After a superb fightback and a nail-biting finale, Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson won the Dubai International Rally in their DS3 RRC.

– Ten years after his first MERC title, the Abu Dhabi driver wins the FIA Middle East Rally Championship* again.

– The DS3s completed a clean sweep in Dubai, as Mohamed Al Sahlawi secured victories in the 2WD and Junior categories.

The quickest driver on the stages on day one, Khalid Al Qassimi nonetheless ended the first leg in second overall after being handed a penalty for a false start. With a deficit of 6.8s to make up on the leader, the DS3 RRC driver was determined to go after the win that would secure him the MERC title.

The day’s leg featured three stages, each run twice. As some sections has been used in the opposite direction on the opening day, the sandy roads winding through the Emirati desert had broken up significantly.

Despite pushing hard all the way and setting the fastest time on SS8, the first loop didn’t go quite according to plan for Sheikh Khalid, who lost a few seconds to the leader. The gap edged above the ten-second mark, but Khalid’s hopes remained intact: “The changes we made to the set-up yesterday evening moved us in the right direction, but I feel that I still lack a bit of traction. I know when and how I am losing time! But the engineers are very resourceful and we are going to keep working on the set-up. I hope that will help me to make up the time. Everything is still possible: there are still three long stages to go.”

And indeed, on SS10, the DS3 RRC was some 6.1s faster than its rivals. On the following test, Khalid Al Qassimi claimed another stage win to grab the overall lead by just four tenths! And so, more than ever, it would all come down to the final stage of the season! At the end of Mileiha, a 26km-long stage, the tension was incredible. In spite of a slow puncture, Khalid and Chris set the second fastest time on the stage, a tenth off the lead pace. It didn’t take long to do the maths: the rally and the title had been won by just 3/10ths of a second!

“We did the right thing in refusing to give up. With everyone in the team, we have battled hard for this result,” emphasized a delighted and emotional Sheikh Khalid at the finish. “It’s a fantastic result for Citroën, which wins this international rally title for the first time. With each rally, we have improved and adapted the DS3 RRC to the specifics of the Middle East. This weekend, once again we made a great deal of progress and that excites me, looking ahead. It has also been a great occasion for the United Arab Emirates, a few days before celebrations of our national day begin. I really wanted to win, both for the team and for my country.”

The 2WD (two-wheel drive) standings were dominated by the DS3 R3s. Leader since the start of the rally, Mohamed Al Mutawaa lost two minutes after rolling his car on SS9. Mohamed Al Sahlawi inherited the lead before going on to claim his first win of the year, ahead of Al Mutawaa and Saeed Bintouq. Mansoor Bel Helei also made it to the end of this, the final round of the season.

“Congratulations to Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi for winning this title with flair,” added Yves Matton, Citroën Racing Team Principal. “It was also his first win with the DS3 RRC, and that is just rewards for the work that everyone has put into this project over the last two years. When Citroën Racing decided to enter the MERC, we knew that it would be a huge challenge, competing against drivers and teams that are experienced in this championship. With each rally, we have tried to get the absolute maximum out of the DS3 RRC, which is closely derived from the WRC. We’ll be looking to defend this title next year!”


Ghiotto quickest on final day in Yas Marina
Luca Ghiotto and Antonio Fuoco set the pace on third day of post-season testing

Trident’s Luca Ghiotto posted the fastest time on the third and final day of post-season testing at the Yas Marina circuit with a 1:55.134. Ferrari Academy driver Antonio Fuoco led the way in the morning session.
The test got underway in hazy and humid conditions. Riccardo Agostini returned to the paddock with his team Hilmer Motorsport and was first to lap in the 1m56’s. Ralph Boschung for Jenzer Motorsport lapped quicker to take the top spot before Mitch Gilbert (ART Grand Prix) dipped into the 1m55’s to go P1.
Agostini stopped on track early on which caused a brief halt to proceedings and when the action resumed, Boschung returned to the top of the standing. At the midway point of the session Fuoco put in a flier to end the session heading the timesheet with Spaniard Alex Palou a few tenths off in P2. There was a second red flag when Kourosh Khani stopped at turn 13 in the Hilmer Motorsport car.
At the chequered flag the session belonged to Fuoco. Palou, Boschung, Matt Parry, Gilbert, Alfonso Celis. Jr, Jimmy Eriksson, Seb Morris, Luca Ghiotto, Edward Jones and Jack Aitken completed the top ten.
After GP2 had run their first session of the day, GP3 returned to the track for their final track time of 2014. Fuoco again was an early pace-setter; before Matheo Tuscher led the way, but it was Fuoco who was first to dip into the 1m55’s in the afternoon. Eriksson and Jones also shot to P1 as the clock ticked down, with the merest of gaps separating their laptimes: 0.001s – with the Carlin driver having the edge.
Ghiotto lit up the timing screen to head to the top of the timings with Fuoco a tenth off and Tuscher two tenths off respectively. The chequered flag was waved marking the end of the test. Ghiotto led Fuoco, Tuscher, Jones, Eriksson and Boschung. Aitken, Palou and Gilbert rounded out the top ten.
The test session has brought the curtain down on the 2014 GP3 Series Season, dates for pre-season testing and the calendar will be unveiled in due course.