While Mikko Hirvonen's eventual ascension to Sebastien Loeb's World Rally Championship throne seems inevitable, the Finnish driver claiming a maiden championship title this year would also add immediate justification to team sponsor Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority's (ADTA) decision to employ rally as a vehicle for its own promotional and sporting agendas. Since adding the capital's name to the BP Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team in June 2007, a sole manufacturers' title in the same year is the only sporting return ADTA can show for its considerable financial outlay. However, while end of season success is fundamental to the partnership, Ahmed Hussein, ADTA's deputy director general, has reiterated the body's sporting associations are designed with more than just winning in mind.
"We partner proven world-class suppliers who have synergy with our own values - most notably respect," he said. "We align with partners who can live up to our exacting requirements. Of course, sporting success is a determining factor, but we know anything can happen in sport, and we want partners that demonstrate resilience to rise above challenges." Two years ago, the agreement with Ford saw Sheikh Khalid al Qassimi becoming the team's third driver.
It is an arrangement beginning to bear fruit, and al Qassimi - the only Emirati to ever win multiple WRC drivers' points - is now a flag-bearing beneficiary of the ADTA's Emiratis-first approach. While al Qassimi is the most high-profile achiever in ADTA's stable, other drivers and pilots compete in regional and international rally and F1 powerboat outfits. To complement the roster, international sportsmen and women are backed in triathalon and air racing schemes.
"Socio-economic benefits extend well beyond sporting fields, routes and tracks," said Hussein. "I like to think the people in Abu Dhabi are behind these partners, celebrate their successes and associate with them. "When role models such as Sheikh Khalid earn championship points and places, I hope many young nationals are inspired to follow in their footsteps." Trophies aside, building Emirati heroes is the underlining aim of ADTA's involvement in sport. The goal is to develop Emiratis to emulate people like Hirvonen.
"Most sporting heroes have at one time or another had their own icons to emulate," added Hussein. "We are creating our own through partnership opportunities and training alliances - we are nurturing a generation of champions." firstname.lastname@example.org