Doha: The UAE’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi produced a superb performance to snatch the lead in the Qatar International Rally on Saturday as Abu Dhabi Racing made a brilliant start to the 2013 FIA Middle East Rally Championship on their competitive debut in the regional series.
After half of the six special stages making up the first leg, Al Qassimi had powered his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRC Team DS3 RRC into a 4.3-second lead from Qatari favourite and seven-time Middle East champion, Nasser Al Attiyah.
It was a brilliant display from 2004 Middle East champion Al Qassimi, who is the inspiration for the four other Emirati drivers in the five-car Abu Dhabi Racing line-up, and the team could not have hoped for a better opening day.
As Al Qassimi, partnered by British co-driver Scott Martin, forced his way ahead of Al Attiyah and last year’s Qatar Rally winner, Abdul Aziz Al Kuwari, Majid Al Shamsi completed the first three stages in an impressive sixth place overall and topped the new Group N category in his Subaru Impreza.
Teammate Bader Al Jabri followed him in second place in Group N and eighth overall, while Mohammad Al Mutawaa in a Citroen DS3 R3 lead the new two-wheel drive category and also held a top-10 overall position on his rallying debut.
The only disappointment for Abu Dhabi Racing was that its other rally newcomer, Mohammad Al Sahlawi, was forced to retire from the first leg after a series of punctures. He will take the super rally option to re-start the rally on the second leg tomorrow morning and gain invaluable competitive experience.
An early lead for Al Qassimi over Al Attiyah in Qatar was particularly impressive as the UAE driver is just returning to full competitive action
with Abu Dhabi Racing this season after being out of action for most of 2012.
Equally satisfying for the new team was the display of Al Shamsi and Al Jabri, both former recruits from Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture
Authority Junior Driver Development Programme.
Al Mutawaa and Al Sahlawi are making their rallying debuts after winning a Citroen young driver selection process involving 13 drivers at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit in December.