Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge all about ‘gaining experience’ for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi
ABU DHABI // Imagine the chairman of Abu Dhabi Racing standing proudly on top of the podium at the Yas Marina Circuit, holding aloft his trophy, after winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge on home turf in the 2017 Dakar-winning Peugeot 3008 DKR.
It would be a dream come true for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, for he has never won the Desert Challenge here, and it would be a great boost for the sport in the country.
But the Abu Dhabi Racing boss, a newcomer to the challenging world of cross-country rallying, has cautioned against “trying to sprint before you learn to crawl”.
“It is really important to know that the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge is, if not the toughest, then certainly one of the toughest events in the world given the nature of the terrain, which is all sand dunes,” Sheikh Khalid said.
The Desert Challenge will see a ceremonial start at Al Forsan Village on Saturday before moving into the Rub Al Khali desert on Sunday for five days and 1,324 kilometres of racing across five stages.
“I do not have a lot of experience of cross country. I have competed in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge twice,” he said.
“The first time [in 2015], I could not complete. The race was over for me inside two days because of a broken shaft. On my second appearance last year, I had a lot of mechanical problems.
“So, this time it’s about gaining experience for me, gaining mileage. Every kilometre that I cover will help in my development as a competitor in this format of racing.”
Sheikh Khalid added that he was following a specific strategy “that could take four years before we start competing for top positions”.
Winner of the Rookie of the Year award on his Dakar debut in January, Sheikh Khalid will be driving the Peugeot 3008 DKR, which had a 1-2-3 finish at this year’s Dakar.
At the Dubai Baja this month, when he and co-driver Khalid Al Kendi finished second behind two-time Dakar winner and the defending FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies champion Nasser Al Attiyah, Sheikh Khalid was behind the wheel of a Peugeot 2008 DKR.
Both the 2008 and 3008 DKR, are rear-wheel drives, not the best set-up given the terrain in Abu Dhabi, but Sheikh Khalid is looking forward to the challenge.
“The biggest challenge for me is how to race in the desert, across the dunes for five days in a two-wheel drive,” Sheikh Khalid said.
“Battling the four-wheel drives on the sand dunes is not going to be an easy task, but I have to live with what I have. I like the car and I like the team and I am looking forward to the race.
“I monitored the results of the buggies from last year because I wanted to find out how the buggies had done as two-wheel drives and what I found out was, yes they did finish in the top 10 but then four cars were forced out on the last day because of mechanical problems and that allowed the buggies to move up the table.
“In the actual competition, they were struggling to get into the top 10.”
Sheikh Khalid said he was talking about the results from last year for a reason.
“You need to plan for your race and my race plan involves using my knowledge and experience to try to stay there in the top 10 all the time, without getting into problems,” he said.
“And then, if everything goes well, we take the next step, which is to plan for a podium finish. That’s my aim.”
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Updated: March 30, 2017 04:00 AM