The UAE's top motor racer and Oryx Racing team owner Humaid Al Masaood defies the late racing legend Ayrton Senna's belief that, "The helmet hides feelings that cannot be understood." Humaid's feelings are all too clear. "I just love racing," he says, his normally serious face breaking into a wide grin that makes him appear more youthful than his 31 years.
The Emirati motorsport champion has been smitten with cars since he was six when his mother took him to the last Formula 1 Grand Prix that was held at Brands Hatch circuit in the UK.
But at the time, he didn't compete in go-kart races as was the norm for young racing enthusiasts. Back then, he preferred tennis and even moved to the United States to train for a career in the sport. Humaid caught the racing bug pretty late in life - at the age of 27 when he moved back from the US to Abu Dhabi. But he has made up for it with his wins, and quick ascension up the ladder.
In his first race, the 2008-09 UAE Sports Car Championship at Dubai Autodrome, he placed third. And four years later, racing and winning on American and European circuits, he's easily the top racer in the Middle East.
In addition to racing, Humaid is a businessman. The firm he runs alongside his father Abdulla Al Masaood and brother Khalifa, Abdulla Al Masaood & Sons has a group of more than 30 companies. Humaid has also used his business sense to set up his own racing team, Oryx Racing. "In the long run we will be a successful team that wins sponsorship as well as make a name globally," Humaid says.
Initially, Humaid set up the team to allow him to race on his own terms, but he also sees it as a tool for giving new Emirati racers a shot at the big time.
Success is all about motivation. I enjoy what I am doing, whether it's racing or business, so it's very easy for me to stay motivated. Racing is not the only thing I do. I also run part of the family business; a trading company that markets automobiles, motorcycles and several automotive products.
I've always enjoyed cars since I was very young. I like trains, planes and automobiles as well, but mainly cars. Being in the business obviously helps, but my interest in motor racing was fuelled by the fact that my grandfather was a big Formula 1 fan, and so was my mother. Growing up in Berkshire, England, I remember going to the last F1 Grand Prix in Brands Hatch when I was six. So, I was exposed to racing when I was young. That was a real eye-opener.
In school I played tennis and played seriously, even moving to the US to train under experts. But I later realised my talent lay elsewhere, and was not afraid to cut losses and pull out.
I started racing professionally almost four years ago and in the last two years I have seen the biggest improvement in my ability. It's been challenging and I've raced at a higher level than I was used to before. The last two years have really pushed me forward as a driver and I have gained a lot more knowledge about racing in America and also about racing in Europe.
My move into professional racing was difficult. Though it is accessible, I wanted to do it properly and not simply just to participate in the event. I am not interested in just participating for the sake of participation. This holds true for all aspects of my life.
I want to make sure that I'd be racing to the best of my ability, which would afford me a fair chance of success. I didn't want to enter big races only to finish last. It took a lot of patience and practice. I believe in being prepared. Practise until you're the best you can ever be. I've even flown to Europe for just a day, working with the best instructors because it makes a difference and helps me improve.
As you go up in scale, whether it's in racing or business, the pressures and tensions increase and you have to learn to adapt to it. Initially, I wasn't sure about my chances. But last year was the deciding point.
Our racing team started racing Le Mans Prototype 1 (LMP1) cars, which are the fastest closed-wheel prototype racing cars in use today. I did two test days, which involves testing the cars on the circuit before the race. I didn't know if I could do it. I tested because I wanted to be sure I wouldn't crash on the big day. We placed fourth even though we only competed in seven of the nine races at the American Le Mans Series. I believe there are no silly questions; ask and research all you want. You'll look a lot sillier if you crash because of lack of knowledge.
My team, Oryx Racing's first race - the 2011 Dubai 24-hour - was very challenging and we concentrated on staying out of trouble. We ended up grabbing second place in the most competitive SP3 class in an Aston Martin GT4. It was a very smooth track with a lot of cars.
Many people might think owning a racing team probably doesn't make much business sense. It's become incredibly difficult to find sponsorship. The races in the US are very well-attended, have decent television coverage and have good hospitality packages, but even as the financial situation improves it will take time to get back on track.
You can't expect people to go and spend a load on race cars. To run a team and make it highly profitable is very difficult. To get into this business you have to really love it. That said, there have been people who have been very successful running racing teams. But I'd say there is more heart than head in these ventures. You have to be passionate about it. I've yet to meet someone in it who doesn't enjoy it. There are easier ways to make money if that's what you want.
A lot of what I am is a reflection of how I grew up. I was born in London, lived in Abu Dhabi the first nine years of my life and went to school in Britain for about seven years before moving to the US to complete my education. But I always come back to Abu Dhabi and am based here now.
Where work is concerned, it's my dad, my younger brother and I who make the decisions in our family's company. We have our responsibilities chalked out. I am a very relaxed person, not what you would call a tough boss. I am lucky I have a good, disciplined team with me so there's no reason to be tough. The only time you have to be tough is when things are not going well and luckily for us everything has been fine. Even during the recent tough times we've set ourselves on the right course and have come out unscathed.
I travel a lot for my racing and also my business. The amount of time I invest in racing depends on the time of the year. June is busy. The practising part is tricky. I've got a go-kart, which I use to practice and keep my senses keen. It keeps you mentally on the same level as racing in a car. It's about instincts, it's about a feeling. You get rusty at anything if you don't practise often enough. But it's difficult to do much track time, because of the cost and availability. I practise at the Yas Marina Circuit when I am in Abu Dhabi.
Why do I race professionally? Because I enjoy it. It's my passion and what I want to do. I am not nervous or edgy when racing; I just go out there and enjoy it.
I enjoy speed, but I am not a thrill-seeker. I am not into the adrenaline rush. It's more competition that pushes me. There are elements to it that I love such as the sound, the sensation you get going out there and doing your best, pushing yourself, setting goals and trying to beat the competition.
I guess you'd find those in a lot of things like golf or tennis or rugby, but I just happen to find it all in racing. There are always new races, new circuits, new mechanics, new horizons, new people and new places to conquer. It's never boring. And contrary to popular belief, it can be quite safe if all the safety norms are carefully observed. I've not been in any dangerous situation so far.
My parents, grandparents and the teachers I had at the schools I attended all shaped me. I enjoyed my time in school, both in England and the US. It gave me a wide exposure to the world. I went to a boarding school in Berkshire and I still go there and have friends there. My mum's British and I was born in London. So it's like I have three homes - Abu Dhabi, England and America! I lived in Tampa, Florida, from age 15 until I was 25. I am comfortable travelling. I don't get homesick. Of course, it's nice to be home in Abu Dhabi, but I also enjoy being in England and the US.
My dad's influence on me has been great and I've been involved in his business since a very young age. He's worked very hard all his life to build his business, and his life revolves around his work. He's very passionate about his companies and building new ones. I've learned that it's not all about how successful they are as much as it's about the challenge. I think I learned this from him. He will never want to retire, because he loves what he's doing.
My mother was the one who spent a lot of time with us when we were young, as my father was usually very busy. She was the one who took me to the F1 Grand Prix at Brands Hatch that turned into a life-changing experience for me. She exposed us to many diverse things like that; different events and travelling. She's always been very supportive of me, even with my racing - which many mothers would consider too dangerous.
I've always been a lover of sports. I played junior tennis. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras were big influences for me then. But when I realised that tennis was not my calling, I chose to move on.
From a driving point of view, my co-driver Steven Kane has really helped my driving skills, though he's only been a teammate for a little more than a year.
I never wanted to do something that didn't really interest me. I always wanted a passion. That was very important for me, and with racing and my business, I've found my passion. My one big problem is that I don't have enough time to fit in everything I want to do. I always make time to exercise regularly so I can keep fit for racing.
I try and spend as much time as I can with my two children, Khalifa, six, and Reem, five. That's what I do to relax these days. Sometimes I just take a couple of days off and go with my family on a holiday.
Becoming a father was a unique experience as it makes you more mature, makes you more responsible and loving. In the same way marriage gives you a different perspective on life, so too does parenthood. I like the fact that I married young, because I won't be too old when the kids become adults. I can be more of a friend to them than a father.
I also like to read mostly non-fiction, history and automotive-related books. But usually by the end of the day I am so mentally and physically exhausted that I just end up watching television!
Another passion I have is for classic cars. I own a 1972 Dodge Challenger. I love the old 1960s-70s American muscle cars like the Mustangs and Chargers especially because they are still useable and available to buy. What I'd really love to own would be a classic 1956-57 Ferrari California 250.
But I am a very practical man, so an Infiniti is my daily commute. Perfect for the Abu Dhabi traffic! I use a Patrol for family outings, but I am not very passionate about extreme off-roading.
I didn't have a particular dream that I wanted fulfilled as a child. But as I grew up, my goal became to do my duty to the best of my ability. I want to help our companies grow to even greater heights. I always dream of where they are going to be in the next ten to 15 years. But I wouldn't want to be too aggressive about my ambitions because that would cause me to stress out. I'd rather the growth be more organic.
Many of my dreams are now connected to my racing. I'd love for my team Oryx to reach the top in the races we enter. So many new avenues are opening up and new series are coming up in Europe and the US that it's not possible to have a goal of making it in a certain circuit within five years any more - there are just so many. So, we may have to take a whole different route.
But I am aiming at competing in bigger events. I'd love to top the 24-hours Le Mans, which I feel is very attainable for our team. I think we can do that very soon. To win is a dream we all have, and I am no different.
Another big dream I have is to grow the team as a business. Oryx has a good relationship with Audi. I am looking at creating a long-term relationship, but for that we have to earn a good reputation.
In 20 years we aim to be a team that people know as a really well-performing operation, with a great legacy.
It's a little too late to have F1 ambitions for me, but to put together an F1 team that shakes up the cartel is something I still dream about. That would be really amazing. It would be really great to put the UAE's name on the world racing map.
I also dream of a great life for my children, doing whatever they want to do. I wish that they will find their dreams, whatever they may be, and fulfil them.
My son's already go-karting, but that doesn't mean he'll be a racer too. There will be no pressure on either of them.