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Swedish Rally: Abu Dhabi leg one midday report

Sweden, 12 February; BP Ford Abu Dhabi driver, Khaled Al Qassimi, began his 2010 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) campaign today on unfamiliar snowy terrain and in sub-zero temperatures, as he tackled the
season's first event - Rally Sweden. The Emirati took to the ice for only the second time in his rally career in his bid to continue to develop his strengths across all surfaces and maintain his position as the most successful Emirati WRC driver of all time. After the first five opening stages he sits in 21st position, after a spin in the first stage this morning set him back by two minutes.

Al Qassimi's first and only experience on snow came in 2008 at the last Rally Sweden, when he took the 'Colin's Crest Award' for the highest jump. The conditions during the winter two years ago were not nearly as severe as this time round with recent heavy snowfall heightening the challenge and providing the WRC with stages that are far tougher on the cars. Abu Dhabi-born Al Qassimi is more familiar with the sand dunes and sunshine that are typical of the emirate than the treacherous snow and ice of Rally Sweden, so competing in these contrasting conditions requires extra concentration, consistency and skill, and only goes to emphasise the scale of his achievement in 2008.

Commenting on the task ahead, Al Qassimi said, "Just a couple of weeks ago I was at the Qatar International Rally, coping with the heat, dust and loose rocky terrain. Today's stages couldn't be a bigger contrast. Snow is unfamiliar territory for me, so I want to concentrate on developing my understanding of how the car drives and reacts to the surface."

Competing against many Scandinavian drivers, including his Finnish BP Ford Abu Dhabi team mates, Al Qassimi is the only UAE competitor in this round of the WRC and one of the only drivers not to be at an advantage on the deep powdery surface. Despite this he has managed to provide consistent times across the stages so far, finishing the morning just behind the former Formula One World Drivers' Champion and Finnish rally contender, Kimi Raikkonen.

"One of the most attractive elements of the WRC is the diversity of the competition, the terrain, and the weather conditions", commented Ahmed Hussein Deputy Director General, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA). "We look forward to welcoming the Scandinavians to our own Rally Abu Dhabi in December, where the challenge is reversed, and they will have the opportunity to drive across our undulating sand dunes in rather different weather conditions!"

Al Qassimi's BP Ford Abu Dhabi team mate, Mikko Hirvonen, is once again aiming high this year, with a maiden Driver's Championship as his clear goal. As a native of the Scandinavian weather, the Finnish driver is at home on the snow laden stages, and is bidding to finish in the top spot to kick start his season. He started the rally well and at the end of stage five he was lying in first position

BP Ford Abu Dhabi's other Finnish driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, produced consistently fast times across the morning and currently sits in fourth place.

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