UAE’s first Le Mans driver encourages Emiratis to follow his lead
Exhausted but elated after claiming his place in the record books at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Khaled Al Qubaisi hopes his experience in the legendary endurance race can persuade more UAE drivers to follow in his footsteps.
Sponsored by Emirates Aluminium (EMAL) and supported by Abu Dhabi Racing, Al Qubaisi achieved a breakthrough for UAE motor sport in the 90th edition of the circuit racing classic as the first Emirati to tackle the event at the weekend.
Sharing the driving with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdulaziz Bin Turki AlFaisal and Italian Andrea Bertolini in a Dunlop Ferrari 458 Italia, 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.
At the end of another pulsating weekend of action at the Circuit de la Sarthe in France, 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. 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, and one of the biggest sports events in the world.
“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 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.”
Sharing the grief felt throughout motor sport 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.”