x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Al Qassimi vows to stay in top gear despite Rally Portugal mishap

Emirati is undeterred after the accident that broke his co-driver's two ribs, and rebuild his confidence with a solid drive yesterday.

Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi and co-driver Michael Orr suffered a crash in Portugal but were able to continue in the rally. Francisco Leong / AFP
Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi and co-driver Michael Orr suffered a crash in Portugal but were able to continue in the rally. Francisco Leong / AFP

Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi is determined to keep pushing outside his comfort zone in his quest to improve despite a crash on Saturday wrecking his chances of scoring points in Rally Portugal.

The Emirati was classified 14th in the final standings as the World Rally Championship (WRC) event finished yesterday in Faro, more than 27 minutes behind Sebastien Ogier, who won in his Citroen.

Al Qassimi said the accident, which came on stage 11 of the 17-stage event when he had been sitting in 10th position in his Abu Dhabi Ford car, had been a result of trying to increase his pace.

"I was looking to push as I want to keep making myself a better driver, and the only way to do that is to take a little more risk with some corners", the 35-year-old said.

"Unfortunately it went bad for me on this occasion as we hit a rock and it damaged the car and spun it around six or seven times."

The impact was severe enough to leave Michael Orr, al Qassimi's co-driver, with two broken ribs, although he was able to complete the rally.

The car was too badly damaged for al Qassimi to be able to compete again on Saturday, but under WRC regulations he was allowed to resume yesterday, but with 15 minutes added to his time for the two stages he finished and the one he failed to complete, which dropped him to 13th place.

With little realistic hope of moving back into the top 10 and scoring WRC points for the second time this season, al Qassimi used yesterday's four stages as a chance to bounce back from his mistake.

"It was about rebuilding my confidence after what happened," he said. "I was looking to get comfortable in the car again and I think we did that and there were no more problems.

"There was a shower on the last stage, which made conditions very slippery and it was not easy, but it was a useful day for us."

As with the last two seasons, al Qassimi is doing most of the rounds of the WRC season, and with 19 points to his name already making him the UAE's most successful rally driver at WRC level, personal improvement is what is driving him on this year. "I just want to keep pushing myself more and more in the car," he said. "This is the only way I can get better and that is what I aiming to do."

The third round of the season proved a frustrating one for both of al Qassimi's teammates, with mechanical problems derailing both Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen's chances of victory.

Latvala, who had led after the first day, had to be content with third after suffering a broken driveshaft on Saturday. Rear suspension failure and a puncture consigned Hirvonen to fourth.

Latvala is the only man to have finished on the podium in all three WRC events this year, though he has not won any of them.

The Finn said: "It's my third podium in three rallies so far this year and I'm pleased with that consistency. After my problems yesterday, a podium is a fantastic result."

Ogier's triumph was his first of the season and gave the Frenchman a lift after he had crashed out on the last day of the previous round in Mexico while fighting for the lead.

It was also his second successive success in Portugal and he said: "I'm very happy. We had the perfect weekend, the car was perfect and Julien [Ingrassia, his co-driver] was perfect," Ogier said.

"This is the best way to come back after our crash in Mexico. It is a long way to go in the championship, but I'm in a better position now."

Hirvonen is still on top of the drivers' standings, although Sebastien Loeb's second place behind Ogier in Portugal sees the seven-time world champion draw level with the Finn on 58 points.

The next round of the championship is in Jordan between April 14 and 16.