IT IS QUITE often said that one’s misfortune is the other’s fortune. The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, the third round of FIA World Cup for Cross-Country Rallies, was more about Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah’s misfortunes as Shaikh Khalid Al Qassimi won with a margin of 41min, 26sec, capitalising in on the Qatari’s technical woes.
Going into the final stage, Nasser had held a staggering 1hr, 46min, 03sec lead over Al Qassimi and nobody had given the UAE driver much of a chance.
But in an anticlimax, Nasser rolled his Toyota Hilux heavily before the opening passage control. Despite continuing for a short while after a long delay, he retired as Al Qassimi romped home.
Czech driver Martin Prokop delivered a career-best performance to finish second while Mohamed Issa Abu Issa was the sole Qatar representative on the podium with a third-place finish.
Driving a Peugeot 3008 DKR, Al Qassimi became the first Emirati to win the event since Mohammed Mattar won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.
“This event has been in the series for more than two-and-a-half decades and I feel so proud to become first Emirati to win it since 1992,” said an elated Al Qassimi, who also took a surprise 33-point lead in the championship.
“The team itself, all of us, did a great job. We had a lot of problems. We had a faulty drive shaft initially. That was a bad time. We sorted it out. We’re from Abu Dhabi and our team is Abu Dhabi Racing and so to win the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge was fantastic for everyone,” he added.
Although he has enough experience in the World Rally Championship, Al Qassimi is still relatively new to the cross-country format of off-road racing.
The 45-year-old had originally decided only to compete only in the Dubai and Abu Dhabi rounds of the 11-leg FIA World Cup.
However, with a runner-up finish in Dubai and victory at home, the Abu Dhabi-based driver is now having a rethink about his plans.
“This is only my fourth or fifth cross-country rally. Winning it was a big boost. We’re happy. The reality is that we’re leading the championship now. The results are good, but for me the priority is to continue learning in this format,” said Al Qassimi.
In his home country, Al Qassimi is a national hero. He is the chairman of Abu Dhabi Racing and is involved with the task of developing the next generation of drivers.
And he hopes the victory in his home event will give a further push to his campaign.
“For me, every day is a learning curve. I’m pushing myself to a good level. The learning experience doesn’t stop at winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge. I did my best and won and will try to keep going with same pace and momentum,” Al Qassimi concluded. dsp