ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI FIXED ON RALLY GB MILESTONE Team Abu Dhabi Junior Eyeing Strong Fiesta Series Finish in Wales BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Latvala Chasing 2nd in WRC Drivers' Championship Cardiff, Wales. 10 November 2010: BP-Ford Abu Dhabi...
ABU DHABI'S AL QASSIMI FIXED ON RALLY GB MILESTONE
Team Abu Dhabi Junior Eyeing Strong Fiesta Series Finish in Wales
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Latvala Chasing 2nd in WRC Drivers' Championship
Cardiff, Wales. 10 November 2010: BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi can seal his best-ever FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) season in the Welsh valleys this weekend, when the Emirati's eight-event 2010 calendar comes to a thrilling climax at Rally Great Britain - the season's 13th and final round.
Having scored drivers' points in three of his seven rounds so far, including six from the series' previous outing in Spain, the Abu Dhabi ace -- already the WRC's most successful Arab driver in terms of points scored - has amassed an impressive 12 points in five WRC finishes this term - double his total 2009 season haul.
Currently 12th in the drivers' standings, a mere four points off Mads Ostberg in 11th, a mark of Al Qassimi's progress at the sport's elite level is evidenced by the fact retirements in Finland and Japan remain his only non-finishes of the WRC season.
And while many motorsport fans' eyes will be trained on Yas Marina Circuit for the conclusion of the Formula One™ track season, Al Qassimi's focus will be purely off-road as he looks to close out a potentially record-breaking season.
"Rally Great Britain is always a thrilling event for me and this year will be no different," said Al Qassimi. "It is usually a wet, slippery mud-bath through the Welsh country tracks, pretty much the opposite of the smooth asphalt of a warm Yas Marina Circuit in November.
"I'm hoping for a strong performance of my own on what is a huge few days of motorsport for Abu Dhabi. With the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix going on at the same time, the emirate will be the talk of the motorsport world, let's hope we add to that buzz.
"This is one of the most challenging rallies on the calendar, but I'm confident after finishing seventh in Spain and I hope to end the season with more Championship points," added Al Qassimi.
Al Qassimi is not the only Emirati flying the UAE flag through the treacherous rural passes of mid- and south Wales. Team Abu Dhabi Junior driver, Majed Al Shamsi, fourth in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) standings, will also be battling the event's notoriously challenging dirt speed tests.
Having snared his maiden FSTi victory at the season's Portuguese opener and followed it up with a comfortable second place finish in Germany, Al Shamsi's title tilt has been derailed by a string of bad luck and unfortunate technical errors.
Topping the podium in Wales - a result that could see Al Shamsi challenge for the Championship, if other results go his way - would provide a suitable tonic.
"It will take all of the experience I have gained on the Junior Driver Development Programme to push hard against my rivals," said Al Shamsi. "The conditions can be dreadful here and I have to be careful and mature with my driving to maintain a competitive road position and finish the season on a high."
At the summit of the field, BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Jari-Matti Latvala is embroiled in a gripping three-way battle for the runners-up position in the drivers' standings. Latvala, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-backed team's second driver, has led the Ford squad's campaign this season and sits 11 points behind second-placed Citroen Junior driver, Sebastien Ogier, but five clear of fourth-placed privateer, Petter Solberg.
"At the start of the season I privately set a target to finish in the top three of the championship. I'm third and have a chance to take second, so I need a strong result in Wales. I started my career in Britain and my first world rally was here, so Rally GB is like a second home event for me," said Latvala.
Wales provides a watershed moment for the BP Ford Abu Dhabi crew, as it marks the last WRC outing for its record-breaking Ford Focus RS World Rally Car, which -- under new FIA guidelines designed to attract more manufacturers back to the sport - will be replaced with a lighter, lower specification Fiesta next season.
Piloted to two manufacturers' world titles, seven of the Focus's 44 rally wins have been scored by Mikko Hirvonen, the team's lead driver. The Finn is desperate to make it eight.
"To end the car's career with a win and take the final victory of the World Rally Car era would be fantastic," said 30-year-old Hirvonen. "The problem is that every driver has the same thought. The championship titles are settled and so everyone can drive for victory. Even those contesting second and third in the drivers' points will have to drive hard, so I expect a good battle."
The action begins with a new asphalt special stage near the service park in Cardiff Bay on Thursday evening and continues until Sunday. The rally includes 20 stages covering 344.96km in a route of 1541.82km.