Abu Dhabi ‘s star World Rally Championship (WRC) driver - Sheikh Khaled Al Qassimi - will make motorsport history in Qatar next weekend when he takes to the driver’s seat of the brand new Ford Fiesta S2000, for its competitive debut at the Qatar International Rally (21st-23rd January).
The Emirati star will be the first to receive Ford's newest rally model as he flies the flag for Abu Dhabi at his first major event of the year.  Al Qassimi will be one of only four select drivers taking to the wheel of the new S2000 as it makes simultaneous international debuts at the Qatar and Monte Carlo rallies.
“The Qatar rally is the perfect environment to launch the car. The tough desert and gravel terrain is where it should excel and I look forward putting its abilities to the test,” said Al Qassimi.
The Qatar debut will give Al Qassimi invaluable experience in the new model which is due to replace the current WRC two-litre car from 2011 onwards. This follows a ruling from the FIA, motorsport’s governing body, that the Super 2000 will be the next generation rally car to increase team competition and revolutionise the sport.
Malcolm Wilson, Director of MSPORT, the company responsible for managing Ford’s rally programme, commented: “We hope that with our WRC experience we are giving Khaled a car that is capable of winning. This is also an important part of our testing programme, as there is no better place than the Middle East to trial a car's durability.”
The Qatar International Rally, the season opener for the 2010 FIA Middle East Rally Championship series, marks the start of a year-long rally campaign for Abu Dhabi as it gears up to host a WRC candidate event later this year. The candidate event, which could lead to Abu Dhabi hosting a WRC round in 2011, has boosted the emirate’s expanding motorsport credentials which has already seen it successfully host the 2009 Formula 1™ Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) has a three-pronged rally programme which includes being official WRC destination sponsor, partner of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, and promote its very own grassroots junior driver development programme – Team Abu Dhabi.
“ADTA’s international rally programme is now entering its fifth year”, commented Ahmed Hussein, ADTA’s Deputy Director General. “Rally is at the heart of our global motorsport strategy, delivering a stunning showcase for Abu Dhabi whilst developing the UAE’s own motorsport talent pool.”
As Al Qassimi gets to grips with his new S2000, Abu Dhabi’s junior drivers are also starting a new chapter in their fledgling motorsport careers.  Team Abu Dhabi’s line-up has expanded from three to five cars as two new Emirati drivers are welcomed into the fold.  Sultan Al Ameri and Khalil Al Sheikh were picked from hundreds of hopefuls during ADTA’s 2007 junior driver selection process, and gained rally exposure throughout 2007 and 2008.  Now, as the focus on developing new Abu Dhabi stars increases, they have been given the opportunity to build their skills further on a world stage.
A highly successful 2009 saw the junior team compete in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy International (FSTi), a tournament running alongside six WRC rounds. The FSTi gives champions-in-the-making experience at top events, covering all the WRC’s challenging surfaces and stages, but in two-wheel drive vehicles.
Ron Cremen, Team Abu Dhabi Team Director, commented: “In 2009 Team Abu Dhabi exceeded expectations in the FSTi, taking third, fifth and sixth place, which is testament to ADTA’s commitment and nurturing of home grown talent. Expanding this team to five is a natural progression and will widen the opportunities to develop young Emirati drivers. As such, the Qatar rally is set to be a thrilling start to the 2010 season for the team and motorsport in Abu Dhabi.”
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