Khalid Al Qubaisi: I have never felt like this ever in my life, I can't explain it...
Khalid Al Qubaisi made history on multiple fronts at the eight edition of the Dunlop 24 Hours of Dubai on the weekend of 11 and 12 January 2012, as he not only became the first Emirati to win the prestigious race for the second time, but was also part of the first team to win the race twice in a row.
The Team Abu Dhabi by Black Falcons Mercedes team, which completed the 600 laps of Dubai Autodrome's Grand Prix circuit configuration on their way to victory, was a formidable outfit.
But drama struck the team early in the week. On Wednesday, before the race, teams had the option of partaking in an afternoon of free practice as part of preparations for the weekend's Dunlop 24 Hours. The Black Falcons took up the option.
With Al Qubaisi at the wheel, the car went off track in Turn 3, slamming the wall in the process and as a result the Mercedes SLS AMG was damaged beyond repair.
Immediately afterwards Qubaisi admitted, "After we saw the damage and realised it was major. I was not happy, but an hour later we made the decision not to give up and find a way back into the race."
It so happened that the British Preci-Spark outfit had a spare SLS AMG in their garage. In true motorsport style a deal was struck and on Wednesday night the Black Falcons crew pushed their newly acquired car to their pit garage whereupon they proceeded to convert it to the Dunlop 24 Hours endurance regulations, while adapting it to Black Falcons specifications.
With qualifying happening Bleekemolen was strapped into the cockpit and in his first three laps at the wheel of the car, he topped the timing sheets to claim pole position for the race.
He added prophetically at the time, “We are very much in with a chance for the race. Hopefully all our bad luck is no behind us, and for the race luck is on our side and we have a good chance to win it again.”
Straight after qualifying the team again grafted hard to get the car into endurance specification, which in itself was a nail biting affair for all concerned.
Al Qubaisi recalled, "One minute before the race was starting they were still working on the car. We didn't even have time to do a shakedown, not even bed in the brakes."
"We just did our best all the time. We never gave up even when things looked impossible. Pushing, pushing. Never give up. And this is from Wednesday when things looked really bad after the incident," added the Team Abu Dhabi driver.
And 24 hours later he was making his way through the crowds, on a camel, to the podium after he and his teammates turned adversity into triumph.
"I don't even remember being on the podium. It was really very, very emotional for me. I have never felt like this ever in my life, I can't explain it.
Afterwards I had to go and rest a bit, calm down and I really needed a few minutes on my own for this to sink in. The medics gave me a check-up, checked my vital signs and everything was normal," revealed Al Qubaisi.
We had so many situations which went completely against us," explained the Emirati driver. "The Code 60 situations cost us more than three laps.
The flags would come out as we passed the pit entry, or just after we had pitted, Code 60s when we didn't need them and it all seemed to favour the other teams.
Things like that. This really kept us on our nerves. But then around middle distance the race started to come to us again."
Even an hour or so after the race, Al Qubaisi, talking to reporters with the UAE flag draped over his shoulders, was visibly emotional, drained, overwhelmed by the magnitude and manner of the achievement.
"I am happy to see this through, of course happy to win, happy for the mechanics, happy for the team. I have to dedicate this [victory] to Abu Dhabi... my sponsors. Abu Dhabi Racing.
If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be here. Thanks to them for putting together this team. For putting us in a great car. We just need more of these to happen," concluded the history maker.
Four times DTM champion Schneider, who had until last weekend at Dubai Autodrome only once won a 24 hours race during his illustrious career, summed up the race from his perspective.
"First of all after Wednesday I did not think we would even make it on to the grid. Then we managed to get the car and the guys worked flat out since Wednesday night on.
Without any sleep they got the car prepared. Amazing. They built a really perfect car. We managed to get pole position with a car setup for qualifying.
And of course we won the race, but the car with race setup was only ready on the grid with a few minutes to go to the start. We could not do the warm-up session, or bed in the brakes, check the systems, setup," revealed the German.
But the car ran like clockwork according to Schneider, "In the end the car was working really awesome in the race. There were no technical problems, it had strong pace.
We managed some good lap times. With this victory we achieved something very special. This was a real team effort. Everyone in the team was awesome. The drivers did a good job and all together we managed to do it."
He also had words of praise for Al Qubaisi, "I only met Khalid for the first time this weekend and I can say I am really impressed with how focused and very determined.
He tried really hard and made everything possible to recover from the accident on Wednesday. To get a replacement car and to win this race. He was also quite good in the car.
We are very happy to have him with us in the team. Without him we could not have won this race."