Abu Dhabi: It was never going to be an easy return to World Rally Championship action for Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi, but the UAE driver once again displayed his fighting qualities in difficult conditions as he continued his climb up the standings in Rally Sweden on Saturday.
After half of the penultimate leg’s eight special stages, Al Qasimi and British co-driver Scott Martin in their Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC had moved up to 21st position as the rally headed for a dramatic day’s finale on a ski slope.
It meant Al Qassimi had clawed back 18 places following two setbacks on the previous day, when he was just one of a succession of drivers to be punished by the treacherous mix of snow and ice in temperatures plunging to 15 degrees below zero.
The Rally Sweden conditions are more foreign to the Emirati driver than any he will experience in eight other WRC outings this season, and there are no more extreme tests in world rallying.
In four previous excursions to Sweden, Al Qassimi has achieved better results each time, securing a top-ten finish on his last appearance in the event two years ago this month.
A repeat performance this time would have been possible but for his problems on the second leg, although he had climbed from 39th to 27th at the end of the day and continued his rise on Saturday morning in his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total DS3 WRC.
Underlining the severity of the test, he said: “The conditions are really complicated this year. I’m struggling to find the right feeling and I still lack experience with the car. But we’ve had a much better start today and will keep battling away.”
Also battling away was nine-time world champion Sébastien Loeb as he tried to keep alive his hopes of back-to-back wins for the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team following his victory in Monte Carlo last month. After three stages on Saturday, he was 26 seconds behind leader Sebastien Ogier.
On his WRC travels this season, Al Qassimi will face some spectacular rally settings, but none more dramatic than the third leg’s unique final stage later today on a ski slope in the ski resort of Värmullsåsen.
After the night halt, Rally Sweden continues on Sunday with six more special stages leading to the finish in Karlstad.