x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Al Qassimi drives to first win in Kuwait

Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi pulled away from the field in style yesterday to secure victory in the Kuwait International Rally

Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi pulled away from the field in style yesterday to secure victory in the Kuwait International Rally, the second stage of the Middle East Rally Championship, and take joint lead in the driver's championship. The Emirati now has 10 points, putting him level with the Qataris, Nasser Saleh al Attiyah and Sheikh Hamad al Thani.

Al Qassimi and his co-driver, the Northern Irishman Michael Orr began the final day 7.7secs ahead of the second-placed Rashid al Ketbi, and he was 49secs clear by the time he had secured his first win in Kuwait. "This win came at an important time and it has given me a great chance to challenge for the Middle East title," he said. "It is only my second event in the Ford Fiesta and I showed in Qatar that the pace is there. We were able to control the event and take no risks."

It was an Emirati one-two, with al Ketbi finishing second. His chances of victory were hit early in the day when he was forced to stop to remove sand from his Skoda's air filter - heavy dust was a recurring theme throughout the weekend - in an early stage. "It has not been easy, but this is just the start we needed," said al Qassimi, who was taking a break from the World Rally Championship where he is part of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi team who are challenging Citroen for the title.

"Rashid pushed us hard and meant we have had no margin for error." Saudi Arabia's Yazeed al Rajhi looked to have done enough for third place, rising up the field impressively having started the final day in fifth. But engine problems on the penultimate stage saw him drop out of contention, with Qatar's Khaled al Suwaidi taking advantage to take third position. The UAE's Sheikh Abdullah al Qassimi finished fourth.

lthornhill@thenational.ae