Muscat, Oman, 10 March, 2013: After spending five years calling out pace notes to guide someone else to success, Zakariya Ahmed Al Aufi is delighted to be back in the driving seat and holding the early lead in the inaugural Oman Youth Rally Cup.
Partnered by 19-year-old co-driver Issa Mohammed Ahmed Al Wardi, Al Aufi tops the OYRC standings after producing a controlled performance when the new series got under way within the opening round of the 2013 Oman Rally Championship at the weekend.
Claiming fourth place overall, they finished 1 min 17 secs ahead of their nearest OYRC rivals, Ehab Ahmed Al Zadjali & Mazin Muhanna Al-Nadabi, who took sixth place overall.
Just 37 seconds further adrift and claiming third place in the OYRC were 23-year-old Yaqdhan Mubarak Al Rashdi and co-driver Ahmed Saud Al Sibani.
Driving the fourth locally built Toyota Yaris specially designed for the OYRC series, Said Rashid Al Ghaithi and co-driver Mannan Al Rawahi were forced to retire after rolling on the fifth of eight special stages.
They were unhurt, and with four more rounds to come and a year-long series of community events also contributing to the final OYRC standings, have plenty of time to make their mark on the series, which is officially supported by Oman Air Cargo, Oman Sail, DR Karts and Sparco.
For Al Aufi, entering a rally for the first time as a driver, it was a perfect start after sitting in the navigator’s seat for 22 events over the last five years.
“I started in motor sport as a driver taking part in autocross, drifting and karting, and I won of lot of trophies,” said the telecommunications engineering student. “For me rallying was always the dream, and the only thing that stopped me was a lack of finance.”
Turning to co-driving as a step into rallying, he accompanied a number of drivers in the Oman Championship, including OYRC founder Hamed Al Wahaibi. His biggest success came alongside Khalid Soomar – the outright rally winner at the weekend – helping him to titles in 2008 and 2011.
“I learned a lot from them, and I was very happy to get my chance to drive in the Oman Youth Rally Cup,” said Al Aufi. “I was aiming high in the first event. After the super special stage on the first day I was five seconds behind Yaqdhan (Al Rashdi), but I know you don’t win or lose rallies at that stage.
“On the first stage on the next day I opened a lead of 18 seconds, took another 25 seconds on the next stage and was comfortable after that. By the second service I had a lead of around 1 mins 25 seconds, and I was able to slow down over the last two stages and bring the car to the finish.”
Al Aufi was grateful to technicians Hassan Al-Barashdi, Marwan Al-Subhi, Ayoob Al- Mahrami, Bader Al-Sibani, Moath Al-Reyami for helping him survive his one scare.
“The only issue I had was a leak of oil from the clutch, but I luckily discovered it at the entrance to the service area and not on the stages,” he said. “The mechanics were able to rectify the problem immediately.”
The Oman Youth Rally Cup runs as a special category within Oman Rally Championship which stages its second of five rounds on 11-12 April.