Abu Dhabi Racing for December launch

Former Ford WRC driver Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi (pictured above) has spoken for the first time since the announcement that Abu Dhabi – and he – will be returning to front-line duty in the World Rally Championship, as partners to Citroën Racing.

A new venture, entitled Abu Dhabi Racing, will be launched in December and takes responsibility for the emirate’s activities in and around the WRC trail. Abu Dhabi Racing will bring together the collective of motor sport stakeholders from Abu Dhabi, including Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, Yas Marina Circuit and the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), with the view to use the sport to promote local and regional talent worldwide.

For those who remember Abu Dhabi’s previous partnership with Ford, this is all familiar territory. In 2009-10 Abu Dhabi not only funded the sponsorship of the works Ford squad, including Al Qassimi’s drive, but also a squad of between three and five crews competing in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy International class for 2WD cars supporting several European events.

Abu Dhabi’s junior team, 2009 Vodafone Rally de Portugal

As with the Ford sponsorship, the soon-to-be-renamed Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team will be in the vanguard of the plan, with a three-car team participating in all rounds of the WRC. Mikko Hirvonen will step up to the team leader role, contesting the entire series, with Sébastien Loeb returning for his hand-picked calendar in a second car and Sheikh Khalid returning to drive a third car in his own programme of selected WRC rounds.

“I will not do the full season, it is not possible,” Sheikh Khalid told Sport360 this week. “There will be much more to do once ADR is formally launched in December and I would like to be actively involved in the company’s development from day one. So, while I will do some rounds of the WRC, another factory driver will do rounds that I skip.”

This leaves two of the top seats in the WRC free for a percentage of the season. It is unlikely that an Emirati driver is going to be seen in a works DS3 WRC, however, with the likelihood being that Citroën will seek to retain the very obvious talents of Belgian youngster Thierry Neuville in one car, with several drivers, including Britain’s former IRC champion and MINI WRC refugee Kris Meeke, also in the mix to share the other.

Al Qassimi will share his Citroën drive in 2013

Although the Citroën Racing squad intends to develop the DS3 as an R5 competitor for the new WRC2 class, with its 2-wheel-drive DS3 R3 also likely to be seen in WRC3, it is unlikely that a costly WRC-based ‘junior squad’ from Abu Dhabi is on the agenda. Abu Dhabi Racing is understood to be preparing to enter the most promising young Emirati drivers in national and regional events around the Gulf in the first phase of development as a precursor to international competition.

The board of Abu Dhabi Racing sees Sheikh Khalid as Chairman, with His Excellency Khaled Bin Shaiban, a senior member of the Crown Prince’s Court in Abu Dhabi and board member of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, as vice-chair. It is completed by His Excellency Khalid Al Qubaisi, a major figure in Mubadalla, the Abu Dhabi government’s investment arm, who is also an accomplished driver in sports car racing.

Khalid Al Qubaisi celebrates victory in the 2012 Dubai 24 Hours

Al Qubaisi himself will be responsible for developing the UAE’s talent pool in circuit racing alongside the plans to discover future rally stars. It is highly encouraging to see that the extensive karting facilities in Abu Dhabi are being involved at a boardroom level through Bin Shaiban, indicating that this may well deliver a genuine national programme for young talent in the next few years.

Ultimately it sounds like the various strands of interest and investment in motor sport throughout the UAE is finally being brought into a concerted unit within Abu Dhabi Racing. While on the surface of the announcement so far it seems like business as usual for Sheikh Khalid and Abu Dhabi’s ongoing motor sport sponsorship, the fostering of a genuine motor sport culture in the UAE that justifies the expenditure so far on developments like the Dubai Autodrome and MotorCity, the Yas Marina Circuit, Ferrari World theme park and the returning WRC presence.

Perhaps now they can update their media information, too?

It’s not rocket science…

The date today is – hold on, let me just check – yes. It’s October 2nd in the year of our Lord 2012.

On this day in history I was doing a little extra research into the Abu Dhabi sponsorship of Citroën in 2012, when I googled a quote about the deal which inadvertently brought up Abu Dhabi’s page in the ‘partners’ section of http://www.wrc.com.

That’s odd, I thought. Abu Dhabi hasn’t been a partner to the WRC for a couple of years, has it? So I clicked on the link – and was amazed at what I found. And I quote:

The emirate has joined forces with the FIA World Rally Championship as an Official Destination Partner to the series, arguably the world’s most dramatic form of motorsport. This fits perfectly with Abu Dhabi’s goal of becoming a centre of motorsport excellence in the Middle East, which will also see the emirate host its first Formula One Grand Prix in 2009 on the purpose-built Yas Island complex.

In addition, Abu Dhabi is partner to the reigning World Rally Champion Ford, represented by the BP-Ford World Rally Team from 2007 onwards. The emirate also has a national team competing in the Middle East Rally Championship, Team Abu Dhabi. The team’s leading driver, Sheikh Khalid Al Qassimi leads the 2007 series and also drives the third works Abu Dhabi-branded Ford Focus RS WRC in the BP-Ford World Rally Team.

Five years out of date.

Five years.

Children are now at school who weren’t even born when this information was valid. Amy Winehouse developed a drug habit and died from it in less time than this, one of the most visible sponsorships in recent WRC history, has had accurate information on the series website.

I mean, the other hot news in 2007 was that something called an iPhone had been invented.

Having spent more hundreds of million dollars on building and maintaining a track and hosting a Formula 1 race than any other nation in history, perhaps some mention of the rip-roaring success of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2009 might be nice. Or 2010. Or 2011.

I don’t know in which direction my flabberghastedness should be pointed first.

To the WRC’s old promoters at North One, who managed to convince many people who should know better that they were world-class communicators? To the PR agencies who have been on what can only be described as EPIC retainers for the past five years whilst doing diddly-squat?

I am trying to think of any branch of serious international sport that could let this sort of thing happen.

And, you know what? I can’t.