Saudi Prince Abdulaziz Turki AlFaisal has become the poster boy for motorsports in the Middle East. GC talks to him ahead of his 24 hour endurance race in Dubai.
For a region famous for its fast cars and motorsport, the Middle East has not produced that many drivers who have left their mark on the international stage. Until now that is. Saudi’s Prince Abdulaziz Turki AlFaisal has become the face of racing in the region after winning GT3 titles in Bahrain, Portugal and Dubai and clinching a lucrative sponsorship deal with Red Bull in 2010.
The charismatic 29-year-old is the son of Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who was the Director General of the Saudi intelligence agency for 24 years, and former ambassador to the UK and US.
Considered a late starter, the young prince only took his first steps towards racing eight years ago, when he attended the Formula BMW driving school in Bahrain with a friend – a place where most drivers from the region go to develop their skills. “It may have triggered something in me but I never thought I was going to have a career in it,” said AlFaisal.
But just four years later, he was crowned champion of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East 2009/2010 with nine wins and 12 podium finishes. He won the championship again in 2011/12 to cement his status in the region and he became the first Arab to win a race in the FIA GT3 European Championship when he topped the leader board on his debut race in Algarve, Portugal.
With the wins, come endorsement deals and the Prince was recently named as a brand ambassador for the Swiss watchmaker IWC SCHAFFHAUSEN.
AlFaisal is in Dubai preparing for the Dunlop 24-hour endurance race at Motorcity’s autodrome where he’s previously finished second in the overall standings and first in his class and in Bahrain where he came third in the overall standings and second in his class for 2010. He is also participating in the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East in Saudi in February, the leading one-make series in the region and gunning for his third championship win in four years.
The Saudi Prince known as ‘Aziz’ or ATF amongst his friends has been hailed as a ‘role model’ for the region’s youth because of his efforts to promote the sport throughout the Middle East. Part of that has also been to focus on safety. He has been named as Shell’s ambassador for their road safety campaign 2013, which sees him regularly visiting schools and universities throughout Saudi Arabia.
He explained, “There is a big movement, especially in Saudi about road safety because we do suffer a lot from accidents often caused by these illegal drifters. The government is trying to tackle it but it’s a huge social responsibility, it’s not just the roads that need to be fixed or controlled, it’s about educating people and that’s what we try to do.”
Incidentally, the topic of safe driving and young Arabs has become the subject of a recent Channel 4 documentary called “Millionaire Boy Racers’ that aired in the UK in January. The documentary followed young Arabs as they shipped their supercars from the Gulf to London for the summer season and highlighted the frustrations of local residents in London’s plush Knightsbridge area, where they go to race and show off their expensive cars.
When asked about this documentary AlFaisal who lived and studied in London for almost four years when his father was ambassador to the UK from 2001, admitted to watching the programme and said he sympathized with the residents of Knightsbridge but felt the show unfairly portrayed Arab teenagers.
“For me it’s a shame because people always see the negative side about Arab youngsters or ‘gulfies’ as the show called us, and they think that everyone is spoiled and everyone can afford these cars when the reality isn’t that way.
“You find that everywhere in the world there are teenagers who like to show off and we are not any different, but I don’t think it sets out the true picture. When you go and see in Saudi Arabia for example, where 70% of the population are between 15 and 40 years old, there are a lot of creative and very bright young people that do amazing things but unfortunately that won’t sell in the media,” he added.
When asked about the sensitive subject of women drivers in his own country, AlFaisal said that it was a government law to ban women drivers and he must respect those laws. However, the forward thinking prince said he believed the time would come sooner rather than later where women are allowed to drive by law.
“It was the same with education, in the beginning everyone was against it and then a year later they asked the King to open more schools. It’s going to happen sooner or later.”
My sisters drive when they are abroad and I see no problem with that.
“My sisters drive when they are abroad and I see no problem with that,” he said.
In his professional life, AlFaisal is confident about his future. His ultimate goal remains unchanged: to conquer the prestigious 24 hour Le Mans race in France, where he has participated twice already, but is yet to finish.
“Unfortunately my past experiences of Le Mans involved accidents so I still have yet to even finish the 24 hrs before I can actually win it. I can’t move on until I do,” he explained.
However, the 29-year old has yet to confirm whether or not he will be able to participate in this year’s race in June.
In the meantime, the Saudi’s time is divided between racing and managing his businesses; he’s the chairman of Saudi Industrial Resins Company, Saudi Sports Group, and the owner of Radical Sports Cars dealership in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar.