The Lap57 Racing Team was on crankandpiston’s radar during the Nurburgring 24 Hours as one of the UAE’s sole repreantatives for the event. But exactly what is involved with a Middle East team competing at one of the most famous racetracks in the world? We find out.[Not a valid template]
We demonstrated back in January what it’s like reporting on a 24-hour endurance race: lots of coffee, little sleep and a penchant for members of the crankandpiston team to fall asleep over their keyboards.We’ve also shown you recently what it’s like shooting a 24-hour endurance race – a particularly tough ask when you come straight from a touring car event in the UK – and the various levels of carnage involved with being a spectator. Bonfires, funny hats, temperamental showers and, er, stimulants.
But that leaves us one perspective short, save watching said race on TV which I think most of us will already have a pretty fair grasp on. How does it feel to actually compete in a 24-hour endurance event? ‘You could always ask Abdulaziz Turki AlFaisal’, I hear you cry. Point well made and we thank you for paying attention. Supposing though a UAE-based team took on one of motorsport’s most dangerous events together for the very first time: what would that feel like?
“Oh it’s a totally new experience,” explains UAE local boy Umair Khan. “This is what we call ‘proper racing’! All of us enjoyed it immensely and the category we were competing in was quite tight. It’s just the circuit requirements are totally different. You’re on your tiptoes throughout whether it’s dry or wet, and that keeps changing: sun; fog; rain; wet; dry. It’s just amazing!
Those of you who keep up with the NGK Racing Series – formerly the UAE Touring Car Championship – will recognise Umair Khan as a three-time Class 2 champion with the Lap57 Racing Team. Just one of a highly experienced touring car line-up it should be mentioned, Khan partnering with UAE Touring Car Champion Nadir Zuhour (in some cheeky Lotus overalls) and Mohammed and Omran Al Owais. Indeed, alongside reigning NGK Racing Series Class 2 champion Rupesh Chanake and Gulf 12 Hours regular Saeed Al Mehairi, the Owais pair and Khan took A2 Class victory at this year’s Dubai 24 Hours.
Stellar credentials then, but hours of arduous practice on Playstation 3 have taught the crankandpiston crew a cruel lesson about the Nordschleife: memorising – let alone mastering – 156 corners across various inundations and over 20km is next to impossible. And that’s with the benefit of a reset button. To face the challenge head on in real life means the learning curve must be almost vertical, especially when we consider the Nurburgring 24 Hours was the first endurance race Lap57 had entered since January.
“It took a while,” Umair continues, “but we were steadily getting closer to the top teams. We were within the same minute – we can’t talk in seconds we talk in minutes since the track is so big! – and the end of qualifying we were just 20 seconds off the pace of the top drivers. So we did learn a lot quickly.
“Actually all of us did this training, which tells you a lot about the circuit and what it can do to you. You must do the course otherwise you cannot do the 24-hour race. We’re talking about nearly 200 cars racing together, so it’s the safety of others to consider as well. There’s one full day of theory, where you attend a class, and they tell you about the history of the circuit, the mistakes other drivers have made, and things like that. On the second day it’s all track driving, so you drive behind very experienced instructors, and they communicate over the radio about potential hazards. Then later they go and drive with you.
“It’s very informative. The instructors prepare you for the weather and the track and how bad it can get. The elevations are so different that when it’s raining you can actually see water streams coming down the track, so you have to change your racing line. So they prepare you for most eventualities. Even if you’ve done the course before, the organiser recommend that you keep attending the classes. Mohammed and Nadir actually did the course twice just to refresh their memories.”