x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Motorsport: Khaled Al Qubaisi takes one giant step for Emirati drivers

After his breakthrough in France last weekend at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Emirati Khaled Al Qubaisi has set the bar high for UAE endurance drivers.

Khaled Al Qubaisi became the first Emirati to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and he hopes more UAE drivers will follow. Stephane Mahe / Reuters
Khaled Al Qubaisi became the first Emirati to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and he hopes more UAE drivers will follow. Stephane Mahe / Reuters

Khaled Al Qubaisi hopes his experience at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, can persuade more UAE drivers to follow in his footsteps.

Al Qubaisi achieved a breakthrough for UAE motorsport this past weekend in the 90th edition of the legendary endurance race as the first Emirati to tackle the event.

Sharing the driving with Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal and Italian Andrea Bertolini in the Dunlop Ferrari 458 Italia, which was sponsored by Emirates Aluminium (EMAL) and supported by Abu Dhabi Racing, Al Qubaisi helped guide the JMW Motorsport team to 10th place in the GTE Pro class for cars adapted from production models, and 35th position overall.

Reflecting on an exhausting weekend, the UAE driver said: "I just can't sum up my feelings easily. I was fine during the race, but at the end it hit me just how tired I am and how big an event this is.

"You have to give so much respect to the track, and the race itself. You just can't come to Le Mans and expect to do well. The guys who won overall have been coming here since 2003, they're backed by a factory team, and they showed how much dedication you need at Le Mans.

"You have to keep coming back each year and keep on learning, and that's what I want to do."

Al Qubaisi his achievement can pave the way for future Emirati endurance racers.

"Obviously, I'm proud to be the first UAE driver to compete here, to be representing my country in one of the biggest events in motor racing," he said.

"I'm sure a lot more people in the UAE have heard about Le Mans now. It was a dream for me to compete here, and so maybe some who followed me over the last few days will now believe it can happen to them."

Al Qubaisi, who spent seven hours behind the wheel of the Dunlop Ferrari, added: "It's such a tough race and such a tough track – very long, very narrow with difficult corners, and prototypes whizzing past, so you have to be aware of where they are all the time.

"Towards the end of my last stint, I was really getting into my rhythm, fighting with the other cars, keeping close to them, and starting to feel comfortable with the pace.

"The worse moment was at the beginning of our second stint when I heard Abdulaziz saying on the radio 'I lost it'. For a moment I thought our race was finished, but then I realised he had just got stuck in the gravel, and the race wasn't over for us."

The weekend's race was overshadowed by the death of Allan Simonsen when his Aston Martin spun off the track into a safety barrier on the fourth lap, Al Qubaisi revealed that he had been inspired by the Danish driver.

"I didn't know him, but before coming to Le Mans I was on the internet and saw some YouTube onboard footage of him racing here in 2011," he said. "Watching that helped me a lot in trying to understand the track and how to take the corners. During the race I remembered him, and when I went into the corners I found myself doing the same and taking the lines he took."

Looking ahead Al Qubaisi said: "I'd love to come back to Le Mans, again and again. Hopefully I'll do that, and one day I'll win a category. But it will take a lot of preparation."

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