TOP 10 PORTUGESE FINISH IN ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI'S SIGHTS Algarve, Portugal. 29 May 2010: Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi edged closer to securing his second Rally De Portugal top 10 finish on Saturday as the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's...
TOP 10 PORTUGESE FINISH IN ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI'S SIGHTS
Algarve, Portugal. 29 May 2010: Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi edged closer to securing his second Rally De Portugal top 10 finish on Saturday as the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Emirati star put in a commanding performance on the tricky, gravel-laden tracks of the sun-drenched Algarve.
With tyre preservation and road position making the sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) as much a battle of tactics as of driving, Al Qassimi got it right on day three as he clawed his way up to 11th spot at the event's mid-way point.
The Portuguese rally has been a favourite of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed ace, since he finished eighth there last year, and after yesterday's opening stages, Al Qassimi strung together solid back-to-back performances to finish 19.6 seconds off nearest challenger, Argentina's Federico Villagra.
"I enjoyed the first stage this morning, but the roads are very difficult to drive. The surface changes so much during one stage making it very hard to find the right balance in my driving. The roads are going to get worse as the temperature gets hotter and the tyres heat up which will mean losing even more grip on the gravel," said Al Qassimi, who is making his WRC comeback after three months chasing Middle East Rally Championship honours
The Algarve's hot climate and treacherous road conditions have proved to be the over-riding challenge for all drivers, with tyre wear being the key consideration. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi team's priority has been to maintain tyre tread ensuring a firm grip on the gravel surfaces as they challenge for the Manufacturers' Championship lead before the summer break.
With one eye on the prize, Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen, who dropped back in Friday's stages to secure a cleaner starting position on day three, restarted the action in fourth, and recorded a third in the opening 26.20km stage before losing a place after the tough Vascão stage.
"The car slid around a lot in the second part of the stage on the wider and faster sections. Perhaps taking two spare tyres was too cautious. It adds an extra 25kg to the weight of the car and when the car slides sideways, it slips more because of the extra weight in the rear. I will still take two spares this afternoon though because the roads will be very abrasive and we'll need them," said the Flying Finn, who finished second in Portugal last year.
Abu Dhabi's second driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, saw his 2009 Portugal horror crash -- watched by more than 800,000 YouTube viewers -- come back to haunt him as an overcautious approach to the winding hillside roads backfired after a crash on stage nine. The impact damaged a rear wheel and the 23-year-old rising star was forced to retire from the day's action.
Meanwhile, in a bid to emulate their mentor Al Qassimi, Team Abu Dhabi's junior drivers, competing in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi), continued their Portuguese pursuit.
Leading the attack was FSTi expert Bader Al Jabri. The young rally contender - returning to the Algarve for his second Rally de Portugal - ended Friday in second position after successfully negotiating his Abu Dhabi emblazoned Fiesta R2 through heavy gravel. Al Jabri attacked the early stages on day three hoping to claw back time on current leader, Christian Reidemann, only to come up against the Portuguese elements which claimed his back hub, forcing him to finish his campaign for the day.
Also returning to Portugal for the second time is Majed Al Shamsi - a graduate of ADTA's Junior Driver Development Programme. The ambitious Emirati recorded some of the rally's fastest times and held the lead until a front arm bolt became loose on his Fiesta, halting his rallying for the remainder of day two. The next day, Al Shamsi continued to punch out some competitive times, gaining yet more familiarity on the abrasive terrain that has confounded even the most experienced WRC drivers.
"Friday's retirement was a little frustrating as we had been so successful up until that point. However, it is all part of our development and it is just as vital for us all to take some key learnings away from events and use them to our advantage for the rest of the FSTi," added Al Shamsi.