INTERVIEW. Kuwait Motor Town’s Mohammed Al-AbdalRazzaq 

News | November 25, 2022

This weekend, Kuwait Motor Town hosts the 24H SERIES for the very first time. And having spoken with CREVENTIC earlier this year in Barcelona, general manager Mohammad Al-AbdalRazzaq is very confident the inaugural Hankook 12H KUWAIT will be an impactful addition to the calendar.


Words – James Gent

Images – Petr Frýba and Kuwait Motor Town

Qualifying for this year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA hasn’t even begun yet, but Mohammad Al-AbdalRazzaq has already had a busy weekend in Catalunya. This morning, the Kuwait Motor Town general manager was meeting with CREVENTIC’s logistics crew and its scrutineers before starting a methodical walk down Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya’s pitlane to meet the 40-plus teams competing at the European season finale. All to get himself further up to speed with how the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook operates. 


Indeed, after our chat in the CREVENTIC Endurance Lounge, Mohammad immediately heads off to speak with the circuit’s management for some further pointers before he can settle in to watch the action on-track.


It’s a heavy workload, but then that’s not too surprising. On 1-2 December after all, Kuwait Motor Town becomes only the 23rd venue to host an official round of the 24H SERIES, joining luminaries like Barcelona, the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, among others, in the process. Not only that, but the inaugural Hankook 12H KUWAIT will be the first international, GT-based motor race ever to be held at KMT. In short, this year’s 24H SERIES season finale is quite possibly the biggest and, to-date, one of the more significant events with which KMT has been involved.


Sitting opposite CREVENTIC though in a scorching Barcelona paddock, Mohammad doesn’t appear too concerned. Far from it. In fact, he’s revelling the challenge that awaits him.

“Everything is a challenge!” Mohammad explains, beaming an enigmatic smile as he does so. “I mean, do we just sit back and not challenge ourselves?! My experience of going all over the world, to all different circuits, brings in a lot of input for what we try to do at Kuwait Motor Town. We’re still a young team, but that means we can adapt to a certain way of doing things very quickly, and that’s why we relish opportunities like this.


“The main objective of this weekend [in Barcelona] was to bring in our team and put faces to names. So when CREVENTIC comes to Kuwait, it will be seamless for both parties.”


Hard work is nothing new to Mohammad, in fairness. Starting as the assistant clerk of the course when Kuwait Motor Town first opened in 2019 (for a while, he was the only Kuwaiti national to hold such a licence), he has since worked his way up to general manager, inspired by a long-held passion for motorsport itself.


“I’ve always been involved in motorsports,” Mohammad continues. “As soon as I graduated, instead of going to work in an office – I have a degree in finance and management! – we took up some private land in Kuwait and I started my own drifting academy. Before that I did a bit of karting here and there – endurance karting in particular is very popular back home with the Sodi karts – and I also had my first race at [KMT] in 2020 as part of a BMW 240i, one-make series. Unfortunately Covid happened, so I couldn’t continue that, but by then, I was also the assistant circuit manager. From there I worked my way up to becoming head clerk of the course and then general manager of KMT. So I’ve been very fortunate, being able to do what I love!”


Like we say. Relishing the challenge! But what of Kuwait Motor Town itself?

Based in Arifjan, 52km south of the Kuwait City capital but just a stone’s throw from the coastal Al Hilaliya Chalet Resort, KMT became the state’s first permanent motorsport facility when construction finished in December 2018. Seven different course configurations – 20,000-plus metres of asphalt if you were to run them sequentially, not counting the off-road courses – can cater to nine different motorsport disciplines, including circuit racing, go-karting, rallycross, and features one of only three NHRA-certified ‘Worldwide’ drag strips outside of North America. The start-finish straight is lined with an 8,000-seat capacity grandstand (including a 750-seat VIP booth), and behind 32 pit garages on the other side lies a 12,000-square metre paddock, complete with an emergency helipad and a world-class medical centre. 


In fittingly ambitious fashion for the region, aspirations for “one of the largest motorsport destinations in the world” were high from the outset. An FIA Grade 1 licence was among the first certificates awarded shortly after the circuit’s completion, with KMT ready to host the season finale of the 2019 FIA Middle East Rally Championship as its first major event before logistical issues led to the event unfortunately being scratched. Since then though, international motocross, headlined by the USA’s Dennis Stapleton and Slovakia’s Richard Sikyana, has followed, with the UAE’s regional Formula 4 single seater series already confirmed for 2023. All in a bid to raise motorsport’s culture in Kuwait.


