Al QASSIMI FIGHTS BACK ON DIFFICULT RETURN TO WRC ACTION IN SWEDEN
Emirati driver produces battling display with Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team after extreme conditions cause early setback
Abu Dhabi, UAE, 8 February, 2013: The UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi fought back strongly from an early setback on his return to World Rally Championship action today in conditions which created havoc for some of the world’s top drivers in Rally Sweden.
Partnered by British co-driver Scott Martin in his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC, Al Qassimi quickly shrugged off the loss of seven minutes when he was sucked into a snow bank on the day’s first of seven treacherous special stages.
“It was a very bad start and just what I didn’t want, but conditions are very difficult and causing problems for a lot of drivers,” he said. “I’ve just put that behind me now and will look to make up as much ground as I can.”
On an opening special stage looking more like an Olympic Games bobsleigh track, Al Qassimi was among a succession of drivers who fell victim to the conditions as he dropped from his starting position of 19th to 39th.
But he produced an immediate response, climbing four places up the field on the next stage and two more on the fourth special stage before reaching the Hagfors Service Park.
Underlining the difficulty of the extreme winter conditions in Sweden, with snow falling and roads turned to ice, British driver Matthew Wilson lost a similar amount of time to Al Qassimi on the opening stage when he slid off into the same snow bank.
Shortly afterwards, two time Rally Sweden winner Mikko Hirvonen, the Finn who is one of the world’s top winter rally specialists, dramatically lost 22 minutes in almost identical fashion, plummeting to the back of the field in his Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC
Holding an early second position in another Citroën Total Abu Dhabi DS3 WRC behind Sebastien Ogier, nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb completed the stage to say: “The narrow parts were very tricky. It was difficult to find a rhythm, and easy to go in the ditch.”
The ice and snow of Rally Sweden, which is the most difficult and punishing of all 13 WRC rounds, is providing the ultimate test for Al Qassimi on his return to the world stage after a 16-month break.
He spent much of last year recovering from knee surgery, and is gradually easing his way back into international rallying following the creation of a new partnership between Abu Dhabi Racing and Citroën Racing.
Just two weeks ago he came close to victory in Qatar at the start of the 2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship, and has had only a few days in Sweden to adjust to conditions which provide a dramatic contrast to the desert stages outside Doha.