BP FORD ABU DHABI UP AGAINST THE ELEMENTS AS DRAMA UNFOLDS AT RALLY FINLAND Jyvaskyla, Finland. 30 July 2010: Emirati motor sport ace, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, had a scorching start to the blisteringly hot 60th Neste Oil Rally Finland in ...
BP FORD ABU DHABI UP AGAINST THE ELEMENTS AS DRAMA UNFOLDS AT RALLY FINLAND
Jyvaskyla, Finland. 30 July 2010: Emirati motor sport ace, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi, had a scorching start to the blisteringly hot 60th Neste Oil Rally Finland in Jyvaskyla on Friday as he climbed up to ninth place after a solid opening, before succumbing to lightening quick conditions on stage six.
Al Qassimi finished joint 10th with former Formula 1™ World Champion Kimi Raikkonen and three seconds faster than legendary Finnish driver Juha Kankkunen during last night's opening super special stage. The Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA)-backed driver then went on to battle against the two legends during all four of the morning's stages, finishing 6.7 seconds ahead of Kankkunen at mid-day.
However, the Emirati came up against the toughest of Finnish conditions during stage six and his Ford Focus was forced off the course, rolling heavily and taking him out of the competition.
"Finland is a tough rally. The terrain is rocky, there are frequent crests, and the stages are some of the fastest in the WRC. It was an exciting day up until this point and the roll was really unfortunate." said Al Qassimi. "This is my fourth time competing in Finland, but the conditions can catch out even the most experienced driver."
On the weekend that ADTA celebrated the third anniversary of its WRC and BP Ford Team Abu Dhabi partnerships, the overall news has been mixed for the outfit, as 2009 Rally Finland champion, Mikko Hirvonen, spectacularly rolled his Ford Focus on stage four whilst holding a 4.9 second lead over his closest rival.
The Flying Finn, who has been spurred on by the support of thousands of Finnish fans, won all of the morning's stages, only to join his team mate Al Qassimi in falling victim to the unforgiving terrain that makes Rally Finland one of the most dramatic events on the WRC calendar.
Luckily neither driver or co-driver were hurt, but the pair's hopes of repeating last year's victory appear to be dashed. However, quick to react to the mounting drama, BP Ford Abu Dhabi's youngest driver, fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala, took up the challenge and has moved into the lead, keeping the hopes of a top podium spot for the team a reality.
"The car landed on the road but started to roll," explained Hirvonen. "It rolled three or four times. It's the biggest accident I've had. I had a great feeling with the car through the first two stages today and I thought this could be a good weekend."
Also battling it out on the unique and notoriously tough stages synonymous with rallying in Finland, are the Team Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers. Drawing upon a string of successful finishes over the last couple of months, the Emirati trio - Majed Al Shamsi, Bader Al Jabri and Sultan Al Ameri - are contesting a 14-strong field of competitors in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi).
One advantage that the young drivers were quick to capitalise on was the opportunity to speak with Juha Kankkonen following a packed press conference with the rally legend, hosted by ADTA in its rally media facilities ahead of the action yesterday.
"All three of us are aware of what Kankkunen has achieved as a driver and for his home country, he has had prolific career that we all aspire to replicate," commented Al Shamsi.
At the mid-day point, all three Emiratis had recorded competitive stage times, successfully keeping up with the fast pace set by some of their more experienced Finnish rivals. Al Jabri leads the ADTA-backed contingent in seventh place, Al Ameri, who is competing for the first time in Finland, is in eighth, and following some technical issues, Al Shamsi is in 12th.
The action will continue to unfold across the crowded Finnish countryside with a further six stages.
Rally Finland: Series leg 1 midday report
Rally Finland: Series leg 1 summary