“Our aim last year was to promote national motorsport, and promote KMT as the Kuwait motor racing facility. And I think we did a good job, marketing it as such, and a particularly good job trying to take racing off the streets and into a safer environment. We did this by highlighting, â 

so-called, ‘street racers’ and providing them with a platform where they can show what they’re capable of: the fast lap that day, the fastest speed that day, etc etc. And honestly, there’s been a huge drop in racing on the streets, and especially in industrial areas: we completed 480 different events in 2021” – an average of 22 events per week – “on the circuit, the drag strip and the off-road courses. So Kuwait, as a whole, has a lot of passion for motorsports. Even jet skis.”


…sorry, jet skis…?


“Oh yes, Kuwait has world championship jet skis. It’s a very adrenaline driven society and jet skis have been very popular! 


“This year, KMT has a new goal, which is to promote and educate Kuwait’s motorsport community, and the [Hankook] 12H KUWAIT will play a big role in that.” 

With the rise of Formula 1 in particular in the Middle East, as well as MotoGP, the World Endurance Championship and the World Touring Car Cup’s respective medium-to-long term status in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and/or the United Arab Emirates, it’s no real wonder that Kuwait is similarly looking to raise its own motorsport profile. The state after all has been a featured presence on the FIA since 1967, courtesy of the Kuwait International Automobile Club, with the KIAC itself, established in 1956, hosting its own affiliated motor racing events as early as the 1970s. The Kuwait International Rally was a regular round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship during the 1980s, and, following two celebratory editions in 1995 and 1996, was revived for 2009 and has since been won, multiple times, by four-time Dakar Rally winner Nasser Al-Attiyah and FIA president Mohammad bin Sulayem.


In terms of drivers, one of Kuwait’s more popular athletes – Khaled Al Mudhaf – was a frontrunner in the Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East and the UAE GT Championship following his competitive debut in 2009. He became the first Kuwaiti to compete in the European Le Mans Series in 2013, and already has two class wins at the Hankook 24H DUBAI to his name. Zaid Ashkanani, fresh from his 2014 title-winning year in the Porsche GT3 Cup Middle East, was signed by single seater doyen Campos Racing to compete in F1’s GP3 feeder series for 2015 before his return to tin tops with the Porsche Supercup and the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup (Zaid even won on his Blancpain debut). Teenager Haytham Qarajouli meanwhile took JS R honours this year in the Ligier European Series, just three years on from his racing debut. 


Granted, the state cannot compete with the decades-old grassroots foundations lain across Europe and North America, but there’s no denying Kuwait does have a foot in motorsport’s revolving door at least. Heightening motorsport culture in Kuwait then is objective number one for KMT, something with which a high-profile event like the Hankook 12H KUWAIT could prove invaluable…

“For us, as a circuit, it’s just the right time for us to take this step. In the region, motorsport is becoming more and more popular, so to bring in an international event like this, and hopefully have national drivers participate, is huge. Plus, I’ve been to one of CREVENTIC’s events before in Dubai” – Mohammad’s first experience of a 24H SERIES weekend was the six-hour ‘Winter Endurance Kampioenschap’ support event in 2020 – “and the friendly nature just suits KMT perfectly.


“Also – I’m speaking with bias here! – but for international racers, KMT is a very exciting circuit. I cannot wait to host the [Hankook] 12H KUWAIT and see the reaction of all the drivers. I think we can surprise a lot of people!”


For the 24H SERIES, the opportunity at KMT can prove similarly beneficial. As well as catering to a brand-new audience in the Middle East, CREVENTIC is confident the still-relatively-new circuit will offer competitors a fresh challenge, a long-held goal of the Dutch promoter. Indeed, the 5.609km Grand Prix layout was penned by Formula 1 design guru Hermann Tilke, the same man behind the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia, Istanbul Park in Turkey, and the Circuit of the Americas in Texas, among countless others. Though boasting its own bespoke character, Mohammad does admit there were certain inspirations…

“Let me take you through the circuit. Turn one is very fast, so much so that we usually use a ‘short cut’ for the street cars because it’s basically flat-out! After that, you head into turn two, which is a left-hander, where you go uphill. Blind!” As he talks, Mohammad, still beaming, mimes the direction change with an invisible wheel in his hands. "After that, you drop into a modern version of Laguna Seca’s Corkscrew. Then there’s a long left-hander from turn five through to six – I call it ‘patience,’ because you’re just waiting, waiting, waiting – before it gets really tight at turn seven. From there, you turn right into… well, it’s quite similar to the Esses at Bathurst or Suzuka, where it’s uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill to turn 12.


