KARLSTAD: Skydive Dubai Rally Team (UAE) driver Rashid Al Ketbi and his German co-driver Karina Hepperle are braving the ice and cold of a Scandinavian winter this week to take part in the specialised Swedish Rally, round two of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
Fresh from securing a superb fourth place finish in the WRC2 category of the Monte Carlo Rally, the Skoda Fabia S2000 driver will face even harsher road conditions when he tackles the ice and snow-covered tracks that make the Swedish round of the WRC such a challenge.
Temperatures can plummet to as low as minus 25 degrees Centigrade overnight at this time of year - a far cry from the balmy temperatures that Ketbi is used to in his native UAE.
“The result in Monte Carlo has given me a lot of confidence for Sweden,” said Al Ketbi, who will be able to use metal studded tyres to give him that crucial extra grip on this event. “This is going to be a totally different challenge for me. Ensuring I get a finish and score points towards the championship is the priority but I will be trying to push faster as the event progresses and I get used to the stages and the conditions.”
Ketbi will carry out a pre-event test early this week with Swedish driver PG Andersson to finalise his set-up for the weekend and give him an even better chance of acclimatising to the snowy stages as fast as possible. The Emirati has 12 points from his fourth-placed finish in Monte Carlo. Germany’s Sepp Wiegand (Skoda Fabia) leads the WRC2 series after winning in the south of France and Armin Kremer and Yuriy Protasov hold second and third places. Twenty World Rally Cars and 13 WRC2 entrants will line-up at the start of the Swedish Rally, making Ketbi’s task that much more difficult.
Wiegand heads Ketbi’s WRC2 rivals in Karlstad, while Protasov (Subaru) is also entered and snow rallying specialists Anders Grondhal (Subaru) and Eyvind Brynildsen (Ford Fiesta RRC) are likely to feature at the business end of the leader board. Saudi Arabia’s Yazeed Al Rajhi also features on the entry list in a Ford Fiesta RRC.
The Skydive Dubai Rally Team is running in the 2013 WRC under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Sports Council.
Defending FIA World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb leads the WRC Drivers’ Championship outright in his Citroen Total Abu Dhabi DS3 WRC after the first round, but Volkswagen Motorsport have carried out a lot of testing on icy roads and are expected to challenge the Citroen team strongly in Sweden. Frenchman Sebastien Ogier finished second for the German outfit in Monte Carlo.
Competitors will tackle 22 special stages and a total competitive distance of 339 kilometres over the four days of this year’s Swedish Rally. The event will start and finish in Karlstad but the permanent service park will be situated in Hagfors.