WRC Khaled Al Qassimi sets promising stage times in Australia
2004 Rally Australia
FIA World Rally Championship, final round
For immediate release
Friday, November 12th, 2004
UAE'S KHALID AL-QASSIMI SETS
PROMISING TIMES IN RALLY AUSTRALIA
Power Horse Team driver slides off in fifth stage;
Scotland's Alister McRae leads the PWRC category;
Finland's Marcus Gronholm takes overall lead for Peugeot
PERTH (Australia): The UAE's Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi made a solid start to his first ever rally in the southern hemisphere, when he held 25th position in Telstra Rally Australia, the final round of the 2004 FIA World Rally Championship, after four timed special stages in Perth on Friday.
At the wheel of his Power Horse World Rally Team Subaru Impreza WRX STi, Al-Qassimi and co-driver Steve Lancaster enjoyed their first stage together on Thursday evening when they tackled a 2.35 kms floodlit special stage in front of a massive crowd in Perth City and finished 27th overall with a time of 1m 42.1s.
But in damp and cloudy conditions the pace at the head of the field was incessant, as Subaru's Petter Solberg slid into a ditch and retirement in SS4 and was joined by Ford's Estonian driver Markko Martin with engine failure.
The action proper commenced with the longest leg of the entire rally in the forests around Harvey and Dwellingup on Friday. Nine special stages, totalling 133 competitive kilometres, were included in the day's schedule. Sheikh Khalid started well, running in a swift pace behind the Production World Rally Championship regulars and was up to 25th position after the fourth Murray North stage.
But the UAE driver slid wide into a muddy ditch in the fifth Murray South test and was stuck for an hour unable to extricate the Subaru from the side of the track. He later managed to get the car back to service in Perth City, but was OTL (Over Time Limit) and was unable to continue the opening leg.
~It is disappointing not to finish the leg,~ said Al-Qassimi. ~I was running well and having a great fight with Nasser Al-Attiyah and some of the local drivers, when we slid wide on a muddy junction and left the road. But we will have a good attack on day two and see how our times compare with the leaders.~
~The regulations have changed and mean that Khalid will be able to restart the second leg under the Super Rally rules,~ said Australian team manager Ron Cremen. ~It was unfortunate for Khalid. He was driving in a very measured and assured way and looked set for a position inside the top 20 at the end of the leg.~
Sheikh Khalid is the current leader of the 2004 FIA Middle East Rally Championship and is taking part in three rounds of the World Rally Championship this season to expand his knowledge and experience of the global sport.
In the Production World Rally Championship (PWRC), Finland's Jani Paasonen had begun the event with a slender championship lead over Spain's Xavier Pons and Ulster's Niall McShea, but it was Scotland's Alister McRae who held a slender advantage over Paasonen and McShea after six special stages.
Citroen's Francois Loeb has already clinched the World Drivers' title for the Citroen Sport team and held second position in the overall classification after the sixth Beraking stage, 20.4 seconds behind leader Marcus Gronholm.
Finland's Harri Rovanpera was third and Belgium's Francois Duval was fourth. Spaniard Carlos Sainz was hospitalised prior to the start after colliding with a tree during a pre-event practice session and was unable to start his final WRC rally on medical advice.
After a service in Perth City on Friday morning, the opening leg of nine special stages featured runs through the 15.89 kms Stirling West stage and the gruelling 34.99 kms Stirling East section. A remote tyre and refuelling zone was scheduled in Murray, before a pair of stages close by was followed by a return to Perth.
Two stages at Beraking and Helena South ensued and the competitive action drew to a close with two runs though the Perth City Super Special, which had kick-started the action on Thursday evening. The second leg on Saturday concentrates on tests to the east of the city. 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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