Qatar Racing Club organises Qatar's national drag and drift championships. Cars can reach speeds of more than 500 kph and cross finish lines in seconds. Pitting two cars and drivers against each other, the motorsport of drag racing is a big deal in Qatar. Mechanics work hard to get each high-performance car race-ready, while officials ensure track conditions are safe.
“Drag racing, it takes a lot of experience. Most of it is the safety and the preparation for the track to race on. It's more exciting than any other racing,” says Mustapha Atat, a driver for Al Anabi Performance.
There is a lot for the drivers to think about: building traction, suspension tricks, and getting a fast enough start that they can cross the finish line first. But over and above the technical skills, it seems the best drag racers have something a little extra.
“Drag racing is about either you have it, or either you don't. It's all about feeling. You cannot bring somebody and teach him if he doesn't have the feeling for it,” insists Mustapha.
But the club doesn’t just hold drag competitions. Abdullah Al Mothaseb runs Brothers Team for Drift. He’s been drifting since 2016, and competes regularly at Qatar Racing Club and across the region. Drivers are judged on their ability to hold the line, the angle of the car, driving finesse and speed.
“When you are behind the wheel, your feeling should be one hundred percent with each part in the car. So you have to feel with the tyres, with the engine, with the steering wheel, with the gear shifter,” explains Abdullah.
Abdullah also owns an auto shop, where he repairs the cars before and after competitions. Qatar’s weather conditions mean car maintenance is vital.
“We get some issues with overheating [in] the car. So this is one of the more and the most important points which we have to focus on when we drive the car on the track,” he says.
Formula One has announced a ten-year, multi-race deal to see Qatar and the Losail International Circuit host F1. Since 2004 Losail has held the MotoGP bike championships. Those behind the F1 deal say little was needed to adapt the track for F1.
“So the changes to the circuit itself, or the layout, has not been touched, but we just enhanced some of the safety features to meet the standards of the International Federation for Cars.” Managing Director of Losail Circuit Sports Club, Amro Al-Hamad.
Al-Hamad insists it's about the experience more than just a sporting event for people to attend. When asked about what set's Formula 1 apart from other sports he says: “I would call it a celebration more than just a sport. There is a lot of aspects involved in it. And I would say that some series that came out lately, like Netflix - Drive to Survive - has added more of a human sense or human feeling to the spectators what happens behind the lines. Before in the past, people used only to see the racing on the track and they related only to drivers driving cars. So I would say that motorsports or Formula One are being now celebrated more than just a sport or motor cars that are being raced on a racetrack.”
Al-Hamad also hopes to inspire the next generation with a karting academy in Qatar.
“Even before we managed to land the deal with Formula 1 to host the race in Qatar, we have been looking into the grass roots of motorsports. And how is it that we can bring the next Nasser Al Attiyah into the lights. We have initiated a new branch which is the Karting Academy, and we are now collecting a lot of enthusiasts, at a younger age, to actually build them up or draw the path for them to become professional racing drivers in the future.”
Fast and furious Qatar style
From Ferraris to McLarens, the sight of rare supercars casually cruising the streets has become a regular sight in Doha. But what drives the passion behind luxury car collecting?
Mohammed Al Kubaisi is the owner of a rare Lamborghini Countach ‘89.
"When I was a kid, I loved cars. I like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, so I have a passion like, good hobby for this one I want to [start] a club in Doha, and I started Elite Supercars in 2014.
Mohammed is just one of many car enthusiasts in the country whose hobby is collecting rare and exotic supercars.
But you don't need to be a petrol head to join.
Sheikh Saif Bin Nasser Al-Thani, the driver of a 2022 Ferrari SF90 Stradale, tells us he bought his car because he was won over by the vehicle's technological advancements - a streamlined hybrid model powered by a twin-turbo V8 engine and three electric motors.
Jassim Al Emadi, the CEO of McLaren Doha, says the club is a great way to share his passion with others.
''We are advancing a lot. And it's not just for the car buyers or the car owners. Actually, it's much more than that. There are a lot of design elements in the cars, a lot of interesting engineering in the cars, and it's always great to share it with all the people. Older people, younger people, kids.”
Cars have always been a huge part of Qatar’s culture. From a love for American ‘muscle cars’ in the 1960s and 70s to a growing pivot towards lower-emissions and an awareness of safety regulations. The evolution of the motor industry here speaks volumes. And there are some places that offer a true trip down memory lane, and an insight into car and Qatar itself.
Sheikh Faisal bin Qassim Al Thani’s Museum holds more than 600 cars. From some of the earliest motorised vehicles – like a 1900 Benz Ideal – to some of the most expensive of their time. Walking through the museum is the ultimate history lesson.
“Cars are symbolising the human ingenuity of people who manufacture the car, to do what, to shorten distances between places, between people and most importantly to create a bridge amongst civilisations,” says Museum Director Claudio Cravero.
The collection includes a Chrysler that was customised with special safety features for chauffeuring the fourth ruler of Qatar. Another notable piece is a Dodge Power Wagon, a common hunting vehicle in the 1940s. Then there are the cars that provide insight into Qatar's recent past.
“What stands out here is that the car [Chevrolet] became the symbol of resilience in Qatar. We know that Qatar got affected by the blockade in 2017 and the museum itself decided to open this car, to leave it to the public to sign up,” says Cravero.
And the museum's collection inspired Eisa Nasser Al Kaabi to follow suit. He built his own boutique museum on his family’s 100-year-old farm.
“My late father bought me this car in 1991, when I was young. I sold this car years ago and then rebought it, when I luckily found it after searching. I hadn’t realised then how rare it was to have an immaculate and functioning Range Rover”
“Throughout the years, car manufacturers evolved their safety measures. Of course the newer cars have seatbelts and airbags and took into account other safety measures … but many of the cars you see here don’t even have seatbelts. What’s interesting is, regardless of that, the older the car the more expensive it becomes,'' he says.
Bridging a century, there are vintage vehicles from the past in these museums, as well as one-of-a-kind customised models. And every car has something to tell - from technological evolutions... and safety care to design.