x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

World Rally Championship stage a step closer

Abu Dhabi moves a step closer on its promise to bring a round of the World Rally Championship series to the UAE.

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen in action in last year's Rally Jordan, which has similar terrain to that likely to be experienced in the inaugural Rally Abu Dhabi.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's Mikko Hirvonen in action in last year's Rally Jordan, which has similar terrain to that likely to be experienced in the inaugural Rally Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Two and half years after first entering the sport of rallying, Abu Dhabi moved a step closer yesterday to delivering on its promise to bring a round of the World Rally Championship series to the UAE. The first running of Rally Abu Dhabi was announced yesterday and it will be staged as a non-championship event with the aim of becoming an official World Rally Championship event in 2011 if it is a success.

"Rally Abu Dhabi is on for December 2010," said Ahmed Hussein, deputy director general of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), the event organiser. "It is a candidate World Rally Championship [WRC] event for 2011." While ADTA's headline sponsorship of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, as well as the inclusion of the Emirati driver Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi in the outfit's ranks, have proven successful, staging a round of the off-road series in the UAE was always the long-term plan, said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan, the ADTA's chairman.

"This is a major leap forward in Abu Dhabi's motorsport ambitions. We are confident we have the right experience, pedigree, determination and skills to deliver a unique and highly successful round of the WRC Championship and that our 2011 ambitions can be fully realised," said Sheikh Sultan. Hussein added: "This has been our objective from the start and in terms of the rally world, we are intending to do something different which will be the talk of the motorsports industry."

The event will comprise stages outside of Abu Dhabi, but include action around Al Ain and Qasr al Sarab in the Liwa Desert in the Empty Quarter. An early-to-mid December running would see Rally Abu Dhabi held after the close of the Middle East Rally Championship and the WRC calendars. But Hussein is certain a world-class field of regional and international drivers will be attracted, citing ADTA's close relations to the sport's key parties, which have been forged at a time when global economic factors have forced notable teams such as Subaru, Mitsubishi and Suzuki to pull out of the international competition.

The event would hope to attract six-times world rally champion Sebastien Loeb as well as the BP Abu Dhabi Ford pairing of Mikko Hirvonen and Jari-Matti Latvala and other top names, while al Qassimi would also be a probable competitor. "It's not about pricing or appearance fees, there will be no payments," Hussein said. "The rally will be a surprise for all drivers around the world - they will all want to come.

"The relationship with the teams, drivers, manufacturers has developed in the last couple of years and they want to support us by being part of Rally Abu Dhabi in 2010. "Of course they will come, participation will be strong and the vast variation of the terrain will be one of the attractive issues." Next season is the last in which world rally cars will compete. From 2011, Super 2000s - lower specification vehicles designed to entice manufacturers back to rallying - will become the norm. This is all part of the sport's growth, said Hussein.

"It's going to be Super 2000s with the new regulations; it will be interesting," said Hussein. "New cars in a new rally with new stages - it will be very appealing for everyone." emegson@thenational.ae