Sheikh Khalid Bin Faisal Al Qassimi and his co-driver Chris Patterson posted a time of 1:07:29 in their Citroen DS3 RRC, to lead day one competitions of the 37th Dubai International Rally, which consisted of six special stages over 146kms.
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Qatari Abdulaziz Al Kuwari and his co-driver Marshall Clarke arrived second in their Ford Fiesta RRC, while Sheikh Abdullah Al Qassimi and his co-driver Joseph Matar came in third in a Ford Fiesta RRC as well.
Sheikh Khalid said: “In the first stage I had a problem with the gear- box, and was forced to abandon my aggressive approach so the problem does not worsen awaiting return to maintenance point.
“However, I was able to start driving aggressively again in the fourth and fifth stages and succeed- ed in taking the lead.”
Al Kuwari was also happy to go into today’s concluding action in second place.
He said: “I am happy with the times I clocked and with the huge development in my performance compared to last year.
“I was able to lead the first two stages but a tyre change cost me valuable time. Breaking down the time difference is not going to be easy, but the race is not over yet and my chance of winning the rally remains strong.”
Sheikh Abdullah had to make some adjustments but did so to good effect and a strong day’s racing.
“I faced some difficulties in the first stage and had to adjust the suspension settings to suit the very rough race course and the large number of gravel and stones on the road,” he said.
“The race is only halfway and I wish all drivers the best of luck and, most importantly, hope we race to a safe finish.”
In group (N), Lebanese Nassib Nassar managed to steal the lead from his countryman Michel Saleh, who came in last after a falling back in the 4th stage, while the third contender for this title, the Emirati Mansour Bin Jabr, retired after the 5th stage.
Held under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Mo- hammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the UAE National Olympic Committee, the Dubai International Rally is one of the main attractions of the third edition of Dubai Motor Festival.
Eight UAE drivers will spearhead the home challenge when the final round of the 2015 FIA Middle East Rally Championship gets underway in Dubai on Thursday night.
Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi leads the entry list of racers for the 2015 Dubai International Rally, and will be hoping for his third Dubai victory in 2015.
However, he will have to work hard to contain Qataris Abdulaziz Al Kuwaiti and Khalid Al Suwaidi as the trio battle for second place in the final championship standings, while champion Nasser Al Attiyah, has elected to miss the event.
Among the other UAE drivers on the list are Sheikh Abdulla Al Qassimi and his son Sheikh Mohammed Al Qassimi, who is making his international debut in Dubai, while competing alongside his father in the UAE National Rally Championship this season.
X Dubai World Rally Team’s Rashid Al Ketbi will start his only Middle East rally of the season in his Ford Fiesta R5, while Mansour bin Jaber joins the race in a Mitsubishi Evo.
Abu Dhabi Racing junior drivers Mansour Bel Helei, Saeed bin Towq and Mohammed Al Mutawaa will fight it out for two wheel drive honours in a trio of identical Citroen DS3s.
Al Mutawaa comes home to Dubai straight after competing in Wales Rally GB – marking the final round of the 2015 World Rally Championship.
Organised by the Automobile & Touring Club of the UAE (ATC- UAE), the rally boasts a field of 17 teams, and president Mohammed Ben Sulayem, himself a staggering 15-time winner of the event, commended the quality of the start list.
“I am delighted to see such a strong entry list in terms of the number of drivers,” he said.
“The MERC rounds in Jordan, Qatar, Iran and Cyprus all had less than 15 entries, so to have 17 entries for the final round when the championship has already been decided is exceptionally good going.”
Stressing on his keenness to participate and compete in this race, Al Qassimi said: “My participation in the Dubai International Rally differs from any other rally event because it is being held in the UAE.
“I consider representing the country and competing to win as a national duty first and foremost.”
He added: “I have completed all preparations for this year’s race, but the world of motorsport is always full of surprises. Technical problems or mechanical failures often affect the final results.
“However, I am fully confident in my ability to win and mark another sporting achievement for the UAE. I hope to enter the race full throttle from the very beginning to achieve the desired result.”
Aside from the main event, champion Michel Saleh will look to retain the ‘N’ Class title, while leader and title holder Salah bin Eidan will look to do likewise in the ‘M’’ Class.
Valentino Rossi’s world title hopes were dealt a potentially fatal blow on Thursday when the Italian lost his appeal over being relegated to the back of the grid for Sunday’s season-ending Valencia Grand Prix.
Rossi, already a seven-time premier category champion, was penalised for kicking defending champion Marc Marquez off his bike at the Malaysian Grand Prix last time out.
He appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) who ruled Thursday that the sanction will stand. Rossi leads Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo by just seven points and therefore needs to finish in the top two to guarantee the title.
“Unfortunately starting from last is going to make everything a lot more difficult,” said Rossi.
“It was already difficult, but now it is much harder. We need to try to maintain our concentration and be competitive to get to Sunday’s race in the best shape.”
The clash between Marquez and Rossi has sparked an age old sporting rivalry between Spain and Italy with even the prime ministers of both countries intervening to back their compatriots.
Rossi is sure to face a hostile atmosphere in Valencia with the race unusually for MotoGP being declared as high risk by the authorities for fears fans of the riders could clash.
“My dream was to fight for the championship in a clean way,” added Rossi.
“The season has been a very good one and I am still in position to fight for the title. This decision doesn’t change the passion I have going forward.”
The fallout from the incident escalated last weekend when two Italian journalists tried to enter the grounds of Marquez’s Catalan home.
— Yamaha MotoGP (@YamahaMotoGP) November 5, 2015
Marquez’s representatives released a statement saying the journalists had been reported to the police for assaulting and insulting the 22-year-old rider and his family.
However, the reporters replied claiming their cameras had been broken in the scuffle, whilst their TV company said they would pursue the Marquez family for “assault, slander and theft.”
“It has been a tough week,” Marquez admitted on Thursday. “I have tried to prepare for this Grand Prix like any other, but it hasn’t been possible.
“I don’t expect an apology from Valentino. I understand perfectly that Valentino has a championship in play.
“In the end I don’t want to be caught in the middle, although every one races their own race and fights for their own result.”
The bad blood between Marquez and Rossi has meant Lorenzo has gone under the radar as he aims for his third world title.
However, he did manage to anger his own team when his attempt to have his lawyers present at Rossi’s appeal hearing was rejected by CAS.
— M2 (@m2twitting) November 5, 2015
Despite his less than friendly rivalry with Rossi, though, Lorenzo insisted he will remain with Yamaha.
“I have a contract and my intention is to continue with Yamaha not just as a rider, but also after I retire.
“All marriages do through difficult times and Valentino and I form one of the best teams in the world.”