Sheikh Khalid, who has enjoyed regional success in recent months with a second-place finish at the Dubai Baja International before winning the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, will contest a WRC event for the first time in six months.
The Abu Dhabi Racing chairman will also need to contend with a new car when he gets behind the wheel of the Citroen C3 WRC alongside co-driver Chris Patterson.
“We have to prepare very well for Rally Portugal as it’s been like six months since I have competed in the WRC,” Sheikh Khalid said. “Moreover, I will be driving the all-new Citroen C3 WRC for the very first time in a competitive environment. Hence it will be an entirely new step forward.”
“I will have to use every second in testing in Sardegna (Italy) ahead of the rally to understand the new car, get the best set-up, and to get used to its power. I will try to build confidence step by step during the rally, so of course no risks will be taken.
“Having said that, I’m looking forward to enjoying the new car at one of my favourite events. The atmosphere in Portugal is different where there are thousands of spectators especially at the big jump in Fafe.”
As well as Sheikh Khalid and Patterson, the Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT line-up at Rally de Portugal will also consist of Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle, Craig Breen and Scott Martin, and Stephane Lefebvre and Gabin Moreau.
For the 2017 edition, taking place May 18-21, the rally will see a fresh 1.90 kilometre street stage in the centre of Braga, which competitors drive twice at the end of Friday, replacing last year’s similar test in Porto.
There are three new stage venues — a double run through Cabeceiras de Basto on Saturday and single passes through Luilhas and Montim on Sunday.
The rally will run over a total distance of 1,529km of which 349.17km comprise of competitive stages and the remainder will be liaison sections. Following the Spectator Stage on Thursday (3.36km), drivers will then tackle eight special stages over about 148km on Friday and a further six special stages on Saturday covering a little over 154km. Sunday, the final day, comprises of four special stages over a distance of nearly 43km.
Sandy roads ensure grip is at a premium for the early starters during the first pass through the stages, while rocks and deep ruts present an altogether different hazard for the second pass, requiring teams to raise the ride height on their cars to avoid mechanical damage.