It is arguably the No 1 festival for the Egyptian rally community. The annual Gouna rally keeps a firm grip on its spot on the motorsports calendar despite financial challenges. Since the Pharaons Rally went to Oman, the Gouna Rally is the light at the end of the tunnel for the future of rallying in the country.
But it has competition. Bosla, the rally’s organising team led by Ahmed Al-Sirgani and Alain Besancon, were requested by the city of Gouna to stage the rally two months earlier this season, from 17-18 February instead of April since this year the city is filled with events.
Nine teams hungry to awaken the desert packed up their essentials and pushed on to Gouna, where surprises awaited. Check-Point, a new team that came all the way from Alexandria to compete for the first time in a rally, with their Jeep Cherokee XJ, were ambitious, with great confidence in their pilot Nadim Fiani and co-pilot Ragi Ramadan.
This edition also marked the comeback of the veteran pilot Hisham Al-Ghamri on his iconic car Desert Warrior, which fired up the competition before the start. The comeback of the Amino brothers was also flashy. The pair, pilot Omar Amin and co-pilot Hisham Amin, are experienced rally racers and have always been a threat to other teams. But over the past few years they’ve gone backstage to help expand the rally community through the rally school programme. However, they couldn’t resist returning and decided to build up a Toyota pickup and throw a V8 under its bonnet to participate in the rally.
Egypt Pharaoh, Caracal and Razeks Rally were not participating, but everybody from last year was, including the defending champions Rahhala, Gazelle, Afareet El-Dunes, 4x4 Zone Rally, Fox Tribe and Garage Rally.
Early morning on 17 February the first day of the rally started, precisely at 7am, with a briefing for all the teams who gathered to collect their car numbers and sponsor decals. Some hours later the traditional rally car parade rumbled across Gouna ending with a salute to the crowd awaiting in magical Marina. A break was given for Friday prayers. Then it was time to see who prayed more.
Setra, Rahhala, Amino
It was time for the first stage of the rally, the prologue, on the closed track within the Gouna boundaries. One of the stars of this stage was Owlvision, which provided for the first time in the history of motorsports in the Middle East and North Africa live aerial streaming on the Internet for the entire stage, allowing the crowd to track their favourite teams when they went out of sight. Even motorsports fans across the world could watch the rally live online.
Different from last year, the track was stretched by Bosla to increase the straight line sectors, which was obvious from the first lap as most of the cars went flatout. The track distance was 4km with five laps to complete the stage.
As usual, Rahhala was the first to start with their Arabian Stallion RWD Buggy, but that was never a fair test for the obstacles that Sirgani put to test the cars. The Stallion is a purpose built rally buggy with an independent suspension system that can lift you to hell and back; bread and butter stuff. But for the other cars, maybe the desert warrior is less affected because it is originally made for rallies. But again, when the other cars started their race, the fun and challenge increased as the fans were entertained by the drivers and teams who transformed their off-road cars into rally machines. And now every team was testing their hard work through tough terrain. Landcruisers, Wrangler TJ and Jeep XJs, all were fighting to survive and reach the finish line as fast as possible.
“The buggy is like any car, it can break down mid-race”, said Hani Omar, Rahhala pilot, who added they don’t win because of the buggy alone. The winning formula needs a skilled pilot as well as an experienced co-pilot backed up with a great team all around.
There was no pressure on the co-pilot in stage one; it is the pilot who makes most of the difference. Luckily it was a clean stage for all the teams with no crashes but with lots of surprises. Gazelle managed to finish second with a solid pace. “Practising on closed tracks for the past few races made me more confident,” said Yara Shalabi. Sitra Racing came third while Garage Rally fourth after great driving and navigation by Karim Al-Galali and Yasser Al-Gohari.
The Aminos came seventh, leaving spectators wondering whether they were warming up for the second stage or will be out of the frontline battles due to the tough competition. But as every rally enthusiast knows, the prologue is not always a decisive stage in the rally. The open desert is.
The following day, the open desert stage was permitted by the officials and security of Gouna. The teams were ready for the ultimate test: The super special stage of 200kms through the desert testing the endurance of the cars as well as the drivers. The most important factor was the co-pilot. Some teams had very experienced co-pilots like Hani Madbouli of Rahhala, Sherif Al-Alem of Sitra, and Ihab Al-Husseini of 4x4 zone. Some teams had co-pilots with less experience or even nothing. Gazelle pilot Shalabi told Al-Ahram Weekly before the stage that she was very worried about her co-pilot Nouran Yehia who was participating for the first time as a co-pilot. “Nouran proved in many training sessions that she is a good co-pilot,” Shalabi said.
The secret recipe started to work with the Amino brothers with the start of stage 2, as they went through the tricky desert confidently with a stable pace. With Sitra, the years of partnership between Ghamri and Al-Alem showed, recalling the days of the Pharaons Rally, all reflecting in a good performance chasing the unstoppable Rahhala.
Looking great was Afareet Al-Dunes with Ahmed Barakat in the pilot seat and co-piloted by his wife Amira Bahaa, as usual. The style of driving by Barakat looked like he wanted to go up in the overall ranking, but that was a bit hard after collecting penalties.
“Nouran was surprised with the GPS that was given to her before the starting line because this wasn’t what she had been training with,” Shalabi said. Nouran panicked. Shalabi tried to calm her down and follow up with her, but out of the 40 waypoints they lost five, which made them concede many penalties. They ended up seventh.
The same was true with the Garage team. They had a tough time in the open desert just like last year. They received a 27-hour penalty which threw them in eighth position, overall ahead of the team in last place, Check-Point, which also had a nightmare with 52 hours in penalties.
“The feedback was great on the Gouna Rally 2017. Sponsors, racers and organisers enjoyed the setup,” Sirgani said, adding that he and his team worked on the weak points from last year’s edition, ending the rally with a fantastic prize ceremony that included a musical band at the Marina.
With many surprises, especially the Amino brothers who got third overall, the Gouna Rally drew a smile on many faces as it does every year. It also played a big role in attracting tourism in Gouna. The rally won’t be the last in the 2017 season, according to Sirgani who revealed plans to stage another rally and an obstacle course challenge.