x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is eating dust at Rally Cyprus

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi sits in thrid place after the Abu Dhabi Racing driver had to slow down because of dusty conditions at Rally Cyprus.

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi battled and is still in contention at the Rally Cyprus. Courtesy Middle East Rally Championship
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi battled and is still in contention at the Rally Cyprus. Courtesy Middle East Rally Championship

Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi is optimistic about producing a better performance on Sunday at Rally Cyprus after seeing his victory hopes hindered by dust and mechanical problems on Saturday.

The Abu Dhabi Racing driver, who entered this week’s penultimate round of the Middle East Rally Championship (Merc) with an outside chance of the title, finished Sunday’s first full day of action in Nicosia in third place, one minute, 38 seconds adrift of leader Nasser Al Attiyah.

Sheikh Khalid, who had begun the day in fourth spot after the opening ceremonial stage on Friday, was forced to slow down as a consequence of having to drive on stages too soon after Al Attiyah, with his vision being limited by the dust coming up off the gravel roads.

“There was a lot of dust on the first stage and I lost a lot of time because of that,” he said.

“For the next stage, they gave us an extra minute gap to reduce the dust.”

Sheikh Khalid, driving an Abu Dhabi Citroen DS3 in the event with co-driver Scott Martin, found pace later in the day, setting the fastest time of all on the fourth stage.

But it was not enough to prevent him from losing ground to Al Attiyah, the championship leader, and Abdulaziz Al Kuwari, on the remaining five stages.

Sheikh Khalid remained frustrated with the conditions, which had caused concerns with the car during the day, too.

“The problem is that the car doesn’t feel right.” he said. “On that last stage, we had a blockage. With no air coming into the engine, it overheated and went into safe mode, and we lost power. But we still put in a good time and we’ll look to make some changes and improve.”

Another eight stages will complete the event today, and Sheikh Khalid, who won the Merc title in 2004, needs Al Attiyah to have mechanical problems or make a mistake if he is to keep the championship alive until the final round of racing in Dubai next month.

Going into the event, Sheikh Khalid trailed Al Attiyah, who is driving a Ford Fiesta, by 42 points.

Al Attiyah only needs to finish fifth to guarantee his ninth Merc title, but driving conservately does not appear to have been part of his strategy as a string of fast times has seen him pull away from the field.

He will start Sunday with a lead of 96 seconds over Al Kuwari, who is fourth in points, and a potential challenger to Sheikh Khalid’s second spot in the standings, trailing the Emirati by nine.

Cypriot driver Costas Georgiou is fourth but more than three minutes behind Sheikh Khaid in his Mitsubishi Lancer, with Qatari Misfer Al Marri completing the top five.

The only major casualty on the first day of action was Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi, who plunged from fourth to seventh place when mechanical problems saw him collect time penalties for starting stage five late, before retiring from the event soon afterward.