Abu Dhabi: The UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi is preparing for a tough examination in Cyprus next week as the 2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship sets its penultimate test on the Mediterranean Island.
Unlike any other event in the six-round championship, the Cyprus Rally is run over gravel and tarmac surfaces while a route through mountainous countryside provides a stern test of physical and mental endurance.
“It’s a very tough event,” said Shaikh Khalid, who makes his fifth appearance in Cyprus at the wheel of his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total DS3 alongside British co-driver Scott Martin. “You need to build a strategy to cope with the mixed surfaces, and find the right rhythm. The stages just keep twisting on and on, and you can’t afford to lose concentration otherwise you can go off the side of a mountain.”
It was in Cyprus nine years ago that the UAE driver secured second place to clinch the FIA Middle East title, and he would be happy with a repeat performance in the fifth round of this year’s championship with Abu Dhabi Racing.
While the Middle East crown is beyond his reach on this occasion, Shaikh Khalid is aiming for a strong finish over the last two rounds in Cyprus, and Dubai next month, to cement his current second spot in the regional series.
After second places in Qatar and Kuwait and a third in Jordan, Shaikh Khalid was forced to miss the fourth round in Lebanon and has been eagerly awaiting a return to Cyprus where he finished eighth overall in 2009 when the event was run as a World Rally Championship round.
“I found the mix of gravel and tarmac stages very difficult on that occasion, and I haven’t been back since so it’s going to be a bit of a struggle again,” he said.
“But I’m going to give it my best shot, and if I can avoid any problems and build a good feeling, I’ll be looking to finish on the podium at least. That’s the aim.”
With his Abu Dhabi Citroën DS3 retaining its gravel set-up from last month’s World Rally Championship outing in Australia, Shaikh Khalid will test the car next Monday before any refinements are made to suit conditions in Cyprus.
For the first time in 14 years, the rally has returned to the island capital of Nicosia, where the ceremonial start on October 11 sees the cars assemble at the Cyprus National Museum before tackling a 2.24km evening super special stage at the Makario Stadium.