WRC Khalid Al Qassimi faces stiff test in Rally Australia
2004 Rally Australia
FIA World Rally Championship, final round
For immediate release
Monday, November 8th, 2004
UAE'S SHEIKH KHALID AL-QASSIMI FACES
STIFFEST EVER TEST IN RALLY AUSTRALIA
Power Horse Team driver to face Qatar's Al-Attiyah in Australia;
Finland's Paasonen takes slender PWRC lead into three-day rally
PERTH (Australia): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi will take part in his first ever rally in the southern hemisphere this weekend, when he tackles the daunting Rally Australia in his Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi. The three-day, final round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship is based in Perth, Western Australia, and starts on Friday, November 12th.
Sheikh Khalid is the current leader of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship and is the strong favourite to clinch the coveted regional title for the first time when the series draws to a close in Dubai at the start of December. But the incredibly slippery forest roads of Western Australia offer an altogether different challenge to the Power Horse driver than the dusty and boulder-strewn tracks of the United Arab Emirates.
~I have gained a lot of experience this season from my exciting and demanding rally programme,~ said Sheikh Khalid. ~I have proved that I have the pace to be competitive and also have the maturity to drive in a restrained manner when the need arises. I have won two rallies in Bahrain and Syria and achieved my position with consistency. Now I can assess my progress against the world's top drivers in Australia.~
Sheikh Khalid has already tackled two rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship this season at the wheel of his showroom-specification Subaru and finished the first of those in Greece in an excellent 20th overall and fourth in the Group N category. He set three fastest Group N times on the final leg against world class opposition.
The 2002 FIA Middle East Group N champion failed to finish his second outing in Turkey and heads for Australia preparing for a clash with the defending FIA Middle East rally champion Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah, his closest rival for this year's regional title who is also tackling rounds of the 2004 Production World Rally Championship.
~This rally will be the first time that I have competed against Nasser outside the Middle East,~ added Khalid. ~I will have no pressure on me, because I am not competing in the championship and there are no points at stake. But Nasser is involved in the championship and will be watching his rivals closely.~
Rally Australia will witness Sheikh Khalid line-up against the most formidable entry he has faced in his short and successful career. The three-day Australian event will decide the outcome of the 2004 PWRC and Finland's Jani Paasonen takes the start in his Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution, with a mere two-point advantage over Spaniard Xavier Pons in his Mitsubishi and Ulsterman Niall McShea in a Subaru. Scotland's Alister McRae lies a mere point behind this trio, while Japan's Toshi Arai has a mathematical chance of clinching the title as the series heads for a thrilling climax.
Sheikh Khalid will be without his usual Ulster co-driver Michael Orr for his Antipodean adventure as well. Rally Australia was not an original part of the Power Horse driver's programme and Orr had already agreed to partner McShea in Australia. Khalid will, therefore, be accompanied in Perth by England's Steve Lancaster, last year's Middle East Championship-winning co-driver and the former navigator for his great rival Nasser Saleh Al-Atttiyah.
~Steve is a very experienced co-driver and has taken part in many WRC rallies,~ said Sheikh Khalid. ~He and Nasser rallied together in Sweden at the start of the season and Steve has taken part in many events in the past with some top drivers. It will be a one-off partnership for us, but I am confident that we will work well together.~
Rally Australia has been one of the most popular rounds of the FIA World Rally Championship since it joined the series for the first time in the late 1980s. The loose surface stages take place in the Western Australian forests, where tiny marble-like stones and pebbles make the surfaces exceptionally slippery. A spectacular floodlit super-special stage will be run five times during the opening two legs.
The competition will begin there on Thursday evening and drivers will repeat the test twice each on Friday and Saturday evenings. Friday's opening leg is the longest with tests south of Perth, close to the towns of Harvey and Dwellingup.
The second leg concentrates on tests east of the city, while the final day begins in the same location before heading south to Sotico plantation, better known by its former name of Bunnings. Its famous rollercoaster jumps and watersplash provide some of the year's most spectacular action. Each leg features one remote tyre and refuel zone away from Perth with limited opportunity for repairs. The 25 tests cover 388.25 kms in a total route of 1426.56 kms
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