x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Humaid Al Masaood's test of endurance

Humaid Al Masaood will face his most difficult challenge this weekend as the American Le Mans Series heads to the legendary Laguna Seca track in Monterey, California for the penultimate race of the season.

Humaid Al Masaood relaxing in Abu Dhabi earlier this week at the Yas Links golf club. He and the rest of his Oryx Racing team will be competing at the Laguna Seca track in California this weekend.
Humaid Al Masaood relaxing in Abu Dhabi earlier this week at the Yas Links golf club. He and the rest of his Oryx Racing team will be competing at the Laguna Seca track in California this weekend.

ABU DHABI // Humaid Al Masaood will face his most difficult challenge this weekend as the American Le Mans Series heads to the legendary Laguna Seca track in Monterey, California for the penultimate race of the season.

Al Masaood and his Oryx Racing team have impressed in their debut season on the circuit, grabbing two podium finishes in their first two races and winning the most recent race in Baltimore two weeks ago.

But the next two races - the last of the series - at Monterey on Saturday and the Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta on October 1, will be the toughest, if only for their duration. Monterey is six hours and Road Atlanta 10.

"They are longer but we'll approach them like we do all of them," Al Masaood said. "The pit stops will be more important, the strategy will be more important. When do you pit stop? When do you change tyres, when do you do driver changes?

"We're going to go through strategy when we get to the track. We'll sit down with the engineer and discuss what we're going to be doing."

Al Masaood, who has been driving this season with Steven Kane, was in Abu Dhabi last week, and he believes the break will revitalise his challenge.

"When you get to the track, you get back into it and everything comes together," he said. "You forget about what has happened and focus on what's ahead. If you over analyse ... you'll have problems.

"You want to go there feeling fresh, well rested."

One of the factors in the Baltimore victory was that the street circuit was brand new, unseen by any of the drivers.

The Laguna Seca and Road Atlanta, on the other hand, are series regulars and most drivers - unlike Al Masaood - have raced on them before.

The unfamiliarity can, however, be overcome.

"You do everything you need to, the track walk the day before, study it, watch videos," Al Masaood said.

"You can even play the tracks on Xbox and PlayStation. A lot of them are mapped identically in the games to real life, up to 99.9 per cent accurate, even to the point of bumps."

But the duration will take a toll.

"You have to stay physically fit but you also have to be mentally on," Al Masaood said.

"You get used to it. It goes quickly when you're racing well. Suddenly you'll see you've been in for two hours. But it is physically difficult.

"With the cars we drive, with the downforce, they are physically very demanding especially at corners because with the G-force you feel it.

"My neck was sore after one race and after Baltimore, my legs were. It felt like I'd been running. But the more time you spend in a car, the more you learn to relax."

Although it will be difficult because they missed the first two races of the nine-race series, there is an outside chance the team can finish in the top two and getting invited to the Le Mans 24 hour, one of motorsport's most celebrated endurance races.

Al Masaood insists they will not be disappointed if they do not participate in it next year.

"For an invitation we're going to have difficulty," he said.

"We missed the first two races so we're not contending for the championship. That's virtually impossible.

"We took this year as training to prepare for a full season next year and then to look at the Le Mans 24 hours.

"That is a goal but whether it comes next year or not, we have to see how things work out over the winter."

osamiuddin@thenational.ae