Even to the wealthy denizens of Beverly Hills, the sight of a rare supercar with a seven-figure price tag speeding through their quiet neighbourhood came as a shock.
The bright yellow Ferrari LaFerrari was caught on video careening at high speed along leafy residential streets last weekend, as stunned pedestrians watched it race against a Porsche 911 GT3, slowing only when its engine began to smoke.
The car’s owner was later identified as 29-year-old Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad al-Thani, a member of the ruling family of Qatar, who told police he was protected by diplomatic immunity – and then fled the US.
As witnesses filmed the impromptu drag race on their phones, video journalist Jacob Rogers asked one of the drivers why they were acting so irresponsibly. “He told me verbatim, ‘I could have you killed and get away with it,’” Rogers later told NBC News. “I told him, ‘The press is allowed to be here on the sidewalk on a public street.’ He said, ‘Fuck America’ and threw a cigarette at me.”
By the time police were called to the scene, both cars were parked in the driveway of a $45,000-per-week (£29,000) rented home. Mr Thani reportedly told officers he owned the cars, but denied that anyone had been driving recklessly. Police were unable to determine who was behind the wheel in the video.
Watch the reckless street race here:
Only after consulting the US State Department and the Qatari consulate in Los Angeles did the authorities conclude that the sheikh’s claims of diplomatic immunity were false. As he named Mr Thani during a press conference on Thursday, the Beverly Hills Police Chief, Dominick Rivetti, insisted the city would enforce the law, no matter “who you are, who you know or where you are from.”
By that time, however, Mr Thani had left the country – and so had his cars. The hybrid LaFerrari seen in the video sells for $1.4m new, the Porsche is worth a mere $131,000. Also spotted in the same driveway was the sheikh’s $2.4m Bugatti Veyron Super Sport.
Beverly Hills residents are no strangers to wealthy visitors or their wildly expensive vehicles, but most are more respectful of road safety than the driver of the LaFerrari. Shipping companies who specialise in transporting supercars have seen an increase in traffic between the Middle East and Southern California, as LA’s toniest neighbourhoods supplant London, Paris and Monte Carlo as the preferred supercar playgrounds of the youthful Saudi, Kuwaiti and Emirati elites.
Car aficionado Drake Mumford, whose YouTube clip of the Beverly Hills incident has been viewed almost 800,000 times, told The Hollywood Reporter that LA is “a more supercar-friendly place” than the capitals of Western Europe. “In London they stay within a few miles of Knightsbridge, but from Beverly Hills they’ll travel to Santa Monica, Malibu and Newport Beach for meals,” he said.
Known as the “patron sheikh” of drag racing, Mr Thani has reportedly been a racing enthusiast since the age of 12. In recent seasons, he is believed to have sunk $10m per year into sponsoring the Al-Anabi drag racing team, taking it to championship victories in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
The Qatari Embassy could not be immediately reached for comment.
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