ALGARVE, PORTUGAL // Skydive Dubai Rally Team's driver Rashid Al Ketbi of the UAE and his German co-driver Karina Hepperle continue their push for honours in the World Rally Championship at the Rally of Portugal this weekend.
The Emirati driver is competing in the WRC2 category and began his campaign of tackling the European rounds of the series strongly by sealing fourth and eighth positions in Monte Carlo and Sweden - two of the most specialised and demanding rallies in the world.
Al Ketbi arrived in Portugal last Friday and carried out two days of testing on the winding southern Portuguese gravel tracks, on Sunday and Monday, before starting his reconnaissance of the special stages Tuesday.
"The first two rallies were very different to anything I have been used to in the Middle East," conceded the Skydive Dubai driver, who uses a Skoda Fabia S2000 in WRC2.
"We had ice and snow and very slippery roads in Monte Carlo and then a true snow rally in Sweden, with temperatures colder than you can ever imagine, coming from the Gulf area.
"This rally in Portugal is the first of the gravel rallies that I will be competing in and closer to the type of terrain that I am used to racing on. The goal is to reach the finish, but it is also important to score as many points as possible."
Two of Al Ketbi's fiercest challenges are sure to come from the German Sepp Wiegand and the Finn Esapekka Lappi in a pair of Skodas.
Wiegand won the WRC2 category on the snow and ice of Monte Carlo and leads the WRC2 series by three points from Ukraine's Yuriy Protasov, while Lappi is one of the quickest young gravel drivers around.
With Saudi Arabia's Yazeed Al Rajhi being forced to rest his back after a heavy landing during the recent Ha'il Rally in Saudi Arabia, Al Ketbi will also be looking to be the first Arab driver home. Qatar's Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, winner of WRC2 in Mexico, and Jordan's Ala'a Rasheed will also be hoping to show well, as three Arab drivers line up in WRC2 for the first time.
At the top of the field, Volkswagen Motorsport's Sebastien Ogier is the clear leader of the series after three rounds and will start as the favourite, but the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, led by Mikko Hirvonen and Dani Sordo, will be keen to redress the balance after losing out to Volkswagen in Mexico.
The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is also competing with the Citroen team and the Polish former Formula One driver Robert Kubica also features on the entry list.
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