Algarve, Portugal: Skydive Dubai Rally Team driver Rashid Al-Ketbi and German co-driver Karina Hepperle were just outside the top 10 in the WRC 2 category after the first run through the Silves special stage of the 2014 Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Friday.
The Dubai-based Ford Fiesta R5 driver had begun his 2014 challenge for honours on Thursday evening’s super special stage before the action switched to the muddy and twisty gravel trails of southern Portugal.
WRC champion Sébastien Ogier of France held a 1.9-sec advantage over Estonian driver Ott Tanak after the early exchanges on Friday. Ogier’s Volkswagen team mate Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth, with Spaniard Dani Sordo and Finland’s Mikko Hirvonen in third and fourth. Abu Dhabi’s Shaikh Khalid Al Qasimi was classified in 19th overall.
Despite low oil pressure and a minor turbo issue, Qatar’s Nasser Saleh Al Attiyah led the WRC 2 category by 3.8 seconds after the second stage, courtesy of the quickest time through the Silves stage. Finland’s Jari Ketomaa held second position and Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand was third. WRC 2 championship leader Yuriy Protasov was running close behind.
“I had no intention taking any risks on the early stages,” said Al Ketbi. “This is my first event since Dubai last December and my first in the WRC since Spain last year, so I wanted to settle in safely and not make any mistakes.
“It will not be easy to achieve a podium finish this weekend. This is probably the strongest entry of the year in the WRC and many of the drivers have been competing regularly every week.
The Skydive Dubai Rally Team is running in the 2014 WRC under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council, and is promoting Dubai’s hosting of EXPO 2020.
The opening 3.27km stage on Thursday evening took place at Praco do Imperio close to the Jeronimos Monastery, a Unesco world heritage site, before the route ventured south towards the Algarve for the next three days.
Ogier set the quickest time of 2min 52.7sec and beat his team mate and birthday boy Jari-Matti Latvala by 2.7sec. Ukraine’s Yuriy Protasov and Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa tied for the lead in the WRC 2 category. Al-Ketbi started cautiously in 14th overall.
The first of the traditional gravel stages was the first of two runs through the 21.50km Silves special. Sordo set the fastest time — the first for the new Hyundai i20 WRC in the championship — from Tanak and the pair moved into third and second overall behind Ogier.
On Saturday there will be a further three special stages repeated twice, with a run through Santa Clara kicking off proceedings from 09.55hrs (12.55hrs UAE time) and preceding the longest stage of the rally – the 31.90km of the Santana de Serra stage.
The event reaches a conclusion at the Algarve stadium on Sunday afternoon after a total of 16 timed tests.