This weekend's Qatar International Rally will see five Citroen DS3 R3s on the entry list as Abu Dhabi Racing extends its involvement with the Middle East Rally Championship.
Created in 1984, and now celebrating its 30th anniversary, the MERC has long supported the emergence of motorsport in the Arabian Peninsula. While the leading contenders for this weekend's event will include Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson - competing in the DS3 RRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën World Rally Team - five DS3 R3s have been entered in the 'two-wheel drive' category for drivers from the Abu Dhabi Racing-Citroën Middle East Trophy, the driver development programme set up by Abu Dhabi Racing.
After a good first season spent learning about rallying at this level, Mohamed Al Mutawaa and Mohamed Al Sahlawi will be hoping to make their experience count. They will also serve as a benchmark for the three rookies selected in December at the Yas Marina circuit. After undergoing extensive preparations over the last two months, Saeed Bintouq, Juma Al Falasi and Mansoor Bel Helei will now get their first taste of competitive action!
“This programme is about creating opportunities for and training a new generation of drivers. We hope to help them reach a level from which they will be able to pursue their career by themselves,” Al Qassimi emphasised, “Thanks to the team's experience and the expertise of their respective co-drivers, they will be able to learn and progress. It's more about them seizing this opportunity than trying to break any speed records. I would be pleased if they make it to the end of this first rally. That would prove that they have the capacity to take on board information and develop their talent when they are under pressure.”
A few days after the end of Rally Sweden, Khalid Al Qassimi finds himself back in much more familiar conditions. Alongside new co-driver Patterson, the Abu Dhabi driver is aiming for an excellent result in his Citroën DS3 RRC.
“My goal, as will be the case at all rounds of the championship, is to be fighting at the front,” he stressed, “This event is considered to be very difficult because of the kind of gravel stages here. You therefore need to find the right balance between attacking and managing your pace, especially if you want to avoid picking up punctures. Our preparations have been good over the last few days; the test sessions gave the opportunity to get my bearings again in the DS3 RRC.”
“Citroën Racing is competing in the Middle East Rally Championship for the second year running,” added Yves Matton, Citroën Racing team principal, “We hope that the experience acquired by Khalid during the 2013 season will enable him to fight for the title. It will also be a new stage for the young drivers that we selected with Abu Dhabi Racing. Having five DS3 R3s taking part in this rally shows not only the increasing strength of our partnership, but also the development of motorsport in the Middle East.”
An ever-present on the MERC calendar since it started, the rally gets underway on Thursday evening with a super special stage held on Doha's Corniche. On Friday and Saturday, the crews will head into the Qatari desert to contest two legs over twelve special stages and a total of 262 kilometres of timed sections.