Al Qassimi takes top 20 finish in Acropolis Rally
2004 Acropolis Rally
FIA World Rally Championship, round 6 of 16
For immediate release
Sunday, June 6th, 2004
UAE'S SHEIKH KHALID AL-QASSIMI
FINISHES FIRST EVER WRC RALLY
Power Horse team delighted with top 20 Greek result;
Victory for defending World Champion Petter Solberg
LAMIA (Greece): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi completed the next step in his progression through the ranks of world rally driving by finishing his first ever WRC event in Greece on Sunday. Over the closing special stages he moved up to an excellent 20th overall and fourth in the Group N category. In addition, he set three fastest Group N stage times on the final leg against world class opposition.
At the wheel of the Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru impreza WRX STi, Al-Qassimi currently leads the FIA Middle East rally championship by three points, but the three-day gravel Acropolis Rally was his first ever taste of rallying in the 'Premier League'.
This year he has an ambitious programme alongside Ulster co-driver Michael Orr of a full Middle East championship campaign and select rounds of both the UAE National series and the FIA World Rally Championship.
~I broke the sumpguard this morning, but that was a minor problem,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~Some of the other drivers were backing off slightly this morning, but I had a little push and set some good times. This really gives me confidence for the future. I am delighted with my result. To finish in the top 20 on my first WRC event in a Group N car is perfect.~
Under the management of Australia's Ron Cremen, Al-Qassimi drove in a mature and restrained manner across the rocky gravel tracks which have made this event one of the most difficult in the WRC in recent years. He refused to be phased by the pace of the Swedish veteran Stig Blomqvist - the 14th-placed winner of Group N - and a number of rapid Greek drivers and set his sights on reaching the finish in Lamia, north-west of Athens.
~Khalid and Michael worked superbly as a team,~ said Cremen. ~Khalid drove in a very mature manner over the three days. All credit to him for his patience and determination to reach the finish.~
The event developed into a battle between Norway's Petter Solberg and the chasing pack of Finland's Harri Rovanpera, Frenchman Sebastien Loeb and Belgian Francois Duval, with Solberg and British co-driver Philip Mills leading the way in their Subaru Impreza WRC. They finished 18.4 seconds ahead of Loeb, with Rovanpera and Duval completing the top four.
One of the longest running traditions of the championship disappeared this year with the decision to scrap the ceremonial start at the Parthenon in central Athens, from which the rally takes its name. Instead the event started on Thursday evening with the first of three tests at the 'superspecial' stage at Lilea following the official start in the rally base of Lamia.
Otherwise the route was almost identical to 2003, with just one new stage, Styrfaka, on the final leg and small modifications to several others. The opening two legs covered classic mountain stages south of Lamia and close to Parnassos National Park, the second leg venturing further south towards the former rally base of Itea. The third, and shortest, leg tackled tests around the Timphristos mountains to the north-west. Drivers faced 377.13 kms of competition in a total distance of 1438.48 kms.
The Power Horse World Rally Team returns to action for the Rally of Turkey at the end of the month and then the fifth round of the FIA Middle East rally series in Lebanon the following weekend.
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