Greece: Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi, the Abu Dhabi World Rally Championship (WRC) driver and the most successful rally driver in the Middle East, proved that years of world championship experience have kept him in good stead during the tricky Greek mainland conditions at the 2009 WRC Acropolis Rally of Greece.
Born on February 18, 1972, the Abu Dhabi champion first took part in a rally in 1993. He was also part of the first world rally in Acropolis in 2004, besides 24 other world rallies.
His best WRC results were three consecutive WRC points at eighth place in Ireland, Cyprus and Portugal, and then at the Acropolis Rally (held on June 12-14), he finished sixth, earning three championship points. This helped him move to 11th position in the overall WRC drivers' championship.
Abu Dhabi's name was resounding through Athens as Al Qasimi set some scorching times in his Ford Focus RS.
In spite of being exhausted after his return from a gruelling three-day journey across the rocky coastal areas of Loutraki, west of Athens, the UAE rally champion managed to make time to speak to Gulf News. Excerpts from the interview:
Gulf News: Are you happy with your performance in the recent Rally of Greece, where you finished sixth?
Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi: I'm on top of the world and very happy. It feels great to be in the top ten, and in sixth position, it's an amazing accomplishment. It's always nice to get good results, especially since we faced various road problems the car wasn't driving straight, the roads were slippery and tricky and we still ended up in a good position after a very tough rally.
What message do you have for the country after your achievements?
I'm happy with the results we came up with and it feels good to represent the UAE in the rally. The Abu Dhabi ford team can definitely do much more in future rallies.
How do you describe this rally?
It wasn't an easy task. The conditions were very difficult, but we made it! Rallies in general are exciting yet can be scary. It's all about how the person behind the wheel can cope with driving a somewhat normal car yet drive as fast as possible, while maintaining reliability and road-safety measures.
The UAE is known to have sandy road conditions, how do you manage in different road conditions?
I am used to driving in sandy conditions due to the roads here, which makes it more of a challenge to drive on different surfaces whether it's mountains, in the middle of a forest, on narrow wet, slippery or muddy roads or on snow and ice covered roads.
The most challenging and hardest roads are the tarmac roads. That's what it's about, trial and error and gaining experience!
Many young Emiratis would surely want to follow in your footsteps. What's your message to them?
Take your time and learn with every experience. In rallying, you start in the top 20 list, then it improves to top 15 and eventually you reach the top 10 like I fortunately did today.
Have you tried Formula One?
I have been to Formula One events and driven a Formula One car. But I never took part in any race.
What in your opinion is the future of rallying in the UAE?
We need to do our homework and make sure we have enough experience in the UAE to run a rally. And that's no easy task. It takes from three to five years to host a rally event.