The summer holiday season may be in full swing in Sardinia, but the Mediterranean island’s narrow, bumpy mountainous roads will offer the UAE’s Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi no time for relaxation during his latest World Rally Championship appearance this weekend.
Partnered by British co-driver Scott Martin in his Abu Dhabi Citroën Total World Rally Team DS3 WRC, the Emirati faces another stern examination in an event which is one of the shortest on the WRC calendar, but still ranks among the toughest.
Following his premature exit from the recent Acropolis Rally, Al Qassimi is determined to get his 2013 WRC campaign back on track, and is comforted by the fact the stages in Sardinia average just 19km in length, with no marathon sections like those of 52km and 47km which he encountered in Portugal and Greece.
“It suits me, because the shorter stages mean less wear and tear on the car and most importantly they’re easier on the mind,” he said. “When you have very long stages like we did in Portugal and Greece, you can lose your concentration towards the end, and when that happens you can lose heaps of time.”
To help prepare for the test in Sardinia, Al Qassimi has been consulting team-mate Mikko Hirvonen, who is chasing a second successive victory in the rally at the wheel of his Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team DS3 WRC.
He has been concentrating more, however, on building his partnership with Martin as they prepare to start only their eighth rally together.
“We have a good relationship and it’s developing” said Al Qassimi. “The most important thing is the chemistry between driver and co-driver inside the car. I have good friends who know a lot about rallying, but having your best friend with you in the car could be a disaster.
“Scott and I are learning every day we’re together, and we stay in touch in between events. We’re always looking to try new things, and if they don’t work we look to find something else that does.”
He added: “I get on well with Mikko and of course I have talked to him. He has given me some hints and the benefits of his experience as last year’s winner. But for me it’s important to be myself. I have to get the feeling back and become happy with the car again after what happened in Acropolis.”
Added to its turquoise sea and white sandy beaches, Sardinia’s 30C of summer sunshine is lapped up by tourists, although the temperature and the abrasive rocky stages lying ahead will be tough on the drivers, and their tyres, over the next three days.
After completing a two-day recce of the route tonight, Al Qassimi joins 55 other starters for tomorrow (Thursday) morning’s 3.86km qualifying stage outside Olbia, before the rally begins in earnest on Friday with eight stages, with eight more ahead of the finish on Saturday evening.