Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi had the unenviable task of "sweeping the road" as the first driver to take to the course at the Rally d'Italia Sardegna on Friday, and his cautious approach yielded the Emirati the 12th position after the first leg of the World Rally Championship event.
"It's very difficult because there's such a lot of loose gravel," he said. "There are no lines to follow other cars and no braking points to see.
"I just decided from the start that I would not push all, just drive at a good pace and not take any risks. I think it's a good approach because, although I'm losing some time at the moment, I'm avoiding any problems.
"The stages are difficult. You can't slide the car around the corners because they're so narrow, and there's a lot of rocks on the inside and outside, and you can easily damage the car."
Sheikh Khalid was knocked out of the previous WCR event, the Acropolis Rally, in Greece, when his car rolled and was too damaged for him to continue.
His goal in the seventh race of the season, in Sardinia, the second-largest Italian island, is a top-10 finish in his Abu Dhabi Citroen Total World Rally Team DS3 vehicle.
Despite encountering a partial loss of braking power towards the end of the first stage, he was mostly satisfied with the result, after he and his British co-driver Scott Martin completed the first loop of three special stages along narrow and rocky mountain roads.
"I'm feeling quite relaxed," Sheikh Khalid said. "I'm not attacking yet.
"There's a long way to go, with night stages to come, and it will be midnight before we finish, so a lot can happen."
The course claimed one notable casualty in the early going: Evgeny Novikov of Russia was running third when he rolled his Ford Fiesta just 200 metres into the second stage. Neither Novikov nor his co-driver were injured.
The event concludes on Saturday.
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