Having narrowly missed out on achieving his season’s primary objective of a top 10 drivers’ standings finish, Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi remains defiant ahead of a nail-biting test of nerves and endurance in this weekend’s Rally Spain – the penultimate leg of the 13-event World Rally Championship (WRC) season.
In his last event of the season, running October 20-23, Al Qassimi must finish in the points in his Ford Fiesta RS World Rally Car, and at least two positions above Federico Villagra to edge the Argentine out of 11th place in the drivers’ rankings. For the Emirati, who clinched a career-best fifth-place and 10 points in Australia last month, anything is possible.
“I've been improving on asphalt and the six points I won by finishing seventh in Spain last year was the best result of my season,” said Al Qassimi, who will miss the series’ season-ending round in Wales because of domestic commitments during the emirate’s Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix weekend - which falls on the same dates as the WRC finale, November 11-13.
“With Spain being my final event of the year, it will be an emotional race and more important than ever to focus on the basics and stay calm under pressure. I’m good friends with Federico and he really wants to stay ahead of me; we could have a really compelling duel for 11th spot.”
Al Qassimi, alongside co-driver Michael Orr, also promised to do everything in his power to aide teammate Mikko Hirvonen’s bid for the drivers’ title. With only two rallies remaining, Ford Abu Dhabi’s Finnish number one is level on points with arch-rival Sebastien Loeb - and just three points in front of Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier - at the championship’s summit.
“Mikko has experience in these type of situations; I remember the title fight of two years ago when he and Loeb battled for the crown until the final special stage of the last event,” said Al Qassimi. “Loeb may have edged it on that occasion, but the experience can only help Mikko – he knows what he has to do and we’ll do everything we can to help him realise his dream of becoming world champion.”
Al Qassimi also outlined his plan to continue assisting the development of Team Abu Dhabi juniors, Bader Al Jabri and Majed Al Shamsi, as they tackle the final two Production Car World Rally Championship (PWRC) events of the season.
“They are progressing well and showing genuine promise; now it is time for them to push on and finish the season strongly – their futures are in their hands,” said Al Qassimi, the junior programme’s mentor.
His protégés agreed. “Majed and I have a few surprises up our sleeves for the year’s final two PWRC fixtures – we need to take advantage on roads and stages we are familiar with,” said Al Jabri, who has contested four of the seven-event PWRC season’s five rounds thus far. “We want strong results for Khalid - he has offered us invaluable advice over the last few years.”