x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

'Bittersweet' as Emirati's team fourth in 24 hours of Dubai

Khalid al Qubaisi laments what might have been if a mishap had not made quartet fall behind at the Dubai Autdrome.

The Need for Speed Schubert team’s BMW on its way to victory in Dubai yesterday.
The Need for Speed Schubert team’s BMW on its way to victory in Dubai yesterday.

DUBAI // He was the fastest of the 24 UAE-based drivers to compete in the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai and was awarded a silver vase for being in the top-placed Porsche, but Khalid al Qubaisi struggled for a smile yesterday as he left Dubai Autodrome ruing what might have been.

The Abu Dhabi driver, alongside teammates Sascha Maassen of Germany, Holland's Jeroen Bleekemolen and Sean Edwards of England, made up the ToLimit Arabia team and competed in a Porsche 911 GT3 R.

But they finished yesterday afternoon in fourth place from a field of 85 and were 11 laps behind the winners, Need for Speed Schubert BMW.

As al Qubaisi said, however, things could have been so much different had they not experienced a broken drive shaft early in the endurance race.

"This is just a small consolation," he said, directing his eyes towards the silver vase that sat in his team's trailer. "I remember when we stopped, we were in the same lap as the leaders, but as we fixed the problem we dropped 12 laps. When we finished the race, we were only 11 laps behind, which means we could have been right up there challenging."

Al Qubaisi said he was shocked to suffer a problem with the drive shaft, which rotates to transmit torque to the engine.

"It's strange because the Porsche parts are the most reliable and the mechanics were surprised, because the drive shaft is not something we would expect to have problems with during the race."

This weekend's annual endurance event in the emirate was al Qubaisi's first experience of a 24-hour race and he said, despite the frustration and disappointment of missing out on a maiden victory, he had enjoyed his debut.

"It has been a great experience," said the 34-year-old, who also races in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East and competed in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup earlier this year under the livery of Team Abu Dhabi.

"Endurance racing is very different to sprint racing; it is a lot more strategical and involves a lot more complex planning.

"We were very well prepared and came here to get a podium, but it was not to be. Looking back, just knowing that we could have won it were it not for the drive shaft problem gives you a lot of confidence and means a lot when we look to the future. To come for the first time and do so well is great, but it is bittersweet."

Saeed Khalfan, the chairman of the Autodrome, was proud to not only witness more UAE-based teams compete than ever before, but also that the likes of Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, BMW and Lamborghini all battle until the very end.

"It was incredible to see such top teams fighting for the win," he said. "I am particularly happy to see lady driver Claudia [Hurtgen] who finished second in 2010 and promised me she would be on the top step of the podium this year - and she was correct."

As Hurtgen, a member of the winning Need for Speed team, the rest of the sweating drivers and several oil-faced engineers headed towards the podium, a woman could be seen walking down the stairs carrying a bundle of feather pillows. Rest was welcome to most of these drivers.

Al Qubaisi, however, who managed just one solitary hour of sleep during the race, has little time to switch off. He is back in action on Wednesday in the GT3 Porsche Middle East Challenge Cup at Reem International Circuit in Saudi Arabia.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae