Record breakers! Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hubert Haupt

News | January 23, 2021

In 2020, Jeroen Bleekemolen, Hubert Haupt and Khaled Al Qubaisi, became the first three-time overall winners of the Hankook 24H DUBAI. 12 months on, Jeroen and Khaled walk us through their respective event histories and explain why, despite breaking a record, they’re not done yet…

On 11 January 2020, the record for most wins by a driver was finally broken at the Hankook 24H DUBAI when Jeroen Bleekemolen, Hubert Haupt, and the UAE’s own Khaled Al Qubaisi took their third respective victories at the event. After 12 years, 11 months and 29 days, the reign of two-time winners Philipp Peter and Dieter Quester had finally been toppled. Under, admittedly, unorthodox circumstances.

 

Following a sensational opening scramble between TEN different GT cars (“they’ve all had their Weetabix this morning!” cried a suitably enthusiastic John Hindhaugh) and a monster shunt that eliminated home town favourite GPX Racing on lap three, the 15th annual Hankook 24H DUBAI was eventually red flagged after just seven hours of running when monsoon-levels of rain left most of the Dubai Autodrome underwater. Unrelenting rain continued to pelt the paddock during the night, and with the pitlane and garages still flooded come sun-up, the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 was eventually declared the official winner of the shortest Hankook 24H DUBAI, hopefully, there will ever be.

A bizarre – even underwhelming – way to break a record, perhaps. But to Jeroen Bleekemolen, already a two-time winner and 12-year veteran of the event, the 2020 Hankook 24H DUBAI will be remembered more for the positives than the negatives…

 

“The start last year was just incredible,” Jeroen explains to CREVENTIC. “I’m still smiling talking about it now! We had a fight with maybe eight or 10 GT3 cars and there was a lot of fast guys amongst them: Maro Engel [Toksport WRT]; Christopher Mies [MS7 by WRT]; Maximilian Buhk [HTP Winward Motorsport]; you name it! And it was over an hour of flat-out racing, fighting like crazy, like it was a 30-minute sprint race. And that’s how it is in Dubai nowadays: you have to fight for every inch on-track, even in the traffic.

 

“So, yeah, this was a crazy race! We knew rain was coming, but we didn’t know it was going be that heavy. [The race director] had to red flag it. It was the right decision.

 

“We were smart on strategy. Hubert Haupt made a call to stay on slicks when it started raining, which was very tricky for him but it saved us a pit stop, so it was absolutely the right call. Then Manuel [Metzger] jumped in and picked the rain tyre, again, at absolutely the right moment. Some teams actually switched back to slicks, so twice we made the right call on strategy. And then in the end, Khaled drove to the finish, even though we didn’t know it was going to be the finish!

“Everything just ran perfectly, basically. The first stint was a good fight, and everything was going well. If it had been the full 24 hours, it would have been a tough fight until the end, but we definitely had a good shot to win.”

 

“It was a crazy race, and I feel very fortunate to have won it with Black Falcon,” 2015 and 2018 race winner Hubert Haupt also explains to CREVENTIC. “I think everyone was surprised just how heavily it rained and how bad the whole situation was with the standing water. The car is just very strong in Dubai, even in the rain. To be honest, I’d prefer to race in the dry and finish the full 24 hours, compared with the disaster we had in 2020. But you just have to take these situations as they come, and I’m very happy with the way we reacted to it.”

Despite sharing the event’s newly broken record, Jeroen and Hubert’s Dubai journeys to-date could hardly be more different. While Hubert has raced with only one team and two Mercedes sports cars since his first shot at Dubai in 2014, Jeroen already had five starts to his name with four different teams and three brands by that point, as well as two outright race wins.  

 

Fittingly, given the success that was to follow, the Dutchman’s first Hankook 24H DUBAI entry in 2008 is among his most memorable…

 

“The first race is really special to me,” Jeroen continues. “We heard about the first race [in 2006] straight away and thought it would be cool to do ‘the 24’. Dubai is a great place to go and I had just been there with A1GP and the FIA GT Championship, so I knew the [track] pretty well.

 

“So in 2008, we went with our own car” – a Bleekemolen 1 RacePanet Porsche 997 GT3 Cup – “and I ran with my brother [Sebastian], my dad [Michael], and Jan Lammers, who was the A1GP Netherlands team boss at the time. We were travelling to Australia and the 24H DUBAI was the week before, so it was perfect!

 

“We had a really strong run, no issues at all, and managed to [finish] 2nd overall. There was a lot of rain that year actually, so it was tough because we spent hours under Code 60, but it was very special to share the car with my dad and brother, and Jan too. A great bonding experience. Since then, I’ve done the event every year. It’s tough race but it’s one of my favourites.”

2009 and 2010 brought tenures aboard the H&P Incentives BMW 140 GTR, albeit briefly, as the Bimmer expired on the very first lap in 2010. Jeroen was back in the top class for 2011 though with tolimit Arabia, a former Porsche Carrera Cup Germany champion that, under its new ‘Project 1 Motorsport’ name, would go on to win the division three more times and the Porsche Supercup in 2015 before sealing the LMGTE Am Teams’ trophy in the FIA World Endurance Championship in 2018-2019.

 

As a two-time Porsche Supercup champion himself in ’08 and ’09, as well as the defending American Le Mans Series ‘GTC’ class title holder, Jeroen was in high demand in 2011. It was a conversation though with one notable Porsche Supercup rival – Khaled Al Qubaisi – that helped seal the deal. 

 

“I met Khaled when we were doing Porsche Supercup back in 2009, and we got on really well from the beginning. From 2011 onwards, I’ve always done the [Hankook] 24H DUBAI with him, so, yeah, it’s been a long run and we’ve had a lot of success! He’s done a great job too, considering he started racing late, and he’s almost at the same level as some of the PRO drivers, which is really impressive.

 

“I joined [Tolimit], with Abu Dhabi Racing as the sponsor in 2011, and the first race we did together was the 24H DUBAI that year. It was not an easy race for us. We finished 4th and we didn’t have the pace in the Porsche that year. But we had a lot of fun: it was the first big race Tolimit and it was their first 24-hour. Now they race in the [World Endurance Championship]. They’ve stepped up a lot!”

Having qualified on the front row, the Tolimit Arabia Porsche 997 GT3 R might even have won outright in 2011 had driveshaft failure at quarter-distance ultimately not dropped the German outfit back to 4th. Though disappointed, neither Khaled nor Jeroen would need to wait long for their first taste of success at the Hankook 24H DUBAI, as one year later, the pair began an eight-year relationship with the heaviest event hitter of them all: Black Falcon.

 

Entered as ‘Team German Wheels’ for the inaugural event in 2006, less than a week after being founded by Alexander Böhm, Marc Schramm and Marvin Wagner, Black Falcon GmbH & Co. KG was already a two-time class winner in the ‘A3’ and ‘SP2’ categories when the team switched focus from its BMW M3 fleet to Mercedes’ brand new SLS AMG GT3 in 2011. A decision that paid dividends when the new Merc finished 3rd first time out the blocks in Dubai.

 

One year later, the SLS annihilated the field, securing the first – and to-date, only – outright GT podium lockout for a manufacturer at the Hankook 24H DUBAI. For good measure, the 3,385km and 628 laps Khaled, Jeroen, Mercedes factory driver Thomas Jäger, and the late Sean Edwards (who’d also driven the Tolimit Porsche in 2011) covered en-route to the chequered flag remains an event benchmark to this day.

Were a dominant performance in 2012 – from 15th on the grid no less! – not cause enough for celebration, Jeroen, Khaled and Sean Edwards were on the top step once again in 2013, this time alongside endurance racing supremo Bernd Schneider, and in spite of the team’s lead SLS having been damaged beyond repair during Free Practice. That the Black Falcon team had worked throughout the night to setup its new SLS made the team’s first outright pole position at the Hankook 24H DUBAI that much sweeter.

 

“It’s always special to win a 24-hour race, and I think 2012 was my first overall win. So that was really cool, especially because it was the first I’d run with Black Falcon in Dubai. I’d already done the Nürburgring 24 Hours with them, and we really put our heads together after that.

 

“We also had Sean Edwards in the car with us for the first two wins. He was a good friend of mine, and I remember how cool it was, with Khaled and Sean, having nice family feeling. We all respected each other and just worked so well together. It was the first overall win for the SLS AMG too and that feels pretty special, looking back.

 

“2013 was also very cool. Bernd Schneider joined us – obviously a legend! – and a guy I looked up to when I was younger, racing against him in the DTM [in ’03, ’04 and in a one-off in ‘06]. So with Sean and Khaled, who were by then I would call my best friends, it was the perfect story: friends going racing with a great team. It’s still one of my best memories in racing.”

Unsurprisingly, Black Falcon, the first team since Duller Motorsport in 2006 and 2007 to win the event back-to-back, were the unopposed pre-event favourites heading into 2014. No better time for ‘90s DTM mainstay and former Daytona 24 Hours class winner Hubert Haupt to make his Dubai debut for Black Falcon alongside the two men with whom he’d make history six years later. Well, aside from one unanticipated headache…

 

“I’d only raced one time in Dubai, in the Porsche Carrera Cup Middle East, before 2014. So I knew the track, but to be honest, at that time, the biggest problem was getting used to the traffic. I’d done many, many years at the Nürburgring 24 Hours, but that was 180, or 200 cars across 20km. In Dubai we had 90 cars and a lot of touring cars across only 7km, so the first race was not just about going fast but to read the lines of the slower cars you were passing. In that first year, I lost something like four or five seconds in one lap because I just couldn’t get past the traffic.”

Despite early event jitters, and with the might of Black Falcon behind him, Hubert asserted himself quickly to Hankook 24H DUBAI competition by finishing 3rd on his event debut. One year later, and on only his second attempt – ironically aping future fellow record holder Khaled in the process – Hubert secured a dominant first win alongside Abdulaziz Al Faisal, Yelmer Buurman and Oliver Webb. Though he does admit luck still plays its part in Dubai…

 

“We always had a strong team and driver line-up. But I found in 2015 that have to be very lucky with the Code 60s: you can lose or gain a lap [under caution], either because you’re in the right place on the track or you end up waiting over a minute in re-fueling because all the pumps are full. You have to be lucky to have no damage too, no big repairs or penalties. All those things need to come together to win a race and I think we’ve found that balance really well over the years.”

Save a disastrous event for Black Falcon in 2016 – which we’ll come back to – Hubert’s six-year Hankook 24H DUBAI career thus far has been a master class in consistency: in 2018, again alongside Al Faisal and Buurman, and one-time teammate Gabriele Piana, Hubert took his second Hankook 24H DUBAI win, and on only two occasions – 2016 and 2019 – has the German failed to finish on the podium in Dubai. The secret to that consistency? Caution, not speed.

 

“Look, I’m already 51, so I’m quite experienced. You could even say I’m ‘the father’ to some of the young drivers in the team. And I’ve found you can either push a young driver or you can guide them: ‘listen, we won’t win the race if we’re the fastest car. We will only win the race if we are reliable, have no penalties and no accidents.’

 

“And that’s the first point. We’re always looking for reliable drivers – this year I’ll be deciding that with our team manager, Sean-Paul Breslin – and you have to make it clear, before the race and during the race, ‘don’t rush, don’t hurry, don’t take a risk, always take it easy. Go fast, but safe.’ Even when we have our radio communication, we always calm down our drivers and in the end, that’s the most important point. To always give the driver the feeling that he is quick and that he doesn’t have to prove something.”

Ironically, in contrast, Khaled and Jeroen’s fortunes couldn’t have taken a more abrupt u-turn after their storming wins in 2012 and 2013. After finishing 3rd in 2014, the #3 Black Falcon Mercedes was well in the hunt for victory until it was shunted by a backmarker, breaking the chassis and forcing the car’s retirement after just seven hours of running. In 2017 and 2019, miserable luck once again befell the Mercedes, a hefty whack on Saturday morning eliminating the #2 AMG-GT3 from 2nd in 2017 and suspension failure proving the team’s demise in 2019. Admittedly, Black Falcon could at least celebrate 991-class victory in 2017.

 

Though a turning point in hindsight, 2016 also proved a difficult race for Black Falcon. Despite months of development being put into the brand-new Mercedes-AMG GT3 by Mercedes, the #3 Mercedes (Hubert) suffered an oil leak and recurrent gearbox issues throughout the race, while on-track contact for the #2 AMG (Jeroen and Khaled) caused irreparable damage to the suspension and brakes after just six hours.

Ironically, Black Falcon’s sole-entered SLS AMG GT3 – actually the ’15 race winner after the team’s original SLS entrant was engulfed in flames during Free Practice – managed to pick up 2nd overall after a storming charge from the back of the field. In contrast, the team’s brand-new AMG GT3s retired nine laps apart after seven hours.

 

“In 2016, we had the new AMG GT3 for the first time,” Hubert explains, “and we were one of the first to race this car in a 24-hour race. So it was basically an [extended] test session. And we had so many issues with the car during the race: points of the chassis were just not stable enough. We had problems with the gearbox, with the shifting… so many things which were not sorted out by that time with the new car. The car is unbelievable now because Mercedes-AMG has put so much work into it, but 2016 was a tough race.”

 

2018 meanwhile was easily the cruellest near-miss yet for Jeroen and Khaled: with just three hours of the race left to run, and having already battled back into the lead after early brake problems, Luca Stolz was wiped out but the Hofor-Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 at the end of the Autodrome’s back straight, the impact all-but destroying Black Falcon’s #3 chassis. Fortunately Luca and Hofor-Racing’s Roland Eggimann both walked away unscathed. That the incident occurred so close to the end of the race though and that the benefactor was ‘the other car’ leaves a bittersweet taste to this day…

“We had just done the [Hankook 24H COTA USA] in November,” Jeroen continues, “where we were leading and then had to retire with an issue. That was hard to take, but Dubai was worse.

 

“We were dominating the event, and it was really cool because it was with Luca [Stolz], who was a good friend of mine, and I think we had Manuel Metzer in the car as well, another great guy. It was a good fight and we really thought we had it, but it shows you also need luck in Dubai, and in 2018, we just didn’t have it. Three wins is incredible, and I’m very happy and proud of that record, but looking back, we easily have been five or six.”

“2018 was quite a hard race,” Hubert jumps in. “We had several quite severe accidents during the race, and we almost lost the win because my brake discs blew up at the front, which the guys repaired in under one minute! So in the end, it was a great success for the team that we could even finish this race.

 

“But I did feel sorry for the guys in the other car. I’ve known Jeroen for over 20 years because we raced against each other in 2000, 2001 – I did the DTM, he was doing Porsche Supercup and things like that – so I know him very well. He’s experienced, reliable, and always quick. He’s a very, very good driver to have in your line-up.

 

“In Dubai, Khaled Al Qubaisi is also very good. He’s won the race three times, and that’s not easy because he doesn’t race the whole year, so it’s always going to be a bit difficult for him. But he’s experienced, he doesn’t break anything, and he has good pace in daytime on-track.”

After a seven-year dry spell for Khaled and Jeroen, and a comparatively short two-year winless ‘streak’ for Hubert, fortune finally turned for Black Falcon in 2020, as the trio, alongside Manuel Metzger and Ben Barker and still professionally clad in their racesuits, made their way to the top step of the podium for the third time in their respective careers. On 11 January 2020, after a rain-curtailed race, history had been made at the Hankook 24H DUBAI.

 

The question now is, with Black Falcon stepping down from its GT3 racing duties and Hubert setting up the Haupt Racing Team to take over Mercedes’ GT3 customer program from June 2020 onwards, how long will we have to wait before Jeroen Bleekemolen, who will make his 14th consecutive start this year, and Hubert Haupt, potentially, make history once again?

 

“I love this race. I’ve done it every year since 2008 and I just want to be back there,” Jeroen concludes. “It’s always a great way to start your racing season, and if we compete with the team – it’s now the Haupt Racing Team with basically the same people involved – and the AMG GT3, we know we always have a chance. Hopefully 2021 will be our year again but it’s one of the hardest races you can do, so it might easily take another five years!”

 

“We want to win this race, as the Haupt Racing Team,” Hubert finishes. “It’s a different situation for me in 2021 because now I own the team and am running two cars. So the first goal for me is that our team wins the race. If I’m also sitting in the winning car, I’ll be even more happy on top of that!”

-       Words – James Gent

-       Images – Petr Frýba, Tom Richardson, David Benson, Eric Teeken, and Daimler

24H DUBAI Results (Jeroen Bleekemolen)

 

2008 – 2nd

Bleekemolen 1 Race Planet

Porsche 997 GT3 Cup (#11)

 

2009 – DNF

H&P Incentives

BMW 140 GTR

 

2010 – DNF

H&P Incentives

BMW 140 GTR (#24)

 

2011 – 4th

Tolimit Arabia

Porsche 911 GT3 R (#18)

 

2012WINNER

Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#3)

 

2013WINNER

Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#1)

 

2014 – 3rd

Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2015 – DNF (collision damage)

Abu Dhabi Racing Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#3)

 

2016 – DNF (collision damage)

Abu Dhabi Racing Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2017 – DNF (collision damage)

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2018 – DNF (collision damage)

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#3)

 

2019 – DNF (suspension failure)

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#3)

 

2020WINNER

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#4)

24H DUBAI Results (Hubert Haupt)

 

2014 – 3rd

Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2015WINNER

Black Falcon

Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2016 – DNF (collision damage)

Abu Dhabi Racing Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2017 – 3rd

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#3)

 

2018WINNER

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2019 – 15th

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#2)

 

2020WINNER

Black Falcon

Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#4)

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