Record breakers! Khaled Al Qubaisi

News | April 12, 2021

In the 16-year history of the Hankook 24H DUBAI, Khaled Al Qubaisi is the only Emirati driver to have won the event outright. And in 2020, alongside Jeroen Bleekemolen and Hubert Haupt, he did so for a record-breaking third time. Now, 10 years on from his maiden outing, and in his own words, Khaled Al Qubaisi walks us through his full 24H DUBAI story.   

I started racing quite late in the Porsche Supercup sprint races – I was already 33 –  so it was hard to be on par with the top drivers: many of them started when they were five or six years old. Or 12, maybe 13, at the absolute oldest. So, when I went into the Supercup in 2009, straight into top level competition in GT racing with no experience at all, it was hard to match the performance of the top drivers.

 

But I’d always been interested in endurance racing and wanted to give the Hankook 24H DUBAI a try. So in November 2020, I did my first ‘test race’ at the Vallelunga 6 Hours. It was myself, Sascha Maassen, and the late Sean Edwards competing for Tolimit Arabia, and we won our class and finished 2nd overall. I actually drove three of the six hours myself in our Porsche 911 GT3 Cup 997, which was crucial: in sprint racing, you have to be immediately fast from the get-go; with endurance racing, it gives you the chance to get into a rhythm and then be able to perform at your best. By the time we went to Dubai in 2011, my speed was actually pretty good.

It was a great race for us in that first year, but I must admit, I was still a little disappointed. We chose Porsche specifically because the 911 GT3 was known for its reliability: we knew we wouldn’t have the fastest car – Schubert Motorsport’s BMW Z4 GT3, which won the race in 2011, was faster – but we knew that we would have a reliable car that would take us to the finish. Unfortunately, early on we had a driveshaft problem, which cost us about 18 minutes. And that ended up being the difference between us and the winners! So, without that problem, we would have been neck-and-neck with the leaders and we might even have won on our first attempt.

 

2011 was also my first race with Jeroen Bleekemolen, who joined the Tolimit Arabia line-up alongside myself, Sascha and Sean. I’ve known Jeroen since I started in motorsport, and he also won the Supercup race I competed in at the Yas Marina Circuit in 2009. He was basically the top GT driver out there and I had so much respect for him when he arrived. You put Jeroen in anything with four wheels and he will drive it fast!

 

It was actually Jeroen who introduced me to the guys at Black Falcon, who’d just bought one of Mercedes’ brand-new SLS AMG GT3s. I don’t think any of us really knew just how successful that partnership would become though.

The SLS was built like a tank! It was fast, it was reliable (there were accidents over the years but no reliability problems) and it never broke down. It was just so strong from the get-go that I knew, in 2012, we had a real shot at winning in Dubai. And that’s exactly what we did!

 

The 2012 Hankook 24H DUBAI was Mercedes’ first 24-hour win since the Sauber C9’s win at Le Mans in 1989, so the car went straight into Mercedes’ museum in Struttgart after that race. It was also my first Dubai win, with Jeroen, Sean, and Thomas Jäger. And it was kind of surreal.

At the time, I just I couldn’t believe what we’d managed to achieve, because it was on only my second attempt. It involved a bit of luck – winning in Dubai always done – but it was mostly down to our preparation, and working with the right team and the right car on the right strategy. That 2012 win just gave me so much momentum, and basically catapulted me into international endurance racing. And because we had the ability, and proven that we could get the job done, Jeroen, Sean and I came back again with Bernd Schneider in 2013 with Abu Dhabi by Black Falcon. And we won again! 

I don’t know if you’ve seen our documentary, ‘The Battle of the Falcons’ (track it down on YouTube as it’s definitely worth a watch!) but that will give you an idea how much we put into the race in 2013: I remember our director said, ‘if I had to script this, it wouldn’t be as good as it turned out in real life!’

 

I had a big crash in Free Practice prior to the race so we had to scramble to find a new car – Preci-Spark had a spare SLS they very kindly let us have – and Black Falcon worked for two solid nights to get the car ready. We went out, we qualified on pole position, the car was still being worked on before the start of the race, and we won! That whole weekend was so dramatic, so tense, that the memories will stay with me forever.

 

It actually looked like we could win the Hankook 24H DUBAI for the third time in a row in 2014. Unfortunately we hit some problems while we were leading, so we could only finish 3rd. That was still a good result for the SLS and Black Falcon, but coming off the back of two wins, we couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed.

That year Hubert Haupt joined us for the first time too. He was always ‘on the other team’ after that – what we affectionately referred to as the sister car! – and he’s extremely, extremely fast. Hubert has always been a great asset for Black Falcon to have at the Hankook 24H DUBAI, and he knows Mercedes’ sports cars very well, so it makes perfect sense to have his own team now, the Haupt Racing Team, established with top members of Black Falcon. He’s also won in Dubai twice against me, and I like to remind him that they were only because we had problems. Fortunately Hubert has a good sense of humour!

Talking about the 2015 to 2019 races in Dubai is actually quite painful: we were always the team to beat; we qualified either on pole position or in the top three; and we were always leading when we had an incident. I crashed out twice. Jeroen was hit by a backmarker once. Luca Stolz got taken out during a Code 60 one year. We had technical problems twice, maybe three times. That third win just didn’t want to come, and to be honest, after winning it twice in a row and thinking the event was my lucky charm, I started to feel like I was jinxed at the Hankook 24H DUBAI.

That was a really strange period for me because when we pushed hard, we faced problems. When we took it easy, we still faced problems! Black Falcon had a fantastic crew and we had a great driver line-up, but finding the delicate balance between staying out of trouble, not focusing on setting fastest laps, and not losing too much time was just so frustrating.

 

So when we finally managed to get the third win in 2020 – Jeroen, Hubert and myself, with Ben Barker and Manuel Metzger – it was such a huge relief because we knew that we had truly earnt it. Even though the race was cut short due to the rain (it’s probably the craziest race we’ve had in Dubai), we still needed to have the pace to be at the front when the red flag came out. So, we were fast, we had the right strategy in place, and while it would have been nice to do the full 24 hours, I truly believe we deserved that win in 2020.

 

And, honestly, I wouldn’t regret it if that becomes my last win.

The Hankook 24H DUBAI is such a great race, with so many people coming from all over the world to compete at the Dubai Autodrome every January. But it’s also physically and mentally tough. Everyone comes here to prove themselves against the best teams and the best drivers, and that means the competition just keeps getting higher.

 

I’m very satisfied with my 10-year stint in the Hankook 24H DUBAI. I’ve had a lot of enjoyment, and as a team we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. We’ve proven that Black Falcon has always been the team to beat, and I’m very, very proud of that. It would be nice to hold the outright record for most wins but, after 10 years of doing the Hankook 24H DUBAI, I may have hit my saturation point. Having finally taken that elusive third win, I’m not sure I could go after the fourth if it’s going to take another 10 years.

That’s not going to stop us putting everything we have into the race in 2021 though, this time with the Haupt Racing Team and with Hubert as my team boss as well as my teammate. As we always do, we’ll be there to win. And hopefully, this year, we can make history together once again.

-       Words – Khaled Al Qubaisi

-       Images – Petr Frýba, Eric Teeken, Tom Richardson, and Porsche

24H DUBAI Results (Khaled Al Qubaisi)

 

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 2

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)

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