ABU DHABI // Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi, the UAE's most high-profile rally driver, has refused to concede defeat in the bid by Abu Dhabi to secure a place on next season's World Rally Championship (WRC) calendar. Having been selected by the WRC promoter, North One, to be on the schedule for the original 2011 calendar, Abu Dhabi was excluded when the FIA released its final 13-event schedule on Wednesday.
Al Qassimi, who is dovetailing WRC duties for BP Ford Abu Dhabi with a bid for a second Middle East Rally Championship title this season, believes nothing is finalised. "From my point of view, we are still in the first third of the year and anything can happen with the FIA," he said. "They always release the schedule for the following season around this time of the year and it's never the final version, there are always changes."
The emirate's exclusion from the 2011 calendar prompted organisers of Rally Abu Dhabi, scheduled for December, to postpone the candidate event for a year. That move, insisted al Qassimi, was the right one. "Abu Dhabi is a new host and it needs time," he said. "There has been a lot of work done on the routes and stage locations, but with an extra year to prepare everything we'll be ready for an amazing candidate rally in 2011.
"People are working hard because the rally is a huge target for Abu Dhabi. The extra 12 months will be helpful, but I believe a clearer picture of the actual 2011 calendar will emerge later this year." With Jordan replacing Abu Dhabi on the FIA-ratified 2011 schedule, al Qassimi dismissed the governing body's citation of "geographical balance" as its primary reason for dropping the UAE round. "Europe has over half of the championship," said al Qassimi. "The fact is, any country in any part of the world has the right to apply to host a round of the championship. It doesn't matter if you have a neighbouring country that already has an event, you still have the right to present your case and bid for a round.
"It's a similar scenario to when Abu Dhabi secured a grand prix even though Bahrain already had one. Abu Dhabi made its case and got a race." Schedules, administrative politics and Abu Dhabi's WRC misfortune aside, al Qassimi, who faces seven gruelling events in seven consecutive weeks later this year, is eyeing a change in his own luck. A series of technical failures have plagued his all-new S2000 a Ford Focus that will compete in the WRC next season and curtailed his title challenge.
"You need luck to win championships," he said. "I've had none so far this year. Of the five rounds I've entered, I've won one, finished second and retired from three with mechanical issues. But the car is completely new, it's only four months old it's a newborn. "If I keep doing what I am doing and continue leading rallies after the first day, my luck will change. There is still a lot to play for three wins and a podium would probably do it."