ABU DHABI // Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, has put caution ahead of pace when Rally France, round 11 of the 13-event World Rally Championship (WRC) season, starts today.
The France event has switched from its traditional routes through the island of Corsica's tight, twisty tarmac passes to the wider, sealed surface roads of rural Alsace and is al Qassimi's second asphalt rally in a week.
The first - last week's Middle East round in Lebanon - saw the Emirati claim maximum points with a second-place finish, but the new-look event represents a sterner task. With various gravel sections littering the round's 20 stages, al Qassimi is advocating a cautious approach.
"The stages here are completely different to the runs in Lebanon," al Qassimi said via telephone from Alsace. "Being on tarmac so recently might help me find a rhythm quickly, but because the stages are all new it won't be easy.
"There are gravel sections in some of the stages," he said. "Tarmac tyres don't work well on gravel and vice versa, so it will be hard to control the slicks on the rougher sections."
With no opportunity for pre-rally testing, al Qassimi will switch back to a Ford Focus - he drives a Ford Fiesta in the Merc series - in France. The 37-year old predicted preparation will be vital.
"My first goal is just to finish," said al Qassimi. "It's a new rally and hard to judge how I will do. It depends on how quickly I get comfortable and can up my pace. I'll set the car up the best I can and take it from there. It's not really about targets, it's about preparing correctly - the result will come from there."
With two rally-ending smashes in his three WRC outings, the UAE driver is eager to avoid a premature retirement hat-trick.
"I'd like a good result to get me back on track, something among the top-level drivers and in the points," al Qassimi said. "But the most important thing is finishing. One mistake and you're done."