Qatari motor racers complain of lack of support for local talent
A passion for motor-racing comes at a cost. An investment of up to QR1.5 million a year. However, it’s not just a lack of financial backing that has placed Qatari racers in a lurch, it’s also the failure to provide the much required training.
Qatari racers Salman Al Khater and Abdul Rahman Al Thani speak to JustHere on the challenges and frustration they face trying to pursue a sporting career in professional racing.
Al Khater won the first Gran Turismo (GT) Academy in the Middle East in 2012 after beating thousands of competitors in the PlayStation game and after seven months of training in the UK under the Academy. The 30-year old then quit his job in April 2013 and completely dedicated all his time to racing.
Following the GT Academy win, he raced twice at the Radical Cup in the UAE and had been searching for a sponsor for over seven months to no avail.
“In my case, I was discovered as a race car driver from a game. We have a race track (Losail Circuit). Why wasn’t I discovered in Doha by the local federation, Qatar Motor and Motorcycle Federation (QMMF)? They have seen me race. The first local race I entered (Qatar National Road Racing Championship in 2011), I won,” Al Khater recounts.
After three races, I quit because I didn’t have the money to continue and I didn’t like the environment; it was as if they were doing us a favour. We don’t ask the Federation to support us financially, but to create a platform for us to flourish and provide ways for us to gain sponsorship. That’s why I decided that if I didn’t get the sponsorship, I would stop.”
Another racer, 21-year-old college student Abdul Rahman Al Thani, has been trying to acquire sponsorship from companies for nearly a year, but nothing has come of it.
Abdul Rahman has been racing motorcars since the age of 17. In 2011, he entered his first major motorsports championship, the Radical Middle East Cup and won it. Since then, he has raced at a few other professional racing championships in Eastern Europe, the UAE and Qatar, including the prestigious Porsche Cup Middle East, which he won last year.
Though he dreams of competing professionally in Europe, the absence of financial support holds him back.
Lack of support
QMMF organises several international events including the Qatar International Rally, MotoGP – Commercialbank Grand Prix of Qatar, FIM Endurance World Championship, QMMF T3 Challenge and Qatar SuperBike Championship.
Although Qatar has the infrastructure for motorsport such as a world-class racing circuit at Losail, it lacks the basic training and support mechanisms necessary to train aspiring racers such as coaches, mechanics and most importantly, the willingness to sponsor racers, Al Khater and Al Thani feel.
According to the duo, Qatar has some of the world’s best infrastructure for this sport in the form of Losail International Circuit. However the lack of knowledge about the sport and lack of support from the authorities makes it really hard for Qatari motor racers to continue to move up in this sport.
“Ironically, a German company who had no connections to Qatar whatsoever were willing to sponsor me for a whole year. But due to the European crisis and resulting financial problems, they had to back out. You can see the gap of knowledge or understanding of the sport in the country. Here they think I have a hobby and what I should pay for. It is a sport,” he says.
Meanwhile, Al Khater did receive an offer from a local company. “A leading local TV channel promised me $80,000. So, I went and made all the logistical arrangements needed to enter the race, I waited until I got an agreement with the race team and when I started, they said they didn’t want to do it anymore. They had committed on live TV that they would sponsor me.
They put me in a lot of trouble. And it is just continued battles like that here in Doha. Nobody wants to sponsor. When I started everything and told them that we would go with $80,000, we’ll have a meeting on track and get the money, do all the branding for the car for the ware, that’s when they backed out. It’s all like that. The other companies are completely not interested,” he states.
Tired of the endless wait, Al Khater quit his search for sponsorship and the sport itself. “I spent several months without a job or without being paid. I have responsibilities, a wife to take care of, and a house to pay rent for, how do I do all that? By the end of the seven months, I would’ve been broke if it wasn’t for the savings I had. It’s been really frustrating,” he says.
The bigger picture
“There’s a lack of Qataris in this sport, everybody’s looking at Nasser Al Attiyah. But he will soon retire. They have to invest in the youth,” says Al Khater.
“The QMMF wants to organise events and sports on a very large scale, such as the MotoGP or the Grand Prix, but doesn’t focus on local talent.”
“The track’s there, it’s not used. It’s only used for international events like MotoGP or if one of the local manufacturers like BMW wants to do a championship then they will do that. Everything they want to do has to be to that level. They want to have the biggest stadium, they want to have the world cup. But they forgot about developing local talent,” Al Khater added.
“There’s a lack of Qataris in this sport, everybody’s looking at Nasser Al Attiyah. But he will soon retire. They have to invest in the youth. I know that there are people interested, but they expect somebody to pick them up from a programme and hand them money to go racing. You need to work and prove yourself that you’re worthy, that you’re professional and can actually race,” Al Thani stresses.
What needs immediate improvement is introducing access to motorsports at the grassroots level. People need to be educated about the sport and allowing children to experience this sport through go-karting tracks would be the best way to begin.
JustHere contacted the QMMF for their side of the story, but they declined to provide any comments on this subject.
Currently, Qatar Racing Club (QRC) in the Industrial Area organises several drag racing and drifting events, which members of the Qatar community can participate in. Even though these forms of racing differ from motor racing, they help Qatari and non-Qatari racing enthusiasts to participate in these to release their adrenaline through these sports.
However, the QRC is a separate entity and is not affiliated with the QMMF and can only encourage and support drifting and drag racing enthusiasts.
Al Thani believes that the first step towards change is for people to raise their concern about this lack of support. “Everything is here, all the facilities, we can bring the people too. We don’t have anything left out, all we need is support. For support we need voices, we need people to speak up and people aren’t speaking up which is a problem.”