x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Khalid Al Qubaisi and Team Abu Dhabi run like clockwork to win in Dubai

The Emirati earned his second consecutive victory at Dubai Autodrome as Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon overcome adversity to hold off AF Corse SRL 2 and Craft Racing AMR.

As the race roared on the drivers went from chasing the sun to chasing the moon in the twice around the clock event at Dubai Autodrome.
As the race roared on the drivers went from chasing the sun to chasing the moon in the twice around the clock event at Dubai Autodrome.

DUBAI // Overcome with emotion, Khalid Al Qubaisi celebrated his second successive victory at the 24 Hours of Dubai from the clinical confines of Dubai Autodrome's medical centre after being admitted Saturday with heart palpitations immediately following the podium ceremony.

The Emirati - stood stationary, shaking and wrapped in his country's flag for the UAE national anthem - appeared overwhelmed by the occasion.

With a hand covering his face, the 37 year old remained separate from Sean Edwards, Bernd Schneider and Jeroen Bleekemolen - his three Abu Dhabi by Black Falcons teammates - as they were each presented with glinting gold trophies.

Al Qubaisi later told The National emotions were running high courtesy of the adversity his team had faced throughout the weekend after a crash during Wednesday's free practice.

"It was very tough for us," he said, after steering his Mercedes over the line ahead of AF Corse's Ferrari and Craft Racing's Aston Martin.

"We lost it on the first day - it seemed to have just disappeared. I saw it disappearing in front of me. But one hour later, I said 'I cant, I can't let it disappear. We have to find a way.' And we did."

With the Mercedes a write-off, Al Qubaisi and his team put down a six-figure outlay to purchase a spare car from the British Preci Spark outfit and the Black Falcons' mechanics quickly set about converting it to endurance racing specifications.

"We got the car and the team did a miracle on it," the Emirati said. "They worked on it throughout the night, until the last minute for qualifying and we then put it on pole. But one minute before the race was due to start, we were still working on it - we didn't even bed in the brakes or discs; we didn't have time to do anything, we had to do it all during the first few laps."

The race started under a dark grey firmament as Dunlop, the tyre suppliers, thanked the stars that would later appear that they had decided a percentage of the 7,000 tyres they brought from company headquarters were wet specification.

The weather, however, improved and the wets went unused throughout the night while drivers took three-hour shifts of sleep - some seeking slumber on their garage floor, while others enjoyed the luxury of a hospitality tent.

James Milligan, the physio of Formula One driver Bruno Senna, went without sleep as he helped drivers from GT Academy Team RJN endure the evening.

Senna, who has a strong relationship with the UAE after completing the first official lap of Yas Marina Circuit in 2009, is in Brazil competing in a karting competition.

"This is real racing," Milligan said. "The field is a mixture of professional and amateur, so it's a lot of fun, but you obviously have to be aware of the varying levels of driver. I've had a great time - but I need to get some sleep soon."

By 2pm yesterday, as Milligan's rest neared and Al Qubaisi and Co grabbed the chequered flag, a beautiful blue sky and rising temperatures greeted those in attendance.

As family, friends and race enthusiasts - including John Button, father of former F1 champion Jenson - relaxed in the sun and mothers pushing baby-strollers sought shade in the team garages, one driver from each of the three top teams were brought to the podium atop camels.

Lorenzo Carvalho, a Brazilian driver with Italian team Corse, said the idea of approaching a podium by way of the Middle East's most famous mammal was "a radical experience".

"The car is less dangerous," he joked, after the camel had initially refused to sit. "When you are about to go down, the guy told me to hold on, but the camel was stubborn."

Al Qubaisi looked uncomfortable atop his animal, however such a sight initially appeared insignificant as the Emirati had conceded earlier in the week he has little experience of his country's famed water-carrier.

However, having alighted and joined his teammates upon the podium, the Abu Dhabi-based driver still looked overwhelmed.

When the awards ceremony was finished, Al Qubaisi was requested to accompany staff to the circuit's medical centre, where they measured his heart rate and ran him through a series of basic tests.

"I don't even remember being on the podium," he said an hour after the race finished. "It was really emotional for me. I have never felt like this in my life. I can't explain it; I can barely find the words even now. They took me to the medical centre, but I just needed 30 minutes to myself."

Al Qubaisi was not the only Emirati to stand on the podium yesterday.

Saeed Al Mehairi of Lap57 Racing Team, finished second in the A2 category. The Emirati said adrenalin was keeping him awake as he posed proudly for photos with Ali Fardan Al Fardan, chairman of the Autodrome.

"It was an amazing race," Al Mehairi said. "Last year, we finished second and this year we won and it is my first time to finish first at the Autodrome. It's difficult for me to describe.

"I am so tired, but I don't even really feel all that tired. I am sure when I go home though, I will be dead."

As the celebrations began to die down and the crowds thinned, participants of the 82 teams made their way - with bags under their eyes and heavier ones slung over their shoulders or rolling behind them on wheels - through the paddock for the final time. The sun was yet to set, but bed time beckoned.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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