Fresh from achieving a season best eight place finish at last month's FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) event in Germany, Abu Dhabi's Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi heads to the Far East for his first Rally Japan as he looks to build on his current competitive form. The BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team's Emirati star welcomes a return to his favoured gravel surfaces, a hallmark of the central Do-oh region of Hokkaido where Rally Japan is held, as he continues his pursuit to better last season's 12th place in the FIA Drivers' Championship.
"I was very happy with my form in Germany and now I'm looking forward to a return to gravel, and although it's going to be my first time in Japan, I feel confident that we can push for a top 10 finish to score some more championship points," said Al Qassimi, who is contesting both the WRC and Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) this season.
Rally Japan, which quickly become a popular fixture on the calendar having attracted over 500,000 fans in its 2008 running, has moved to a new base in Sapporo, Hokkaido's main city.
And despite having a breathtaking selection of brand new gravel stages to tackle in the surrounding forested countryside, Al Qassimi and his team-mates will be looking forward to repeating previous successes in the Land of the Rising Sun, having won the event on the last two occasions.
BP Ford Abu Dhabi's lead driver, Mikko Hirvonen, has climbed the top step of the podium during both 2007 and 2008 events and is hoping to be a formidable force this time around, whilst his Abu Dhabi team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, has been in outstanding form on gravel, having won in Finland and New Zealand so far this season.
"I enjoyed the type of roads here in 2008. They were fast, flowing and quite sandy," said 30-year old Hirvonen. "I should have the speed to fight for a win but my main target is to end the year with a series of strong finishes."
Rally Japan returns to the WRC calendar this season after a year out in accordance with the FIA's event rotation system. And Latvala is confident the Far East showpiece will set-up another mouthwatering contest for his BP Ford Abu Dhabi team-mates.
"My confidence is highest on this type of road and I want to fight for a podium," said Latvala who is currently sitting third in the 2010 FIA Drivers' Championship Standings. "I had good speed when I won in Finland in July and the Focus RS WRC is competitive in these types of conditions so I'm confident a top three finish is possible."