“Turns 12-13-14-15-16, which is similar to Turkey, we refer to as ‘the pentagon.’ And it’s very exciting because, if you enter that turn fast enough, with one line, the car will automatically go from apex to apex. Even though you might not believe that the first time! After that, there is the short, sharp turn 18, which is kind of a modern take on the Carousel, and takes you back up the hill.


“Again, I’m a bit biased, but I think KMT has an exciting balance of inspirations from around the world, but, also, in terms of layout, it brings the fast cars and the slow cars together. As a modern circuit with plenty of room to work with, a lot of thought went into this.”


Mohammad positively radiates confidence in both his circuit and his team. But of course, with a 24H SERIES event does come certain responsibilities, the first being the paddock itself. Intermittently casting glances through the window in front of us, his attention caught by the 24H SERIES merchandise tent and the neighbouring outdoor eating area – at which the 24H SERIES’ new European Champions will be crowned – Mohammad has already experienced one of CREVENTIC’s proudest characteristics: the ‘family-friendly’ atmosphere. 


That series stalwarts and their respective team members have already registered to compete helps enormously. But even so, how does Mohammad hope to facilitate a family friendly atmosphere at KMT? A venue, lest we forget, that’s keen to establish itself as a multi-purpose entertainment facility…

“We want the CREVENTIC DNA to be there as much as possible, but in every market, or in every country let’s say, things have to adapt. Even McDonalds adapts to its local markets! We want our fanbase to accept the [Hankook] 12H KUWAIT as ‘their’ event, and we hope to have a lot of exciting activities going on during the race in the paddock as an all-day-out experience. Families can come in, the kids have something to do… there’s going to a pitlane walk with autograph sessions and we have a plan to have a fly-over before the start of the race. We want to make things as engaging as possible.”


The other, slightly larger potential sticking point, is, perhaps unfairly, the Hankook 24H DUBAI. CREVENTIC has been hosting its season-opening 24-hour race at the Dubai Autodrome every year since 2006, an event that now stands as the biggest in the Middle East – and one of the biggest worldwide – every new year. Just based on tenure, comparisons seem inevitable. How difficult will it be then to introduce Kuwait motorsport fans to the first-ever ‘Hankook 12H KUWAIT’ as opposed to a smaller ‘Hankook 12H DUBAI’?


“At the end of the day, we are all Gulf states: we take inspiration from one another, and that’s a very workable solution. The [24H DUBAI] is very exciting, and the Dubai Autodrome does a very good job every year, so, yes, that will be a big factor.


“But for me personally, the main inspiration for the 12H KUWAIT will be our goal to promote motorsports in Kuwait. We have a young team and we’re still widening our horizons, but when we sit in our brainstorming sessions, we have a lot of ideas – some good, some crazy! – that we’re still enhancing as much as possible. There’s still a lot of work to do, but we’re confident CREVENTIC’s first weekend in Kuwait can inspire a lot of people in motorsport, nationally and globally.”

Our conversation intermittently rolls between KMT’s track days and events, the circuit’s safety standards – “safety is our number one priority, and we’re not going to sacrifice that” – and several onboard KMT runs on Mohammad’s instagram account before engines start firing into life up and down the pitlane. Mohammad, particularly keen to watch the cars at full chat, bids a cheery goodbye and heads off to find a spot in the grandstand to watch qualifying, CREVENTIC similarly disappearing back into the paddock to do likewise. A fraught session it proves too, with 40-plus cars jostling their respective category top spots during the 90-minute session with a couple of on-track / in-gravel moments. Ironically, the sheer size and frenetic nature of the 2022 Hankook 24H BARCELONA perfectly sums up the job that awaits KMT.


Still: raising Kuwait’s motorsport profile; a brand-new challenge; a distinct character. Mohammad’s right. The inaugural Hankook 12H KUWAIT could well be one to remember.

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