Less than a week after crashing out of Rally Japan's opening stage, Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi has promised to get back to winning ways in this weekend's Rally Lebanon, round five of the eight-event Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) calendar. "You need to keep your head up and believe in yourself," al Qassimi said via telephone from Lebanon.
"I will keep the hope that I can win the championship right up until the last round in Dubai. Things might go well, things might not, but I will always do my best - 10 points and a win is the goal here." The globe-trotting al Qassimi has paid the price for fighting on dual World Rally Championship (WRC) and MERC fronts this term. He has accrued more retirements (five) than finishes in his nine events thus far. Not all, however, have been his fault.
Technical issues with the Team Abu Dhabi driver's all-new Ford Fiesta - a vehicle al Qassimi's BP Ford Abu Dhabi stablemates will use in the WRC next year - have forced three retirements in four MERC fixtures. When the prototype car did finish, in Kuwait, al Qassimi topped the podium. "If the car works well and we can avoid the type of problems we've had elsewhere in the region, we'll be strong contenders," said al Qassimi, who faces 14 stages - the first will be run after sunset tonight - over three days.
"I have to get the right settings for the car; the balance needs to be right because the approaches in to corners here are very unpredictable," al Qassimi said. "It's tarmac, but it switches between old and rutted sections, to slicker, newly laid sections every hundred metres. The big game is reading the unpredictable surface and pace notes need to be very precise." With a raft of Lebanese entries ready to battle the ever-presents in the series, al Qassimi is raring to get started. "The mixture of fast and twisty sections are complicated by the numerous blind corners that can catch you out, especially in the dark," he said.
"It can be scary, but in truth, I enjoy the night stages. When the headlights are mounted and balanced right it can actually help you focus; all you can see is the road and your line - it's a different, but fun, approach." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org