Aleix Esparago, the Catalonian MotoGP star, joined the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team for a new type of ride today - as Emirati rally ace Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi's guest co-driver during the Rally de Espana 'Shakedown' time-trial in Salou.
In front of adoring home support, Granollers-born Esparago sampled the WRC's four-wheeled, high-octane action as a guest of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) - Official Destination Partner of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) and title partner of the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally team.
"It was so fast and the movements of the car are so quick! I was amazed at how much you have to think about every action and the concentration for driving is so important," said Esparago, after returning to the Salou Service Park,
"You have to be a little crazy to do this at the same time as listening to everything the co-driver has to say. Trust in your co-driver is vital," the young Spaniard, who competes for MotoGP's Parmac Racing Team, added.
In between runs, Al Qassimi and Esparago compared the respective demands of their favoured motorsport formats, with Al Qassimi clearly impressed by the emerging talent's attitude and knowledge.
"He understands engines, cars and motorbikes, so it was easy to communicate with him about the technicalities of WRC. He was so excited to be in the car and was laughing the whole way. He knew it is a risky sport, but also a lot of fun, and he was impressed with the amount of control we have over the vehicle," said Al Qassimi.
Abu Dhabi Junior Drivers, Majed Al Shamsi and Bader Al Jabri, also met Esparago. Products of ADTA's grassroots development programme, the fledgling Emirati duo have spent four years developing their professional pedigree and, over Arabic coffee and traditional dates in the Abu Dhabi Oasis – a dedicated hospitality unit which tours the WRC's European legs – they shared stories of their journeys with the up-and-coming Spanish rider.
ADTA's partnership with WRC is one of a number of motorsport initiatives developed to raise the profile of Abu Dhabi as an international destination of distinction. The programme started with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team partnership, but has evolved in to land, sea and air triumvirate which includes the Team Abu Dhabi F1 Powerboat outfit and a tie-up with Red Bull Air Race pilot, Hannes Arch, in Team Abu Dhabi Hannes Arch.
The pinnacle of Abu Dhabi's motor-sport season will be next month's 2010 Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The inaugural day-night race, the series' first-ever twilight event, was run at the spectacular Yas Marina Circuit last winter, with the F1 curtain-call returning to the UAE capital on November 14.