As it was a 24-hour race I was able to produce a before and after stories over two days.
Drivers thrill the Dubai crowds
by Paul McMillan, The National newspaper, Abu Dhabi; January 10, 2009, p5
DUBAI // With mighty engines rumbling, the green light flashed on and with a deafening roar, 78 supercharged cars burst into life. The 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race was under way.
The scene in the city’s Autodrome marked the start of the UAE’s most exciting year of motorsport, which is to reach its climax on Nov 1 with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Before yesterday’s race, and with a standard bearer holding the nation’s flag in front of the grid, drivers, race fans and pit crews observed a two-minute silence for the victims in Gaza.
Teams from all over the world were taking part in the race, now in its fourth year.
Leading the grid was a Porsche 997 belonging to the Italian team Autorlando Sport, which had recorded the fastest qualifying round of 2 min 1 sec.
Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, the nephew of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is also part of the team driving a powerful Ferrari 430 GT for the Dubai-based team Khaleji Motorsport, which started in 16th place. Khaleji has also entered a Porsche 997 that started in fourth place.
Neither of the Khaleji team’s cars had an easy start.
The Porsche, which the UAE Touring Car champion Karim al Azhari is helping drive, was hit by another car on the first lap and had to go to the pit for repairs.
The Ferrari developed a fuel problem early in the race and lost 31/2 laps as it was recovered. Sheikh Hasher was not behind the wheel at the time. Both cars were able to continue in the race.
Although the army of drivers, mechanics and crew members had descended on the Autodrome, spectators were rather thin on the ground even though entry was free.
Moukesh Doshi, 45, an engineer from Dubai, was among those who turned out to watch the race start. He said: “I was expecting more people, but it’s Friday.”
Some had gathered around corner fences to get a better view of the drivers jockeying for position.
Among them was Marc Schipper, 38, who had brought his two eight-year-old boys to watch.
He said: “We live in Arabian Ranches and every year we hear the noise, so this year we decided to have a look. It’s really cool. The start was the best, watching them all line up and the build-up before the race.”
Andreas Hermann, 41, works for Audi in Dubai and had come to watch on his day off. He said: “It’s very nice here, I like it. The event is getting bigger. I have to work tomorrow so I won’t see the finish.”
Most of the teams taking part have at least three drivers who are limited to only two-hour stretches behind the wheel.
Sheikh Maktoum was the Founder, President and Chairman of the A1 Grand Prix racing series and instrumental in proving it was an exciting new form of motorsport.
After sunset, the race took on a new dimension as the headlights came on and the drivers navigated through the bends in the darkness, continuing to hurl themselves around the track in furious fashion. The final bend became particularly tricky with cars spinning off into the gravel before rejoining the race in a squeal of tyres.
Meanwhile, almost seven hours into the race, the paddocks behind the pit lane had become a home from home for those taking part in the race. Team crews and drivers held impromptu barbecues on top of piles of tyres, while others fuelled up for the gruelling hours ahead with dinner under the garage lights.
As the team-mates continued in the thick of the action on the track, drivers grabbed a few hours sleep in makeshift bedroom quarters in the back of containers used to ship over the cars. Other drivers relaxed in deckchairs by the side of the track, sharing their experiences of the thrills and spills of the race.
By the time the seven and a half hour point had slipped by three cars were out of the race needing urgent repairs but the UAE team drivers were still holding on and in contention.
The race is due to end at 2pm today with a ceremony for the overall winner and the winners in each of the eight car classes.
Germany’s Land Motorsport triumphs in the 24 Hours of Dubai
by Paul McMillan, The National newspaper; January 11, 2009, p3
DUBAI // The German team Land Motorsport won the 24 Hours of Dubai endurance race yesterday, outdistancing and outlasting 77 other cars that started the race on Friday.
Pit crews and spectators scaled fences to watch the winning Porsche 997 scream across the finishing line at the Dubai Autodrome.
In second place was the BMW Z4 Coupe belonging to the Saudi team Al Faisal Racing, for which Prince Abdul Aziz al Faisal was a driver. Taking third place was another German team, Besaplast Racing, also in a Porsche 997.
Drivers from the winning teams were placed on camels in the pit lane before moving to a podium to receive their trophies from the Autodrome chairman Saeed Khalfan.
By the end of the race, the winning Porsche had made 573 laps of the Autodrome’s 5.39km circuit.
A total of 78 cars lined up on the grid for the 2pm start on Friday. A day later, only 59 appeared in the overall rankings.
One of the casualties was the Ferrari 430 GT belonging to the Dubai-based team Khaleji Motorsport. Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, nephew of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, was one of its five drivers.
Sheikh Hasher was not behind the wheel when the Ferrari crashed while leaving the pit lane in the early hours of yesterday.
The Khaleji team boss, John Sinders, said: “The race has been a good-news, bad-news story. The Ferrari was running fourth overall and we were first in our class. The car was fantastic.
“Then we had a driver error at 3am when one of our drivers went into the side of the fence and … knocked out all the steering. The good news was the car was running great and we could have won the race but because of a stupid driver error we went out.”
Khaleji had also entered a Porsche 997 that overcame a smash in the opening laps to finish 22nd overall. One of those driving the Porsche was Karim al Azhari, the UAE touring-car champion.
“Karim really did a first-rate job,” Mr Sinders said. “The Porsche ran well but needed some starting. We had a little knock on the third lap and the car had not done a 24-hour race before.”
Another Dubai team, DXB Racing, finished 12th overall in an Aston Martin Vantage V8.
Most of the teams taking part had at least three drivers, each of which was limited to two-hour stretches behind the wheel.
At dawn yesterday, tired drivers and pit-crew members could be seen on makeshift beds in containers used to transport the cars. Some fell asleep on piles of tyres in the paddocks.
Also among the competitors was the former British Formula One star Johnny Herbert, who drove a Nissan 350Z for the RJN Motorsport team, which finished 45th overall.
The 24 Hours series continues in Dakar at the end of next month. The Dubai event was the curtain-raiser for this year’s motorsport programme in the UAE, which ends with the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Nov 1.