WRC debut in Greece for Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi
2004 Acropolis Rally
FIA World Rally Championship, round 6 of 16
For immediate release
Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004
UAE'S SHEIKH KHALID AL-QASSIMI SET TO TACKLE HIS
FIRST EVER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP RALLY IN GREECE
Power Horse team heads for Greek mainland; Championship leader Loeb leads the way in Greece
DUBAI (UAE): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi heads to mainland Greece this weekend to tackle his first ever round of the FIA World Rally Championship, the Acropolis Rally. The special stage action starts on Thursday, June 3rd.
The event is regarded as one of the most difficult in the world calendar, but Khalid and Ulster co-driver Michael Orr are relishing the challenge of competing across the dusty and rocky gravel tracks in their Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi.
~I have shown this season on the opening rounds of the Middle East Championship that I have the pace and determination to be competitive,~ said Khalid. ~I have built up a lead there and, had it not been for the engine failure we had in Oman, that lead would be much bigger.
~I am under no illusions that the Acropolis will be a totally different challenge. I have a Group N car for a start and this will not be on the pace of the factory cars. I know this and will just be using the event to broaden my experience.~
Sheikh Khalid lines-up alongside the world's finest drivers in Greece, although the overall championship leader has changed since Finland's Marcus Gronholm moved to the front by provisionally winning the recent Cyprus Rally. Both his and team mate's Harri Rovanpera's Peugeot 307s were deemed to be running illegal water pumps and were excluded from the rankings after an FIA hearing last week.
This has handed the overall series lead to Frenchman Sebestien Loeb in a Citroen Xsara. He heads for the first stage in Greece with a one-point advantage over Ford's Estonian driver Markko Martin, with defending World Champion Petter Solberg in third place.
While Sheikh Khalid is excited at the prospect of competing alongside the world's greats, his Power Horse Subaru is entered in the Group N category and he will be watching the exploits of drivers of showroom specification Mitsubishis Lancers and Subaru Imprezas.
~It will be a fantastic experience to compete against the likes of Marcus, Carlos (Sainz) and Sebastien, but they are really in a different competition,~ said Khalid. ~I will be looking closely at the other Group N entries and seeing how I compete against like-for-like cars outside the Middle East.~
The event is also the second round of the FIA Junior World Rally Championship, with French series leader Nicolas Bernardi lining up against Estonia's Urmo Aava, Ulster's Kris Meeke, the San Marino pairing of Alessandro Broccoli and Mirco Baldacci and Belgium's Larry Cols. Bernardi won the opening round in Monte Carlo back in January.
The Acropolis Rally is one of the oldest events in the World Rally Championship. It is characterised by intense heat and rocky gravel roads that can destroy cars and tyres. Although the organisers have found special stages that are faster and smoother than was the case a few years ago, this remains one of the most gruelling events on the calendar and sits between similar challenging rounds in Cyprus and Turkey.
Missing this year is the ceremonial start in Athens beneath the Acropolis, topped by the ancient Parthenon. Instead the entire event will be based close to the host town of Lamia, approximately 200 kms north-east of Athens. The rally begins on Thursday evening with a 'super special' at Lilea-Parnassos and then resumes on Friday with seven stages south of Lamia at the foot of Mount Parnassos, before another visit to the super 'special'.
Saturday sees six stages to the south and south-east of Lamia before a third and final visit to the Lilea -Parnassos 'super special'. Sunday's final leg features seven stages to the north-west of Lamia, including the only new stage of the rally, before the finish at 14.53 hrs local time.