x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Hard work has only just begun for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi

Car launch celebrates the new partnership between Abu Dhabi Racing and Citroen.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, right, will compete in the World Rally Championship in 2013.
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, right, will compete in the World Rally Championship in 2013.

The next 12 months promise to be extremely busy for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi.

Racing in the World Rally Championship [WRC], the Middle East Championship [MERC] and trying to work on finding the next generation of Middle East rally drivers in his role as chairman of Abu Dhabi Racing [ADR] is the itinerary facing the Emirati.

It is a hectic schedule, but one he is relishing as he and Abu Dhabi prepare to make their return to the WRC and competitive rallying after a year away from the sport.

He had last competed in the series in 2011, before his and ADR's partnership with the Ford Rally team came to an end and he took 12 months out to recharge his batteries from the physical demands of rallying on challenging terrains across the globe.

But he is back on the entry list as ADR have signed a three-year deal to work with the Citroen WRC team, and the Citroen DS3 car that the team will enter in the 2013 championship was unveiled for the first time yesterday at the Monte Carlo Beach Club on Saadiyat Island.

It was a fitting location, given that the opening round of next season, where the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will make their competitive bow, is in Monte Carlo next month.

But Sheikh Khalid, who is committed to driving in at least eight of the 13 rounds of next season's WRC season campaign with co-driver Scott Martin, is under no illusions about what the real objective of the link up that will see the Abu Dhabi name branded on the Citroen cars.

"When you are with the right team trying to achieve the biggest goal, you also have to think of the right thing for the long term," he said.

"That is for us how to create and to find Emirati talent and that was the most important part of the deal."

Part of that will entail Sheikh Khalid, along with other members of the ADR board, assessing prospective rally drivers in the coming months, giving them training and testing opportunities, with the idea being to help plan a route forward for them to enter the sport competitively in the future.

"When I am not driving sometime I will be in the office to do the right job to help the sport in the country," he adds.

Another big plus point of the arrangement for Sheikh Khalid is that he will be given full support by Citroen to tackle all seven rounds of next year's MERC calendar, the first time in the history of the series that a works WRC team have taken part and run a car in it.

Sheikh Khalid, who won the championship in 2004, is realistic on his expectations, despite the Citroen team having won the past nine drivers' WRC titles through Sebastien Loeb, and eight of the past 10 constructors' championships.

He said: "I want to win the Middle East [Championship], but I do not want to put pressure on Citroen because it will be their first time in the championship, they need to adapt and learn the terrain, but I think that we can do something good."

Sheikh Khalid's full WRC schedule is yet to be confirmed, but he will drive a Abu Dhabi Total Citroen World Rally Team branded car in the rounds he competes in.

Yves Matton, the team principal of the Citroen team, is thrilled with the link up with ADR.

"In Abu Dhabi, we have a long-term partner that will preserve Citroen's position at the summit of global rallying," he said.

"Over the last decade, the team has enjoyed monumental success. Vitally, we now have a formidable partner that shares our ambition to continue setting the pace in the WRC and international off-road motorsport."

Faisal Al Sheikh, events manager for TCA Abu Dhabi, who are one of the partners of ADR, is confident the partnership with Citroen will help with the goal of developing future rallying stars in the UAE and raise the city's profile at the same time.

"The good thing I think is that Abu Dhabi Racing is a devoted entity who will be looking at the sport aspect to develop the Emirati drivers, who will not only be competing regionally, but worldwide," he said.

"The emirate's WRC adventure with the great champions of Citroen will significantly enhance Abu Dhabi's footprint in the international motorsport arena."

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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