HIGH OCTANE FIRST FINNISH DAY MARKS AL QASSIMI'S WRC RETURN First Finnish Outing Puts Abu Dhabi Juniors In Points Contention FINLAND, 31 July, 2009: The legendary Rally Finland got fully underway in Jyvaskyla with Abu Dhabi rally star...
HIGH OCTANE FIRST FINNISH DAY MARKS AL QASSIMI'S WRC RETURN
First Finnish Outing Puts Abu Dhabi Juniors In Points Contention
FINLAND, 31 July, 2009: The legendary Rally Finland got fully underway in Jyvaskyla with Abu Dhabi rally star Khaled Al Qassimi returning to his BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team car for the first time in almost two months. Some of the fastest World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar stages greeted the Emirati ace who took time to acclimatise to the breakneck speeds as the Finnish countryside rocked to the sound of the world's most powerful rally engines.
After a steady start, Al Qassimi opened the throttle to record a series of scintillating stage times and keep himself in contention for more Championship points. After nine of the fastest WRC stages, Al Qassimi sits 12th overall, with 14 more dramatic stages still to come before this thrilling event comes to a head on Sunday afternoon.
The rally began in earnest on Thursday evening with an opening Super Special Stage which saw the teams show off their spectacular horsepower in front of a huge grandstand crowd at the oval track in Killeri. Hometown hero and WRC Championship leader, BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Mikko Hirvonen, thrilled fans with a dazzling display of control and power, only to be edged into second place by just 0.9 sec by French WRC legend Sebastien Loeb. Meanwhile Al Qassimi and co-driver Michael Orr were 11th fastest in their Ford Focus RS, using the short 2.06km stage as a chance to put in some much needed road time, and regain the feel for the car that proved so successful at the Rally of Greece.
Having missed Rally Poland at the end of June, the dramatic Finnish stages were sure to be a challenging return for Al Qassimi, but on his second Rally Finland he equipped himself well to improve gradually throughout the day. With time even more at a premium on Finland's lightening fast roads, Al Qassimi has a tough challenge ahead to make up ground on those ahead. However, the rally is less than a third of the way through and after the drama of the last two WRC rounds, no one will rule out significant place changes over the weekend. Eight stages on Friday, with another Super Special Stage to come this evening, have all been safely negotiated by the Emirati ace with little real difficulty and Al Qassimi will look to build on a solid first day performance over the weekend.
"We had an interesting start on this morning's stages," commented Al Qassimi. "We started to lift the pace as the day went on but we really need more mileage under our belts. The roads here are some of the fastest around which obviously brings with it difficulties -- you need to be fully committed through the fast corners and for that you need to have a true feeling for the car. We will continue to lift our performance with each stage."
At the front of the field a battle royal is already developing between new Championship leader, Hirvonen and reigning WRC World Champion Loeb. Making full use of a passionate home support Hirvonen was leading Rally Finland at the end of stage six with Loeb hot on his coat tails, just 7.6 seconds behind.
"Jyvaskala 2009 demonstrates Khalid's increasing international credentials and shows how his rally prowess has developed since his WRC debut there two years ago," said Ahmed Hussein, Deputy Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which partners the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team. "His performance will be a paradigm for our aspiring Emiratis and will clearly show that hard work, persistence and determination brings performance results."
Meanwhile Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers, Majed Al Shamsi, Bader Al Jabri and Ahmed Al Mansoori, also took time to get used to the unique Finnish conditions in their first outing at the Scandinavian classic. A gearbox and steering problem on stage three saw Al Shamsi retire from the day's stages - he will return tomorrow with a time penalty under the 'Super Rally' rules -- while Al Mansoori and Al Jabri made a positive start on the opening morning. After stage five, the two young Emirati proteges were in fourth and sixth places respectively in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy international.
Three more stages remain on Friday afternoon, as well as two more full days of action throughout Saturday and Sunday. With all three BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team cars looking strong, and the Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers well placed in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy, it is shaping up to be another thrilling round of the WRC for Abu Dhabi's rally programmes. Abu Dhabi is also Official Destination partner of the World Rally Championship, and creator of the Abu Dhabi Junior Driver Development Programme.