Ten years after his first title, Abu Dhabi driver wins FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
After a nail-biting finale, Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson won the Dubai International Rally in their Citroen 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!
Never give up
“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!”
FINAL PROVISIONAL STANDINGS
1. Khalid Al Qassimi / Chris Patterson (DS3 RRC) 1:59:27.5
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah / Giovanni Bernacchini (Ford Fiesta RRC) 1:59:27.8
3. Abdulaziz Al Kuwari / Killian Duffy (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:03:51.5
4. Khalid Al Suwaidi / John Higgins (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:05:46.9
5. Abdullah Al Qassimi / Gaby Khoury (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:06:41.2
6. Abdulla Al Kuwari / Enda Sherry (Ford Fiesta RRC) 2:11:57.9
7. Khalifa Saleh Al-Attiyah / Adhil H. Abdulla (Mitsubishi Lancer) 2:16:14.9
8. Mohamed Al Sahlawi / Craig Parry (DS3 R3) 2:20:24.8
9. Mohammed Al Mutawaa / Stephen McAuley (DS3 R3) 2:21:14.0
10. Rashid Al Ketbi / Karina Hepperle (Ford Fiesta R5) 2:23:37.9