A few days ago I waited on the tarmac at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport whilst twin turboprops wound themselves into sufficient frenzy for flight. A blond female flight attendant, who save for the strings of supermarionation bore outsize resemblance to Thunderbird’s Lady Penelope, went through the safety briefing. 40 minutes later, over miles of snowy forest and frozen lakes, Karlstad hove into view. F.A.B. I thought
I was in Sweden to interview Sheikh Khalid Al-Qassimi, a driver with the BP Ford Abu Dhabi race team and former winner of the Middle East Rally. Khalid was scheduled to first scare me witless on a shakedown lap in his £500,000 car – or at least that was the plan…
34″ waist, long leg, big head – my flameproof longjohns and racing suit seemed made to measure as I waited, heart quickening, in the warmth of Abu Dhabi’s Oasis hospitality trailer. Outside temperatures hovered around a chastening -22 deg C. Khalid’s car came in, was subject to feverish mechanical attention, and then went out again. ‘He just needs a couple more runs. It’s been two of years since he’s driven on snow.’ Now they tell me…
This cycle of rising adrenalin and unresolved anticipation ran a couple more times, before a downcast PR woman entered the trailer. ‘He doesn’t want to do it I’m afraid. ‘
Well, I could hardly blame the guy. Sand and snow are different beasts and as such it wasn’t worth killing a journo, or worse still pranging the motor. Disappointed, I stripped off my race gear, though after an unfortunate experience in a Builth Wells launderette, first sought privacy behind one of the oasis’s metaphorical palm trees.
With wit intact, I did the interview. Khalid turned out to be a personable and considered ambassador for his sport and for Abu Dhabi. He finished 14th, climbing 12 places as he atuned to both the surface and studded tyres. Abu Dhabi hopes to join the World Rally Challenge circuit following a proving event later this year. If the venue is successful maybe Khalid will be too and perhaps I’ll get another chance to wear flameproof underpants.
Today’s website of the week is some footage of Khalid’s 2008 Rally Sweden. Just bear in mind that most of these spectators have all day been intent on fortifying themselves against the cold with various dilutions of lingonberry hooch. Mind you they’re quicker than the RAC… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb1H4ssdem8