The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi has set his sights on a second FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) title, as he prepares to spearhead a five-car challenge by Abu Dhabi Racing (ADR) in this weekend’s Qatar International Rally.
Al Qassimi, who won the regional title in 2004, knows he faces a stern opening round test in Qatar when he takes his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total WRC Team DS3 RRC in pursuit of victory alongside British co-driver Scott Martin.
Undaunted by the challenge ahead, Al Qassimi begins his title push facing a triple Qatari threat in the shape of the top three finshers in last year’s championship: seven-time Middle East champion Nasser Al Attiyah, last year’s Qatar Rally winner Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, and 2011 regional champion Misfer Al Marri.
Al Qassimi’s optimism stems from the newly-established ADR squad being the most powerful ever-assembled in the regional series’ 29-year history.
In addition to Al Qassimi, the all-Emirati driver line-up features former Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority’s former Junior Driver Development Programme recruits Majid Al Shamsi and Badr Al Jabri piloting a pair of Subaru N15s in the new Group N title race.
Elsewhere, newcomers Mohammed Al Mutawaa and Mohammed Abdullah Hussain Al Sahlawi - who won a tough Citroen young driver selection process involving 13 drivers at Abu Dhabi’s
Yas Marina Circuit in November - are each driving a Citroen DS3 R3 2WD in the MERC’s newly-introduced two-wheel drive category.
With the five crews being supported by a 30-strong team of engineers, technicians and senior management, the vastly-experienced Al Qassimi believes the start of a new phase in his career will dovetail a new dawn for the UAE’s MERC involvement.
“It’s great to be back in Qatar for the start of a new season and I’m excited about the prospect of so many Abu Dhabi Racing-backed Emiratis contesting the series’ various championships,” said Al Qassimi.
“Our collective aim is to boost Abu Dhabi’s presence in global motorsport and increase Emirati participation in various motorsport series, so it’s great to be here with four other UAE nationals - let’s hope we can all make title bids this season.
“Our efforts to attract more young Emiratis into motorsport are already paying dividends and hopefully our new drivers will help inspire a new generation of nationals to try their hands at
With a broken water pump having wrecked Al Attiyah’s Dakar Rally bid in South America, Al Qassimi still views his old rival as the one to beat this year.
“He has to be the favourite because of his record and because this is his home rally,” added Al Qassimi. “We’ve done a lot of testing in the new Citroen DS3 though and we’re here in Qatar well prepared and in good spirits. The Middle East title is my primary target this year and it would be nice to get off to a great start with a win.”
The Qatar International Rally, which launches the six-round FIA Middle East Championship, gets under way at 8am on Friday, with 12 special stages equally split between the first leg and
Saturday’s second leg.
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