Al Jabri Leads FSTi as Team Abu Dhabi Continue Battle for 2010 Season Title Strasbourg, France. 1 October 2010: BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Finnish duo of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen put in a measured display on the new-look...
Al Jabri Leads FSTi as Team Abu Dhabi Continue Battle for 2010 Season Title
Strasbourg, France. 1 October 2010: BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Finnish duo of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen put in a measured display on the new-look Rallye de France's opening day to finish fifth and sixth respectively after the first four stages.
Abu Dhabi's Khalid Al Qassimi, returning for only his second asphalt event of the 2010 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season, also erred on the side of caution as he looks to put his early retirement at Rally Japan two weeks ago behind him. The Emirati motorsport ace currently sits in 13th, just 20 seconds outside the points scoring.
"The roads are fairly thin in places and the tyres are slipping a bit, but we drive the same stages this afternoon, so I will hopefully be able to push a bit harder as the roads dry out," said Al Qassimi, who comes straight from a successful outing in the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), where he picked up maximum points in Lebanon. "We have had a couple of bad crashes recently, so the aim here is to finish confidently."
Heavy overnight rain meant the Team Abu Dhabi drivers faced slippery and muddy road conditions in Friday's early stages, adding to the already challenging narrow and bumpy countryside roads typical of the Vosges Region south of Strasbourg. The surfaces in France have been compared to those of Rallye Deutschland, with the added exception that drivers faced a lot of cutting and varying grips on the roads.
Latvala, who currently sits third in the overall Drivers' Championship, was the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed team's top performer of the day, recording his best time on the longest stage, Grand Ballon, just 2.6 seconds behind winner Sebastien Loeb.
Prior to that, 25-year-old Latvala posted consistent fifth place finishes in the opening three stages. He sits 28.3 seconds off rally leader Loeb and 13.6 seconds of second placed, Sebastien Ogier.
"I had no rhythm for the first two stages. It's a new rally and yesterday's test road wasn't representative of the stages, so I was thinking more in gravel mode than asphalt mode initially. I was much calmer and less aggressive on the next two stages and everything felt much better," said Latvala, who has two WRC victories under his belt this year.
"The last test was very dirty after just two cars before me, and I'm concerned about the state of the roads this afternoon after the whole entry has driven them."
Meanwhile, the Team Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers were engaged in an exciting four-way tussle in the 2010 Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) fifth round in France.
Bader Al Jabri and Majed Al Shamsi, two members of ADTA's Junior Driver Development Programme, began Rallye de France in second and fourth overall in the FSTi standings. With only three rounds left, and with the series' top four drivers separated by only 11 points, this testing event will likely play a pivotal role in shaping final standings.
In the FSTi, drivers also win a bonus point for every stage they win, so it was foot-to-the-pedal for the young Emiratis, who were pushing their Fiesta R2s hard on the wet tarmac in order to clock up as many points as possible.
Racing ahead at the half way point was Al Jabri, who recorded the fastest time in the 16.6km second stage. The result was made more significant as his points rival, England's Harry Hunt, suffered with a gearbox problem, forcing him to lose considerable time. Up-and-coming rally star, Al Jabri, took full advantage and went on to record another fastest stage time on Grand Ballon to take the lead.
"The stages are nice, they have a good flow and you can find a rhythm more easily here than in Germany', said Al Jabri. "I was most looking forward to the first two stages as they were the smoothest and widest, so I was pleased to be the fastest across stage 2. Now we will have to see what happens in the afternoon."
Less fortunate was teammate Al Shamsi, who was tailing in third until a drive shaft problem forced him into retirement only 1km from the end of the morning's final stage. He will continue on Saturday under SupeRally rules.