BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Al Qassimi finishes top 10

BP-Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi secured a season-best eighth place finish and four World Rally Championship (WRC) points at Rallye Deutschland on Sunday, completing a remarkable turnaround for the Emirati star.

The impressive result added to the fourth place finish for team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala who put in a spirited display to maintain a strong points scoring position.

Al Qassimi began the weekend’s action in the worst possible way with an opening stage spin out, which left him lingering in 21st place. Yet the 34-year-old fought back valiantly in the testing German countryside to clinch his seventh career top 10 finish – a result which sees him climb to 14th in the overall Drivers’ Championship.

And with four rallies still in hand this year, the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed driver is firmly on-course to top his 12th place standing in the 2009 WRC season, further cementing his status as the Arab world’s most successful WRC points scorer.

“After we spun on our first day I never thought we would end up in eighth position. We had a lot of time to make up, but we had no problems for the rest of the event and pushed whenever we could. I hope to secure a top ten position in Rally Japan, then who knows, this could be our best season so far,” said Al Qassimi, who is affectionately called the ‘King of Jumps’ after he smashed the ‘Colin’s Crest’ award for the biggest leap at Rally Sweden 2008.

With a German top 10 finish in his sights, Al Qassimi started Sunday’s winding road tests with conviction, jumping two places ahead of main rivals, Mark Van Eldik and Ken Block, after just 22.58km of competition.

Not content with a slim 3.3 second lead, the Abu Dhabi star went on to again record faster times than Van Eldik in all four of the day’s remaining stages, as technical problems forced Block into retirement.

Mechanical issues also saw BP-Ford Abu Dhabi team-mate, Mikko Hirvonen, pull out of the competition, pushing Al Qassimi into eighth place, which he held until the chequered flag at the final Circus Maximus Super Special Stage in the heart of Trier.

“When we came in for the morning service I was pleased with the way I had driven, but knew I couldn’t be complacent. With eighth place in his sights, Van Eldik was pushing just as hard. It was essential that we kept focused to develop an even bigger time gap and keep our road position,” said Al Qassimi, whose best ever result came at the 2009 Acropolis Rally of Greece when he secured sixth place.

It was a double celebration for ADTA-backed teams in Germany this weekend as, taking inspiration from their Emirati mentor, the Abu Dhabi Junior Driver Development team secured a third consecutive podium finish in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi).

As some of the more experienced FSTi drivers, including current leader Harry Hunt, fell victim to the course and technical difficulties, all three members of ADTA’s grass-roots programme – Bader Al Jabri, Majed Al Shamsi and Khalil Al Shaikh – produced the best tarmac performances of their careers to fly home in second, third and fourth in front of a packed crowd assembled at Trier’s historic town centre.

Leading the Team Abu Dhabi driving trio was Al Shamsi, who tackled the hairpin bends and gravel strewn asphalt that typifies the German rally, with mature consistency throughout the entire event to grab a well earned second place finish.

“My first asphalt event of the year couldn’t have gone any better. The result gives me a positive confidence boost and has helped me to develop my tarmac driving skills which I hope to utilise for the next event in France,” said Al Shamsi, who won at Rally Portugal earlier this year.

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