The UAE’s Khaled Al Qubaisi produced a tenacious drive to keep Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon on course for a third successive victory in the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai on Friday.
Sheikh Juma Bin Maktoum Al Maktoum waved the UAE flag at 2:00 pm on Friday at Dubai Autodrome to flag off the 80 car field competing in the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai, shortly after the entire grid stood for a minute of silence for race winner Sean Edwards, Allan Simonsen, ‘Wolf Silvester’, former class winner Stéphane Wintenberger and engineer Michael ‘Custhy’ Tallantire - all who passed away last year.
The ninth edition of the event, which takes place on January 10 and 11 at Dubai Autodrome, is held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council.
With a frenetic first 63 laps of Dubai Autodrome completed, Al Qubaisi held the lead in the team’s Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 from Gianmaria Bruni in the Ferrari 458 Italia of the Swiss-based Spirit of Race 1 team.
Starting second on the grid behind pole position winner Nicky Pastorelli in the Chevrolet Corvette C6-R of Dutch-based V8 Racing, Jeroen Bleekemolen produced the perfect start as he powered the Abu Dhabi Racing-sponsored Mercedes into an immediate lead.
That lead changed hands several times over the next hour before Bleekemolen handed over to Al Qubaisi who emerged from the pits to find himself under immediate pressure from a cluster of challengers, and Bruni ahead of him.
The UAE driver’s response was impressive as he quickly recaptured the lead, losing it briefly to Bruni before finding a way past the Italian again to keep Abu Dhabi Racing on track for another big victory following last month’s brilliant win in the Gulf 12 Hours at Yas Marina Circuit.
“It’s a long race and you need to make sure you manage the pit stops and do the driver changes quickly because that’s where you can gain or lose time,” said Al Qubaisi just before the start. “We’re here to win, we’re the clear favourites and we have to stay out of trouble and avoid having too much bad luck.”
Al Qubaisi hopes his performances can inspire the next generation of young Emirati drivers, and in particular the first batch of five enrolled in the Daman Speed Academy which he initiated for Abu Dhabi Racing last year in partnership with the National Health Insurance Company.
The five, including his 13 year-old daughter Amna who was at the race Friday, are following an eight-month training programme based at Yas Marina Circuit and will contest next weekend’s two rounds of the UAE Rotax Max Challenge, the national karting championship, in Dubai.
“When they see someone like me winning it can inspire them because they then know it can be done,” said Al Qubaisi. “I’m here to show them the way. All I need from them is commitment.”
The UAE based teams, all intent on podium finishes in their home race, were all ruuning well in first few hours. Both Dragon Racing Ferraris were featuring strongly in the A6 Pro-Am Class, with the pair in the top six.
The Memac Ogilvy Duel Racing Seat set the early pace by leading in the A3T Class, while the Lap57 Honda led proceedings in the A2 Class, with the SVDP Racing BMW battling it out in the top three in the D1 Class.
Dubai Autodrome Chairman Ali Al Fardan said: "This race has grown from strength to strength over the years and this year it is the best I have witnessed, with great drivers, very professional teams, local interest in the UAE competitors and most of all the atmosphere has been superb thanks to the combined efforts of the Dubai Shopping Festival, Dubai Sports Council and the Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing."
The race comes to an end on Saturday at 2:00 pm.
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