The Abu Dhabi Racing boss and driver will be behind the wheel of a Peugeot 2008 DKR as an official Peugeot Sport driver run by PH Sport as he tackles approximately 9,000km across three South American countries, starting in Asuncion, Paraguay, passing through La Paz, Bolivia, and culminating in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
With extensive experience in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and the FIA Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) under his belt, the 44-year-old is still new to the cross country platform in off-road racing and was initially unsure whether he’d pursue Dakar.
Sheikh Khalid took part in the 2015 Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and was third overall before he was forced to retire with a technical issue on the final day.
He then participated in Baja Aragon in Spain and finished inside the top-10 (in a Toyota Hilux).
In 2016, the three-time MERC champion completed the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge seventh overall, driving a Mini ALL4 Racing, and finished the final day of Rally Morocco sixth-fastest behind the wheel of a Peugeot 2008 DKR.
“After my participation in the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and the Baja Spain in different manufacturer cars, I was not really sure at that time if that’s the path I wanted to take, especially as the cars were totally different than the WRC cars I am used to driving,” Sheikh Khalid told Sport360.
“The Peugeot 2008 DKR emerged a winner on its 2016 debut at the Dakar, with Stéphane Peterhansel behind the wheel. Then I had the chance to test-drive the car in France run by PH Sport. Citroën (our partners) and Peugeot are one group, so that opened the opportunity for me to test-drive the car ahead of Rally Morocco.
“I liked the feel of the 2008 DKR, but I needed to put in the mileage to get more familiar with it, which is why Rally Morocco was a very good opportunity to learn more about cross country rallies and obviously the Peugeot 2008 DKR.”
The good news for Sheikh Khalid, is that several drivers coming from a WRC background have fared well on their Dakar debut.
Frenchman Sebastien Loeb, a nine-time WRC champion, won four stages at this year’s Dakar Rally on his first appearance at the iconic race.
Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah is a two-time Dakar winner (2011, 2015) but is also a 12-time Middle East Rally champion, and the 2014 and 2015 WRC-2 champion.
Still, Sheikh Khalid is keeping his expectations in check ahead of his Dakar inauguration.
“I’m going for a totally new challenge in the Dakar to challenge my limits in the toughest and biggest off-road rally in the world,” said the Emirati.
“My goal is to learn and hopefully be close to the top 10 drivers. Don’t forget that they have plenty of experience in cross country rallies. I will need to avoid all kinds of trouble and try to be close to the top 10.”
Sheikh Khalid’s co-driver for Dakar will be Frenchman Pascal Maimon, who is one of the most experienced individuals in the world of Cross Country rallying.
“We will be testing the Peugeot 2008 DKR in the Liwa Desert here in the UAE in mid-December and will see how we gel as a team. I hope we will work perfectly together,” added Sheikh Khalid.
They certainly will need to rely on perfect teamwork if they plan on overcoming the challenges posed by Dakar. With altitude in parts of Bolivia nearing 4,000m above sea level, meticulous preparation is required to adapt to it.
“I’m currently working out and training to be as fit as possible with the altitude and low oxygen levels that is expected to affect a driver and the car as well. It’s definitely a very big challenge but we will try to overcome it successfully,” says Sheikh Khalid.
On how he feels about competing in Dakar as an official Peugeot Sport driver, he said: “It’s very important because it strengthens our partnership with Citroën and this will reflect positively on Abu Dhabi Racing. It is definitely a very important step forward in my career.”
Well I couldn’t have asked for more for the opening round of the UAE Sportbikes Championship. With a bit more luck we could have won the two races, but I will happily take one win and a second place finish!
It all started in free practice on Thursday where I was topping the time sheets for the 600s. I was working so hard on my consistency for the race duration and it helped a lot. I noticed that Abdulaziz was not on his usual pace which made things easier to focus on, as he would be the man to beat.
After a little drama in the qualifying on race day, I managed to stick the bike on the front row in third position, having set wrong pressures for a very cold track. Still, I was ready to fight for the race.
I had a good start and managed to battle it out with Ahmed Al Muyini and Nasser Al Shaiba. I knew I had better pace than the Kawasaki rider, and planned my move accordingly. Unfortunately the yellow flags came out three laps from the end, and thus couldn’t overtake him where I wanted, so I left it till the last lap and tried a lunge on the final turn, but my exit was not that strong and I finished second behind Ahmed within 0.160 of a second! I was happy to break my own lap record on the national circuit with a 1.31.6s.
I had a different plan though for race two and after the team worked on some suspension adjustment to give me a better feel from the front, we set off with an improved start and I went a bit aggressively at turn one to make sure I was behind Nasser Al Shaiba on his Yamaha. I felt really good two laps in and the tires were working perfectly. I made my move after a few laps and tried to put the hammer down! Watching my board lap after lap, I noticed a huge gap already to the guys behind, and my consistency training was paying off. I just needed to bring her in the first spot safe, so I took my time on the last lap and rode safely to find my guys waiting in the pit lane to celebrate!
A great start to my 10th championship season! I have to thank everyone from Al Futtaim Honda to all my sponsors who stuck with me for this year. I have been training hard all summer in Europe and it looks like it has paid off so far. Roll on round two in December!
The National Racing Day power weekend displayed some of the best racers and boasted many exciting finishes.
A number of races took place over the two-day festival of motor-racing, including the NGK Racing Series, UAE Sportbike Championship, The Radical Middle East Cup and the all-new F4 UAE Championship.
The NGK series showcased Lean Price of The Dragon Racing Team and Wee Liam Keong of GDL Racing, with the latter narrowly winning as the two drivers battled it out at the finish line.
In the second race, Keong dominated and admitted that he made a few adjustments to his approach on the track: “We were a bit lacking at the start so we looked through the data, watched some video, spoke with the team and managed to find a bit of pace. We’re happy with the result.”
In the class two category, Ashan Silva won both races and Will Morrison claimed two first-place trophies in the Renault Clio Cup sub-category. Mourihsta Racing champion Costas Papantonis also recorded two class victories, once again proving his winning pedigree.
The UAE Sportsbike Championship was full of heated competition with Naser Al Shaiba riding his 1000cc Yamaha R1 and making quite a statement in the qualifying rounds. In the first race, Al Shaiba started out in the lead but faded out towards the back end.
Ahmed Almuyini, riding a 600cc Kawasaki ZX6R, and Mahmoud Tannir on a Honda CBR600RR, were competing for the top two places – with Almuyini winning .163 seconds ahead.
Race two was won by Mahmoud Tannir. He commented: “I have to thank the guys at Honda. We rectified some things for Race Two with the tires and it really, really worked. I was very comfortable with the bike.”
Shifting to the F4 UAE Championship, the race’s first time at Dubai AutoDrome, the top three competitors battled over the weekend, with Jonathan Aberdein finishing on top with the most points.
The Radical Middle East Cup commenced with Radicals roaring on the tarmac.
The reigning champion Romain Lutter was dominant on Friday but Ollie Smith captured the title on Saturday.
The Formula Gulf Academy’s qualifying round was won by Omar Gazzaz, beating Alex Korkosik by a mere .16 seconds. On race day, Alex made a comeback and won both races in a redeeming fashion.
Auto Racing enthusiasts will have another showcase of tournaments to enjoy, the power weekend will star again on the 9th-10th of December, 2016.