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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

For Sheikh Khalid, 'the day-to-day plan' key to his chances of retaining Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge title

Race has drawn 112 drivers from 28 countries for the third round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, the Abu Dhabi Racing driver, greets fellow race drivers during the press conference at Yas Marina Circuit ahead of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, where he is the defending champion. Pawan Singh / The National
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, the Abu Dhabi Racing driver, greets fellow race drivers during the press conference at Yas Marina Circuit ahead of the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, where he is the defending champion. Pawan Singh / The National

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi will be hoping to replicate his success of 12 months ago by winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which gets under way with the Super Special Spectator Stage at Yas Marina Circuit on Saturday.

The race has drawn 112 drivers from 28 countries for the third round of the 2018 FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies for cars and buggies and the opening round of the FIM Cross Country Rallies World Championship for bikes and quads.

“The day-to-day plan will be the key in a hard race like this where the drivers will have to cover more than 100 kilometres in the desert heat,” said Sheikh Khalid at the pre-race conference at the Yas Marina Circuit on Thursday.

“It is not like a World Rally where you can go to the maximum limit. We have to hold ourselves because you can break a part if you are over-pushing.

“There can be a surprise at every dune. If I can put in a good effort on the first day, see where you stand and then I can keep building on it.”

Sheikh Khalid will be partnered by French co-driver Xavier Panseri in a Peugeot Abu Dhabi Racing Team 3008 DKR. The Emirati and his team have made a few alterations to the car to handle the prevailing softer sand and the dry conditions.

“We didn’t experience the rains we had ahead of the race last year. It means we need to race on softer sand,” he added.

“It will be more testing and need to be a little careful. It’s not just me but applies for everyone in the race.

“This is only my fourth year but most drivers this year have been competing in Abu Dhabi for 9-10 years. They are a lot more experienced than me but I’ll still be looking to push the limits."

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Jakub Przygonski, who won the Dubai International Baja with his Belgian co-driver Tom Colsoul in a Mini John Cooper two weeks ago, is among the challengers Sheikh Khalid will have to deal with.

“I have much for good feeling and experience after the win in Dubai,” said Przygonski who is racing in Abu Dhabi for the ninth year.

“Two weeks ago we were racing on the same sand and dune and hopefully we will do well here.

“I haven’t won here in Abu Dhabi and I can achieve it this time, hopefully. I will be trying different type of tyres in this race. We have done some modification to the car from Dubai and it should handle better that’s what I feel.”

Mohammed ben Sulayem, President of the ATCUAE (Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE), Emirates Motorsport Federation and FIA Vice President for Sport, said it is always a proud moment for his team and the many volunteers who give up their time each year to make the event happen.

“When we welcome competitors, support crews, officials and media from around the world to Abu Dhabi, we look forward to adding another chapter to the Desert Challenge success story,” he said.