SEVENTH HEAVEN FOR ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI AT RALLY DE ESPANA Emirate's Juniors Finish Strongly in FSTi Championship BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Latvala and Hirvonen Snare Fourth and Fifth Salou, Spain. 24 October 2010: The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al...
SEVENTH HEAVEN FOR ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI AT RALLY DE ESPANA
Emirate's Juniors Finish Strongly in FSTi Championship
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Latvala and Hirvonen Snare Fourth and Fifth
Salou, Spain. 24 October 2010: The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi produced his most accomplished FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) performance of the season, BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Emirati driver finishing an impressive seventh in Rally de Espana -- the penultimate round of the 2010 season.
Having begun the final leg in 9th, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) backed Al Qassimi held off Ford veteran Henning Solberg to double his season's points haul and jump up to 12th in the drivers' standings.
"This rally has gone a long way to building my confidence," Al Qassimi beamed at the Salou finish. "After crashing in Finland and Japan, we deserved a good result and this one is right up there with my sixth place finish in Greece last year."
Having seen his safety-first approach rewarded, a jubilant Al Qassimi added: "We started off cautiously on the alternating surfaces, but our persistence has paid off and we are really pleased to have claimed six drivers' points."
With the bulk of the final day's action taking place on two passes of the epic, 42.04km El Priotat stage, Al Qassimi edged Solberg on the test's first run to leapfrog the Norwegian by a mere 0.8seconds.
The Emirati rose another position before the next stage -- the shorter 4.11km La Serra d'Almos -- had even started. Hungarian privateer Frigyes Turan, who had been sitting comfortably ahead of Al Qassimi and Solberg, experienced problems in the final kilometre of El Priotat and dropped down the order. Buoyed by the unexpected jump, Al Qassimi went on to increase his lead on the afternoon re-runs and eventually finished 5.5 seconds ahead of Solberg.
"Henning was only a few seconds ahead of us at the start of the day, but we managed to get ahead on SS13. It wasn't an easy stage, so we had to stay focused and balanced. It was a great battle and even better to come out on top. Now we will have to concentrate on scoring some more points in Wales," said Al Qassimi, who has cemented his position as the UAE's most successful WRC driver in terms of Championship points.
Al Qassimi's BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mates, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen, also boasted strong finishes - the pair claiming fourth and fifth, respectively. With only the season's Welsh curtain-call remaining, Latvala retained third place in the drivers' championship and moved to within striking distance of Citroen Junior Team's Sebastian Ogier.
Inspired by Al Qassimi's heroics, Team Abu Dhabi Junior driver Bader Al Jabri raced to second -- the 25-year-old's fifth consecutive podium - in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) field. Amazingly, Al Jabri was the 20th fastest among all Rally de Espana entries.
Al Jabri's finish delivered the Abu Dhabi development programme product 18 points, plus an additional point for a gripping stage win on SS11. The ever-improving prospect is currently only three points behind Harry Hunt in the overall standings, setting up a nail-biting FSTi title decider in Great Britain from November 12-14.
"I was hoping to take a couple more stage wins to take overall lead in the standings, but I am happy with the result on tricky terrain," said Al Jabri. "We will have to push hard in Wales to close the gap, but I am feeling positive that I can better last season's third place finish."
Majed Al Shamsi, Al Jabri's Abu Dhabi Juniors team-mate, also had a successful Spanish campaign, finishing fourth and moving up to fourth in the FSTi drivers' rankings.