A race car driver from Egypt proved himself in the Nissan GT Academy Finals at Silverstone in Britain. Mohamed Abdel-Razek reports
It’s an extraordinary occasion when you find an Egyptian driver participating in an international racing competition, like seeing a football player coming out of the Indian league to play in Real Madrid. It’s not that Egyptian racing drivers are not talented. But there is a lack of professional racing facilities and a system in Egypt that make it almost impossible for any talent to develop the skills needed to race on the international level.
It all started with the well known video game on PlayStation4 called Gran Turismo, which is very popular among race car freaks, just like FIFA for football lovers. Turning the video game fantasy into reality had been always a dream for most gamers across the globe, so the Japanese car manufacturer Nissan decided to make the dream a reality through Gran Turismo, collecting the best virtual racing drivers from all over the world and offering them a lifetime experience: Race with real cars in real circuits with the chance to be a professional race car driver for the one who wins the competition.
The competition starts with live public events in many countries in several regions where approximately 137,000 participants show their skills through a simulator which features the Gran Turismo game, trying to reach times fast enough to get them picked for the next challenge.
Eight Egyptian racers were picked for the North African qualifiers camp in Luxor after a one-month tour across the country. Algeria and Morocco also joined the camp represented by six racers each. The national qualifiers started with a total of 20 racers from Egypt, Morocco and Algeria. The racers went through intense tests, including driving simulator, driving skills and media and fitness qualifications, to filter the best six drivers to represent North Africa in the GT Academy Finals at the Silverstone circuit in the UK. Out of the six drivers, two Egyptians made it to the finals -- Mohamed Walli and Hassan Abu-Khashab. Walli finished in second place after showing some promising skills, with a hint that the pair might go far in the competition, especially Walli.
“I had it all in my mind. I believed deep in myself that I can win the whole competition,” Walli said. But he kept his dreams quiet, he said, because he thought people around him would laugh, not believing his goal might be possible due to the fierce competition Walli was expected to face at Silverstone.
Walli possessed skills developed from local races in Egypt and online video game encounters, knowing that he will face experienced racing drivers, some of whom raced in the Porsche GT3 Cup. However, he also knew that he was living his lifetime dream.
Walli and Abu-Khashab arrived with 34 other racers from Morocco, Algeria, Mexico, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia. Egypt, Morocco and Algeria represented the North African team competing against the rest. The camp started with written and practical tests for the competitors to obtain a racing license.
The eight-day camp tested drivers on their driving skills, fitness and concentration. “We were monitored on every move we did, even during our free hours”, Walli said. After two days, the eliminations started. Two drivers with the lowest marks had to leave (not our drivers). Walli was fighting for the top positions by collecting the largest number of points after winning several head-to-head encounters.
The races featured cars including the Ariel Atom, Radical, Caterham, Nissan GTR and Nissan 370Z. The races were held on a wide variety of tracks taken from the international layout of the Silverstone circuits to Gymkhana and even on a Welsh beach. “I was flying 180 km/h on the banks of the sea in Wales,” Walli laughed.
The days passed with more tests and races. Both Egyptians excelled while every day the driver with the lowest marks of each group was eliminated. The seventh day featured a freestyle qualifying race of stock cars in which racers were permitted to touch cars and drive aggressively.
On the eighth day it was time for the main race which consisted of 16 laps, 2.6 km each. Two drivers of each team participated. Walli, along with his compatriot Abu-Khashab, represented North Africa for the final stand.
Walli now had a great opportunity to win the competition if he jumped out in first position. He planned strategy with Abu-Khashab. He decided to exchange with his teammate in the 12th lap so that their chances of winning increased.
Walli started the race from second position on the grid with a Nissan 370Z, identical to all the other cars. Right away, after the third corner, he became first and started leading the race extending the time difference between him and the nearest car up to six seconds, way ahead in circuit racing. Walli kept the lead until it was time for Abu-Khashab to jump in. While Abu-Khashab was getting out from the pit, the Mexican driver Johnny, who was fighting with Walli for overall points in the championship, took over first place until the finish line. Abu-Khashab came second.
Walli could not get enough points to win the GT Academy competition but he managed to reach a point where he was competing with drivers who were getting advanced training, instructions and had the tools that pushed them to advanced levels difficult for Walli to reach. But it seems that Walli had a much stronger kind of will inside him, one beyond explanation. What if Walli had all the facilities in Egypt to develop his talent? What if?