Dubai: Khalid Al Qubaisi made history when he became the first UAE driver to be part of a Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai overall winning team when he, along with teammates Sean Edwards, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Thomas Jager powered the Black Falcons to victory at Dubai Autodrome a year ago.
This season, Al Qubaisi has again assembled a formidable squad — this time with two Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 cars, flying the Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcons colours — with an eye towards claiming the “double” on home soil and start as favourites.
The eighth edition of the Dubai endurance race, starting next weekend (January 10 to 12), boasts an 84-car entry list with around 400 drivers including ex-Formula 1 drivers and some of the best GT drivers on the international scene in addition to UAE-based teams.
Perhaps the most ambitious and most likely to challenge for overall victory is the AUH Motorsport-run Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Leon Price, Rob Barff, Jordan Grogor and Matt Griffin. Barff qualified on pole for last year’s race and the team led until they had a misfortune during the night, which forced them to retire.
Always high on commitment, they contested the NGK Racing Series during November-December — with the sole aim of preparing for the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai.
The Dubai Autodrome-based Gulf Racing Middle East will run their Lamborghini Gallardo LP600 with Fabien Giroix, Frederic Fatien, Jean Denis Deletraz and former Ferrari F1 driver Stefan Johansson on duty. Few teams can match the experience that this squad have and their speed, which saw them claim pole position for the 2011 race. A known and respected quantity, the squad will also bank on valuable home track advantage.
The team will also be running the Aston Martin Vantage V8, in classic Gulf colours, for UAE GT Championship regulars John Iossifidis and Martin Baerschmidt, who will be joined by Nigel Farmer and Robert Partouche.
The Dubai based Moutran brothers — Ramzi, Nabil and Sami — are NGK Racing Series regulars with vast experience running in conditions that will prevail on the race weekend, they have entered their familiar Memac Ogilvy Duel Racing Seat Leon Supercopa LR and will be joined by James Kaye as they target top honours in the A3T Class.
Multiple UAE champion Lap 57 have entered a Honda for a group comprising some of the best UAE tin-top drivers including brothers Omran and Mohammad Al Owais, Umair Khan, Rupesh Channake and Saeed Al Mehari. The team has valuable experience at Dubai Autodrome and could be the surprise package in their Class.
Another entry with familiar faces is the SVDP Racing BMW 120D, with locally-based Jonathan Mullan, Chris Wishart and Jason O’Keefe joined by Wubbe Herlaar and Kris Budnik. Emirati driver Basher Mardini has been drafted into the LV Motorsport team and will campaign a Porsche 997 Cup with Claus Donnerstag,Thomas Raldolf, Jannik Larsen and Michael Holden.