For the Emirati, this will be his second FIA World Cup for Cross Country Rallies event this year after participating in the Dubai International Baja earlier this month where he finished second behind Qatar’s Nasser Al Attiyah.
Confidence is certainly high for the 45-year-old as his 3008 DKR is the same car that he used during his strong showing at the Dakar Rally in January, however desert conditions this time round will prove a lot tougher on his all-conquering Peugeot.
“I did a good test. There were good lines where I can drive but also I struggled in some places. But I have to live with what I’ve got, I like the car and I like the team.” Al Qassimi said at the event’s Yas Marina Circuit launch.
“It will be a difficult race due to the impact of the nature of the sand dunes, especially when you first hit the hard surface. Don’t forget you will have over 80 bikers in front of you and then the cars, so the terrain will be very challenging.”
Although Al Qassimi is one of the world’s best drivers, navigating one of the sport’s most challenging routes in his two wheel car presents a difficult task, especially with Aron Domzala and Al Attiyah in such convincing form this season.
“The biggest challenge is how we can cross the two wheel drive car over full dunes for five to six days. It’s obviously important you don’t get stuck and spend too much time getting your car out of the sand.
“You want to get things right and I’ll be aiming for a good position, a top position. Battling a four wheel drive in the dunes is not an easy task, but if I avoid these problems, I can make it to the next step in a good position.”
A broken shaft punctured his chances of a podium finish in 2015, while mechanic issues also destroyed his hopes in last year’s edition of the race, but that’s all part of the experience of racing in these gruelling desert conditions.
However, after his successful start to the year – which notably included a second-place finish in Dubai this March – expectations are high that Al Qassimi can secure a podium result in the UAE capital.
But the driver is not thinking about that yet.
“The reality is you cannot walk before you crawl. I’m using my experience of rallying worldwide, but that experience doesn’t help me with cross country,” he said.
“People are saying I’m performing well, but the reality is, yes I’m performing well, but that’s because I’m pushing myself to performing well. We need to take the steps to ensure I can reach the top goal.
“My challenge is do my job but to be in the top 10 and be very close to the top 5.”
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge gets underway on Saturday at Al-Forsan International Sports Resort.
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