "no reason" why they cannot race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans next June.

"We'd like to continue going ahead and we're looking at the 24-hour Le Mans next year," Al Masaood said. "If not then, then the year after. There is no reason why we cannot do it."

The win in the two-hour race, which finished early Sunday morning UAE time, and confirmed Al Masaood's position as the highest-profile Arab in sports car racing, had still not fully sunk in, the Emirati said.

The team's Mazda-powered Lola coupe started second on the grid behind Dyson Racing, the series leaders and Oryx's partners, but a pivotal pit stop, after which partner Steven Kane took over, sealed the win.

"It was amazing, the challenge of driving on a street circuit," said the 30-year-old Al Masaood. "We've heard there were 80-90,000 people watching, so that's comparable to some Formula One. I'm feeling relieved, but even now it hasn't sunk in fully. It's all happened very quickly, there's a lot going on after a race so it'll take a little time yet."

With Oryx third in the standings, despite not taking part in the first two races of the series, two races remain. Both present a stern challenge.

"The next races, at the Laguna Seca [in Monterey, California] and then Road Atlanta, are two big ones of six and 10 hours," Al Masaood said. "In Atlanta there will be European teams flying in, so it will be a big challenge. Our car may not be as fast as some others, but that is not the most important thing."

Irrespective of the result of those events, Al Masaood is happy with the team's gains.

"We had some mishaps in the last two races, but to win here and with [the other] podium finishes, we've done much better than we thought," he said. "We're trying to develop a name, to generate sponsorship opportunities and position ourselves at the highest level of racing."

Al Masaood started his racing career with GulfSport competing in the 2008/09 UAE Radical Championship.

But it was after impressive performances in the Dubai 24-hour race in January, where he met Kane, and a third-place finish at the Paul Ricard circuit in France at the Speed EuroSeries, that led to participation in ALMS.

"It has been a lifelong thing for me," he said.

"It's not always been the right situation and the timing has not been right. I haven't gone the conventional route of junior driver or karting. But this is the way I have done it, and hopefully I can get ahead. I'm very proud of what it means for the UAE.

"It's a big day and hopefully more and more people will get involved in the scene now."

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae