Interview Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

As the UAE’s Khaled Al Qubaisi gears up to race at this weekend’s opening round of WEC, David Hobbs chats to him for MME

By David Hobbs

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

‘It’s one of the best cars I’ve driven.’

After Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi reached the podium at last year’s Le Mans 24 Hours in a Porsche 911 RSR, you might be forgiven for thinking his enthusiasm was for the car that put him there, but no, he’s talking about the car he drives when he’s back home – a Tesla Model S.

The Emirati , who described the all-electric car as ‘amazing’ in a one-year update he posted on his Facebook page, has been so enthralled with it that he’s ordered a second car from the US manufacturer, only this time he’s going for the Dual Motor Model S P85D which comes complete with the wonderfully-named ‘Insane’ drive mode.

So, what is about Tesla that’s gripped the sportscar racer?

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

‘I love it, the whole concept – no engine, no sound, no vibrations, the car weight is low. It feels like a race car.

‘It is one of the best cars I’ve driven to be honest, in terms of smoothness and responsiveness. It has its drawbacks against the combustion engine cars but I’d take it any day. I drive it 95% of my time.’

That percentage may drop once the Dual Motor version is parked on his UAE driveway and which may be delivered when he is a few thousand miles away preparing for the opening race of the World Endurance Championship.

‘It should be arriving just as I get to Silverstone,’ Al Qubaisi told Motoring Middle East when we met at the Paul Ricard circuit in France for the WEC Prologue test weekend ahead of the 6 Hours race on 12 April.

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

The 39-year-old has again teamed up with Christian Ried and Klaus Bachler in the Abu Dhabi-Proton Racing team for a second stint in the WEC after a stunning debut season in which they finished third overall in the team standings – the best non-Aston Martin entry.

In a season highlighted by a superb second in class at the Le Mans 24 Hours, the trio also claimed another podium place with third in Austin while they narrowly missed third in the overall drivers’ standings. For Al Qubaisi other successes included a runner-up spot in the Gulf 12 Hours and third in the 24 Hours of Dubai, two races which he won in 2013.

2015 again offers more potential honours for the small outfit but, as Al Qubaisi pointed out, theirs is the only team with two bronze standard drivers in himself and Ried so are at some disadvantage against the more experienced pilots. And then there’s still Aston Martin.

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

‘We had no answer to them last year,’ Al Qubaisi noted, referring to the British marque’s extra power which ultimately took them to a WEC class championship 1-2. Even though the Astons should have a smaller restrictor and around 15 hp less after the FIA adjusted the balance of performance rules, Al Qubaisi thinks they will still be difficult to catch.

‘The Astons are fast. They slowed them down this year but I don’t think it’s enough. It’s tough for us but you know, last year it was also tough and we managed to perform well.’

Unless they do a spot of globetrotting, UAE fans will have to wait until 21 November and the Bahrain finale to catch a glimpse of Al Qubaisi in the WEC as he bids to improve on the 4th place the team picked up in 2014 at the Sakhir circuit.

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

Before then of course, he will have made his third attempt on Le Mans where he admits the Proton team performed better than expected last year.

‘It was a nice surprise. We knew we were in the top five from the beginning. We were hoping to get on the podium and then second step on the podium was extra reward.

‘Last year was really perfect for us and if it wasn’t for the advantage of Aston we could have even got a win.

And for that reason, Al Qubaisi is staying positive for the big one in 2015.

‘It’s endurance racing, anything can happen.’

Interview: Emirati racer Khaled Al Qubaisi

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