x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Title race will go all the way, says al Qassimi

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi believes that his teammate Mikko Hirvonen's title fight with Sebastien Loeb is destined to go to the wire.

As he finalised his own Rally Spain preparations, BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi was of the opinion that his teammate Mikko Hirvonen's title fight with Sebastien Loeb was destined to go down to the wire. With five points separating the two, al Qassimi predicted bitumen king Loeb would conquer his Finnish rival on Catalunya's asphalt surface and ensure a nail-biting season-finale at Rally Great Britain at the end of October.

"Mikko can't win here," said al Qassimi. "Citroen are good on asphalt and Loeb is a tarmac specialist. Of course anyone can have a problem, Loeb included. If he does, the title race is finished. "It will be very tactical, a strategy game. But I think it will go to Great Britain - the last round will be very exciting." With two years in the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority-sponsored Ford team under his belt, the 2004 Middle East Rally champion is eager to continue developing his skills. But he admitted his frustrations at the repeated absence of pre-rally test opportunities.

"It depends on the situation but if I take more risks I need to be careful," he said. "I need to re-discover my limits on tarmac. I had some good times in Australia, but I need consistency. It's been a long time since I drove on asphalt and yet I'm the only driver who hasn't had a test. "I'm not too happy about it but the [testing] date I was given fell during Eid - I couldn't do it." Historically, Rally Spain has not been the kindest of hunting grounds for the Emirati - who sits in 12th place in the WRC rankings on six points. In his debut WRC year in 2007, al Qassimi finished a commendable 12th, but he struggled to 21st place last year.

"I don't have many expectations, but it's my third time in Spain. I'll push with everything I have to try to finish in the points," added al Qassimi. emegson@thenational.ae