x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Khalid al Tayer has no fear on water

Team Abu Dhabi's ambitious Formula 2 driver is prepared to face danger in his bid to succeed.

Seen here at the Swedish Grand Prix in Uddevalla, Khalid al Tayer, of Team Abu Dhabi, is eyeing international acclaim.
Seen here at the Swedish Grand Prix in Uddevalla, Khalid al Tayer, of Team Abu Dhabi, is eyeing international acclaim.

Some vocations are in the blood. Khalid al Tayer, the Team Abu Dhabi powerboat driver, is a case in point. "My family has raced everything - dhows, wooden, Formula 1 and Formula 2 powerboats, X-Cats and now Class 1s. I've tried them all, including jet skis and traditional sailing boats," al Tayer said, halfway through his debut Class 1 Powerboat World Championship season.

"My grandfather used to race dhows and wooden sailing boats, the old style ones. But as technology has improved, so have the boats we've raced." Al Tayer, 31, a born-and-bred racing enthusiast, was always going to follow this career path. "All my family are racers, it is in our blood. It comes from the cultural and racing traditions of the UAE," he said. "I love the sea and spend all my time there. Even when the racing season ends, I go fishing, diving and swimming with my friends. My father also fishes; my whole family shares a passion for the sea."

Having developed a taste for racing after a teenage experience on a jet-ski, al Tayer's route to Class 1 powerboats has been a gradual, albeit streamlined, process. "I started racing jet skis in 1998," he added. "I entered the world championship in 2003/04 and finished third, but I've won lots of regional events in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and elsewhere." Jet skis, he said, are a common starting point for most sea-based motorsport professionals.

"They are to powerboating what karting is to circuit racing - it is a learning ground to discover technique. "Jet skis helped me develop a strong understanding of the basics. Driving one is not easy and is extremely physically demanding in terms of fitness and concentration. You have to train every day on a jet ski and also swim, run and work out in the gym if you want to be successful." After progressing through the ranks of Formula 1 and 2 powerboats, al Tayer, from Dubai, was asked to decamp and take a berth in the capital.

"I had started with the [Dubai-based] Victory team and I tested many times in the Class 1 boat, but I was only a reserve driver," al Tayer said. "Then Abu Dhabi International Marine Club [the principal stakeholders in Team Abu Dhabi] contacted me and said 'we want you to be our main driver in Formula 2'. "At first, I didn't know what was better: a reserve in Class 1, or main driver in F2. I thought for a couple of days and eventually went with Abu Dhabi. It's better to be competing than sitting around doing nothing.

"When I heard that Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa al Nahyan [Team Abu Dhabi's financial backer] wanted to buy a Class 1 boat, well, you know." With a new Class 1 machine, al Tayer is now eyeing similar international acclaim to the fame achieved by his cousin, Saeed, the class's most successful driver of all-time with 18 career wins. "Saeed won many world titles and I too want to become world champion, maybe even this year. Why not? There are still six races, Italy, Abu Dhabi and Dubai," said the 31-year-old.

Al Tayer's meteoric rise is all the more impressive considering it is only five months since his Class 1 debut in Brazil, when he lined up in a boat that "was never going to finish the race". The upgraded version, however, has galvanised team fortunes. "When I jumped into the brand new Abu Dhabi boat in Sweden [round three] it was amazing," al Tayer said. "It was scary, but I have an excellent understanding with Giovanni Carpitella, my throttleman, and we were comfortable and relaxed from the second test.

"I feel like I am improving with every race." In a notoriously dangerous sport, al Tayer is aware of the pitfalls involved. "Once, I was practising in Abu Dhabi and the boat lifted into the air, flipped twice and smashed back, roof first, into the water," al Tayer said. "Every driver should be ready for anything and you need to focus, especially on the first turn, at the first buoy. I respect the dangers, but I am not scared."

Why would he be? Three generations of family genetics have clearly ingrained a thrill of sea-faring competition in the aqua-favouring spirit of Khaled al Tayer. emegson@thenational.ae