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Abu Dhabi Citroen driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.
Abu Dhabi Citroen driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.
Al Qassimi in action in his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total in Sweden.
ANDRE LAVADINHO
Al Qassimi in action in his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total in Sweden.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi relishing chance to test himself in Rally Sweden's snow

After finishing second in the Middle East Rally Championship earlier this month, the Emirati driver is ready for polar opposite conditions.

Unsurprisingly given the fact he is an Emirati, driving in snow was not something familiar to Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi before he began competing in the World Rally Championship [WRC].

Driving in the Middle East Rally Championship [MERC] largely involves driving on dusty, bumpy, gravel terrain, the complete polar opposite of what conditions drivers at Rally Sweden can expect this weekend.

The Karlstad event, which started yesterday with the ceremonial start and the opening special stage, will be the fourth time that Sheikh Khalid has taken it on, and he says he enjoys the test of trying to go fast in unfamiliar conditions.

"I enjoy the challenge of it," he said. "Snow, for me, is a challenge as obviously I do not race on it too often but I take it seriously and I want to do as well as I can on it.

"The challenge is continuing to work at it and learning as you go along to become better and more confident in the conditions."

One thing that appeals to Sheikh Khalid about Sweden is the spontaneity of it as with conditions changing all the time, with it snowing one minute, than thawing out the next.

"This is probably the one event where [pace] notes are not that important as you have to judge what is in front of your eyes as much as what you are being told by the co-driver," he explains.

"No stage is the same twice so it is about judging things as they come."

Past experience of the event is also no help at all according to Sheikh Khalid, with the amount of snow varying from year to year.

"There was not much snow the first year I did it [in 2008] and it was around 70 to 80 per cent gravel then," he said. "There is more snow this year so it has hard to draw any memories from the first time that will be useful this time."

Watch Sheikh Khalid take to the snow in our video below:

 

 

Sheikh Khalid, who will be driving for the Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team in the event, is competing in his first WRC since October 2011 after taking a sabbatical last year, and he is keeping his aspirations low on what he expects to achieve in the three-day event, which ends on Sunday.

"It will be about getting used to the conditions firstly, and then finding a good pace that I am comfortable as a pace from which to build on," he said.

"The car feels good, and I am hopeful we should be able to have a good event."

The Abu Dhabi Citroen team have already made a strong start to the WRC season, with Sebastien Loeb, the nine-time world champion, winning the opening round in Monte Carlo last month, an event Sheikh Khalid missed as he concentrated on his preparations for the opening round of the MERC in Qatar.

Sheikh Khalid feels that Abu Dhabi Citroen are well placed to make it two out of two in Karlstad.

"We have four cars competing in the rally," he said. "We have Sebastien Loeb and Mikko Hirvonen, who have both won it before, and then Dani Sordo and myself, so we have a strong line-up for the event."

Sheikh Khalid arrived in Karlstad earlier this week to prepare for the rally and acclimatise and he did so with a confidence-building second place finish in the opening round of the MERC season in Qatar.

He led after the first day of the event as he proved to be the only driver capable of challenging Nasser Al Attiyah, the seven-time MERC champion, with the two engrossed in a fierce battle on the second day before a puncture ended his hopes, and he finished 50 seconds adrift of his Qatari rival, who won the event for a 10th time.

But despite not getting a victory on his full-time return to the series as he tries to add a second title to his 2004 championship, Sheikh Khalid was more than content with how things had gone.

"It was our first rally with the car and there was a lot to learn about the set-up, but despite that we were on the pace and were challenging to win, he said.

"I was leading after the first day and we were fighting at the front and without the flat tyre who knows.

"I do not know if we would have won as Nasser was very fast, but we showed that we very fast ourselves, and without problems we will be a contender for wins."

The next round of the MERC is in Kuwait between March 21-23.

Today's opening leg in Sweden is comprised of seven stages, with eight more tomorrow and a final six on Sunday.

 

sports@thenational.ae

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