x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Al Qassimi has a need for speed

The UAE rally driver wants to be up there with the best rather than quietly accumulate career points.

As the first UAE driver to score points in the World Rally Championship (WRC), one could forgive Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi if his main priority for the new season was to simply extend his career points haul above the six he earned last year. But al Qassimi, speaking at the WRC season launch in Paris yesterday, insisted that pace, not points, is now his target. "The most important thing is to keep progressing and gaining pace; I'm aiming to do better than last year," he said, referring to three eighth and one sixth place finishes collected in 2009.

While he admits a top five finish in his third full season with BP Ford Abu Dhabi would be a dream achievement, al Qassimi - talking just nine days before this year's season opener in Sweden - said the inability to conduct extensive pre-rally test sessions continues to be the biggest factor in slowing his development. "The progress is there every year but as much as I do, I will always be limited in events by the lack of testing. It's a problem on several fronts, there are lots of elements to consider: I need the mileage to perform better, grow my confidence and find the balance between pushing and hesitating.

"I always enter rallies knowing the first day will be about setting-up the car, the second about growing confidence on the terrain and the final day about gaining time. It's a triple task every time." Well aware of the geographical constraints that come with being based half a world away from his team, as well as the class of talent he battles against, al Qassimi just wants to go faster. "I went off a couple of times last season when I could have been top five," he said. "All in all, I'll be happy if the time is there and the speed is good. If I had to chose between points and speed, I'd pick the pace every time, it's the key.

"This is the WRC and I'm not the only driver in the field. It's a challenge for all of us and everyone is looking to shave off splinters of seconds. If I finish the season with no points but have gone faster in every rally I'm doing for the second or the third time, I'll be happy. It's all about the feeling, the confidence, not just the results." emegson@thenational.ae