ABU DHABI // Two members of Team Abu Dhabi, the emirate's junior driver programme, are hoping strong Rally France finishes this weekend will boost their championship credentials.
Bader al Jabri and Majed al Shamsi are second and fourth, respectively, in the Fiesta SportTrophy International (FSTi) title standings. They are in France for round four of the seven-event championship, a Ford-only feeder series which runs alongside European legs of the World Rally Championship (WRC).
After winning in Portugal and finishing second in Germany, al Shamsi, sixth in last year's first FSTi season, is confident he can continue to improve his tarmac skills in France and clinch another high finish.
"It's the second half of the season and I'm aiming for more points," al Shamsi said. "I'll push hard, but not crazily because it will be difficult here. I prefer gravel, but from the recce it seems the stages are open and flow nicely."
With the juniors' progress being evaluated after every rally they undertake, it remains a possibility that the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA) - the supporter of the development programme - might offer the top-ranking member a chance to compete in a higher series next season.
Full-spec WRC cars will be consigned to history in 2011 as Super2000s - a cheaper-to-operate vehicle designed to lure more manufacturers back to the sport - become the main attractions.
Nothing is confirmed, but al Jabri said the juniors' time to step up might not be far off.
"We don't know the plan for next year, but I'm sure ADTA will review which championships we contest at the end of the season," said al Jabri, who has finished on the podium in all three FSTi events he has contested this year.
"This is a long-term programme, but all of us would be interested in stepping up, definitely. I think we're up for it; we would adapt and improve. If we don't, then another season in the FSTi will not be a bad thing; the series is attracting more drivers every year and it will be even more competitive in 2011."
With the FSTi field running at the back of Rally France's 80-car field, the predominantly tarmac-based routes are likely to be covered in mud and debris - scattered by the higher-order cars - by the time al Jabri and al Shamsi get round to navigating them.
That, however, is part of the education of drivers who hope to progress through the rally ranks, al Shamsi said.
"I'm sure the cars before us will cut corners and make the stages slippery for us," he said. "That is just the reality. We need to tailor our pace notes to allow for it and, if we do that right, there is nothing stopping us getting points and finishing on the podium."
Khalil al Sheikh will pilot a third Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta in France.