x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi wants to return in 2014 but two spots are open on Abu Dhabi Citroen as other questions loom before next season.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi has high hopes for Abu Dhabi Citroen in next season’s WRC campaign. Courtesy photo
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi has high hopes for Abu Dhabi Citroen in next season’s WRC campaign. Courtesy photo

It may have been a season to forget for Abu Dhabi Citroen in the World Rally Championship (WRC), but Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is confident that the good times will return next season.

Only three victories came their way from the season’s 13 rallies, with Mikko Hirvonen their highest-placed driver in the championship in fourth place, 164 points behind world champion Sebastien Ogier.

Sheikh Khalid, who competed seven times as he mixed his WRC commitments with taking part in the Middle East Rally Championship (MERC), believed the loss of Sebastien Loeb impacted the team’s hopes more than had been anticipated.

Loeb, who had won the previous nine drivers’ championships, competed only four times this season as he prepares to compete in sports car racing, and he supplied two of the three wins as he prevailed in Monte Carlo and Argentina.

“It was always going to be a difficult season without Sébastien Loeb in the No 1 spot, because he had been such a dominant driver,” Sheikh Khalid said.

“But this is still the team which won the manufacturers’ title eight years running, and we can use the experience and knowledge we have at our disposal to mount a bigger challenge next season.”

The team have to decide who will drive for them next season. Sheikh Khalid will again drive a split schedule between WRC and MERC, but the other two slots are still to be filled.

Hirvonen and Dani Sordo were the team’s main drivers this season.

Hirvonen had been expected to challenge for the title, but failed to win all season, while Sordo struggled for consistency, but did pick up his first WRC victory when he triumphed in Germany in August.

Kris Meeke, who competed for the team in Finland and Australia, is also under consideration, as is Robert Kubica, who won the WRC2 title this year, and drove a DS3 WRC at last week’s Rally Great Britain, where the Pole, who competed in Formula One until suffering severe arm injuries in a rally crash in February 2011, crashed twice.

Sheikh Khalid said: “We have a lot to think about, but we’ll make the right choice for the team and I’m confident that we’ll be much stronger next year.”

Yves Matton, the team principal of Abu Dhabi Citroen, believes the team were better in 2013 than their positions in the championship show, with the season ending in dismal fashion in Britain with Sordo as their highest finisher in sixth.

“Although we have lost our titles, last weekend’s actual result doesn’t really tell the story of our season,” Matton said.

“We have been quick at pretty much all of the rallies, but we’ve often been unlucky not to convert that speed into results.

“The curtain falls on a pivotal season and we will now quickly turn our attention to 2014. There are many possible options as regards to the drivers of our DS3 WRCs.

“We’ll take the time needed to finalise the discussions before announcing the line-up of our team for next season.”

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