29.11.2011: Rallying - a modern view
In 2005, during Rally Japan, the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Hamad Wahaibi - the rallying star from the Sultanate of Oman -
Rallying - a modern view
In 2005, during Rally Japan, the 13th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Hamad Wahaibi - the rallying star from the Sultanate of Oman - appeared on the special stages for the last time. He left behind a sport that was close to his heart.
Now, six years later, the Arab rally star has returned. He just taken victory in Rally Muscat, the fourth round of the Oman national rally championship, and is in the UAE to take part in this weekend’s Dubai International Rally, the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
The Omani has exciting plans after his return and has founded a team to help young drivers and improve the sport locally. We spoke to him as he made his final preparations for the rally in the UAE.
• What are your reasons to return to rallying after such a long period of absence?
“For a long time I have been thinking about returning to rallying and I wanted this return to be made through an institution or a company designed to serve the sport in Oman and the Gulf region. We established Wahaibi Motor Sport in order to participate in the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
The cars are equipped and prepared by us and we are currently in the process of building a car which will be unveiled in the near future. This will be built and on sale at reasonable cost and will be suitable for our region and the environment so that we can breathe new life into the sport of rallying and allow a greater number of drivers from the Sultanate to enter this field of motorsport.
“Hence, my return was to create this institution, to promote it and to allow our ambitious drivers to join the ranks of our team and compete with us through the merits of local and international rallying.”
• You had a rally last week, Rally Muscat, which was the fourth round of the Oman National Rally Championship. How do you find the competition? Could you describe the atmosphere?
“First of all, the special stages in the Sultanate are always fascinating and, secondly, we had 15 teams particpating and this is a very strong number when you compare to other national championships in the region. We need to find a way to help these drivers and reduce their costs to enable them to compete elsewhere.
“God willing, the idea of our rally car construction with reasonable costs and less of a financial burden will reflect positively on the number of participants. We are working to double the interest in rallying through the introduction of new participants. We also want to encourage younger drivers. “
“I respect and appreciate the youngsters in Oman and they are the reason behind the survival of rallies in the Sultanate. We must also provide sincere thanks to the club and the efforts of Anwar Somar, who have worked tirelessly over the last few years to bring a national championship to Oman. I did not expect that the level of competition would be of such a high standard.
• There is a big problem, not only restricted to the Sultanate but including all countries in the region, in that there is a difficulty of entry for new faces into the sport?
“It is already a big problem, because the basic rules of the sport are not working to motivate young drivers and to help them participate and become more involved in the sport. There is no serious attempt to reduce the expense of the sport for novice drivers. That would increase the number of participants and we would all get better media coverage.
“It is essential for the clubs and associations in the region to make additional efforts to revive the true spirit of rallying and seek to enter both new participants and new ideas. We play our part at Wahaibi Motor Sport and we have the vision to establish an academy to train, refine and prepare young drivers and give them the opportunity to enter the arena of rallying.”
• What is striking is that the majority of the current members of your team are people who have been by your side since the beginning of your career. It looks as though time has changed nothing and you still have the same ‘family’ áround you?
“Actually, these are my brothers who started journey with me and they were obliged me when I participated in the World Rally Championship. Fate has brought us together again. Thankfully, we have a collectively love and passion for the sport and there is mutual respect between us.
• It’s quite a long time since you were involved in the sport?
“It's not entertainment or fun. I now deal with rallying in a more professional manner. A person becomes more mature with time and expands his horizons, and learns from his mistakes. He becomes more calm and focused.
“Although I enjoy everything, I want to harness the past to serve the future. I want my children to know that their father tried in the past to accomplish something for the sport and he contributed to its development.”
•You have been preparing to participate in the Dubai International Rally, the final round of the FIA Middle East Rally Championship. You participated in 1997 and managed to win the Group N category.?
“Yes this is true. I was able to win the Group N title in the first season in the championship. I secured the title in Qatar, which preceded the Dubai Rally. I participated in the event away from the pressures of winning and losing.
The rally was very beautiful and I had many fond memories of the battle with the UAE's Mohammed Ben Sulayem and Abdullah Bakhashab of Saudi Arabia. They were competing in Group A cars and yet I was able to record times close to or better than them.
•We have recently seen the emergence of a new class of cars known as S2000. What are your thoughts on this?
“Indeed, competition with the driver Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah - even if you are participating in a car is classified under the category of S2000 - will be very difficult because he has become a global driving professional. He competes most weeks and has tremendous expertise.
My aim on this rally is not to be at the front. As for the rest of the drivers with the S2000 cars, I’ll play with them.”
•Browsing through the names of the participants in the Dubai International Rally, how do you see the competition developing?
“There is no doubt that the list of participants is perhaps the strongest amongst all the FIA Middle East rallies this year. The special stages to be used are open, sandy and contain stones and, most importantly, they are very fast. Driving at high speeds for several miles, there are also a lot of natural obstacles.
This fits great for the S2000 cars, which have a strong body and a stronger structure that the Group N cars. So we have to reduce our speed to overcome these obstacles.”
• What experience did you gain through your participation in the recent Rally Muscat?
“From the beginning I found the car, the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution 10, to be excellent and second to none. It is possibly one of the best cars available worldwide and the team is professional.
“To return after all these years is not easy, especially when you want to be competitive from the outset. Every kilometres I drove in Oman will help me in Dubai. All this will help us shape our budget and plans for next season in the right way.”
• Will you take part in all rounds of the 2012 FIA Middle East Rally Championship?
“The intention is to participate in some rounds, but not all, and then assess how things are going in order to promote the team. You know, this sport is expensive and the company will seek to obtain the services of some drivers to cover part of the cost of participation. Our focus, as I have said, will be placed on the local championship and the preparation of a low-cost car.”
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