Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Wednesday,20 March, 2019
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

They own the desert

Rally thrills heat the cold eastern desert in Sahl Hasheesh, the last round of Egypt’s national championship. Mohamed Abdel-Razek reports 

Amino’s Toyota LC Pickup (photo: Yasser Badr)

The rally community in Egypt continues to conquer the country’s magical deserts. This time it was Sahl Hasheesh in Hurghada.

Swimming against the tide to reach where your feet can touch the bottom must be driven by what is most likely a life-saving kind of motivation. The same goes for the rally community led by Bosla, represented in Ahmed Al-Sirgani and Alain Besancon and followed by the desert community, who all share an unconditional love for the precious Egyptian deserts. They managed to get desert activities back on track by holding the second and last round in the 2017 season of the national rally championship. “In my experience in the past nine years of organising rally events in Egypt, I didn’t witness such support from the army, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Tourism, and Ministry of Environment in helping us get the rally going perfectly,” Sirgani said.

Amino Brothers crossing the finish line

The rally took place in Sahl Hasheesh from 24 to 25 November. Officials in the famous touristic destination in Hurghada hosted the rally for the first time, providing full sponsorship and support to the organisers. The rally had two separate competitions on the first day: the 4x4 challenge, which was opened to 18 amateur competitors who participated with their everyday 4x4 vehicles, tasting desert adventure through a safe low speed obstacle track located right in front of the spectator’s stand. The event focused mainly on each car going through every obstacle smoothly without touching any of them. “The aim of the obstacle challenge is to widen the platform of desert competitions and make it easier for those who would like to participate with their vehicles without the need to build a rally car,” Sirgani said.

The 4x4 challenge started right after Friday prayers and ending at 3pm. Then it was time for the real action to start.

Nine rally teams were getting ready to compete in the first stage of the rally, the prologue. One team wasn’t lucky enough before even running the car. Cross Country team with pilot Nader Al-Khayat and co-pilot Yousef Ahmed had a mechanicalissue with their diesel Toyota Land Cruiser rally car and had to withdraw. With eight teams left, Rahala Racing, Sitra Racing, Amino Brothers, Garage Racing, Checkpoint, Sahara 1, Sahara 2, and Bang-Bang, clouds of excitement filled the place.

Many were looking forward to witnessing the first ever participation of Egypt’s Autocross and drifting champion Moataz Atef on the ZJ Grand Cherokee fitted with a V8 engine, a car owned by Sherif Abdel-Azim. “Atef is a great addition to the rally community,” Sirgani said. “Atef was expected to bring the traits of track racing and mix it with sand, something which had many eyes on him right from the start.”

Sahara 2 with pilot Michel and his brother Mina as co-pilot were participating for the first time with each other in Ahmed Shouman’s Jeep Wrangler short wheelbase, while Shouman participated with his Dodge Ram single cabin.

The stage took off with Rahala putting the paddle to the metal, screaming the lovely music of their corvette V8 engine. The rest of the cars followed, as aggressive driving was the common strategy among all the drivers. Only one thing unnerves a driver more: when he feels a technical problem coming. Sirgani and Besancon designed a track that was harsh on the gearboxes and clutch systems of most of the cars, especially those down-powered.

The fans were thrilled with the multiple overtakes among drivers Atef, Shouman, Nadim Fiani from checkpoint, Hisham Al-Ghamri from Sitra, and Hani Omar from Rahala. They all impressively gave it everything during the seven laps in the closed track. The Amino brothers, pilot Omar Amin, and co-pilot Hisham Amin were determined to perform from the start, but their car wasn’t on the same level, cutting off many times after several laps of outstanding driving by Omar Amin, which forced Amin to lift his foot off and try to finish the stage. Fiani also faced technical problems with his car overheating, which kept him stalled for some time in the middle of the track. Not far away from the upset came Karim Al-Galali, pilot of Garage team and his co-pilot Yasser Al-Gohari who nevertheless suffered their usual technical problems. This time their clutch system could not withstand the harsh track, which slowed their momentum in the last couple of laps.

The surprise came in the briefing session when Sirgani announced the standings of the first stage. The biggest of them all was Sahara 1 first, Shouman and his co-pilot Ihab Al-Husseini coming second after Rahala Omar and the veteran co-pilot Hani Madbouli.

On the second day it was time for stage two, the real business, 40km away from Sahl Hasheesh, along the beautiful mountains of the Red Sea. Two hundred kilometres were designed through the open desert in very tricky terrain, according to the drivers and co-pilots, forcing many co-pilots to make mistakes. The mistakes even found their way to the organisers after stage two. Hazem Hezzah, according to Sirgani Hezzah, was responsible for calculating the timing and the differences among the teams instead of Besancon who usually did this job in past rallies. According to Al-Ahram Weekly sources, due to the lack of experience in rally competitions, Hezzah fell into a fatal mistake, miscalculating the waypoints of several teams, mainly the top ranked ones, which ended up with him allowing Checkpoint to win the overall ranking followed by Garage and Rahala. “Hezzah did a great job calculating the way points on the road book precisely”, said Sirgani. But Hezzah didn’t know that the co-pilots don’t have to go exactly according to the road book routs, and from here the dilemma started.

Overall results

After the podium celebrations, the organisation announced mistakes in calculating the timings after Besancon had to revise them. “We held a meeting right after the podium with the teams and informed them of the error and they all accepted the situation professionally,” Sirgani said, adding they will redeclare the official results of Sahl Hasheesh, which after the changes gave the overall victory to Sitra, Hisham Al-Ghamry and Sherif Al-Alem, and after them in second place Rahala, and in third place came BangBang Atef and Hakam Rabie, who both made a great achievement throughout the rally. While other teams had to deal with the upset after the changes in results like Sahara 1, Shouman and Hussieny who had to sit in the back of the bus in seventh place with Mickael and Mina from Sahara 2 in 8th place.  Also the 2017 season championship results will be officially declared later this month in a special ceremony at the ATCE (Automobile and Touring club of Egypt).

Sirgani provided the Weekly with exclusive news about the rally community. Soon it will own a permanent obstacle track in Cairo, making the rally active all year even if unexpected events transpire. And the yearly Gouna Rally is not far away, taking place in March 2018.

The Sahl Hasheesh rally was successful despite the miscalculation in the timings, which happens in several FIA competitions across the world. It happened in Rally Lebanon two years ago with Abdo Feghali when he was announced the winner. Minutes later the organisers sent him back to second place.

Surely with several rallies on the calendar, perfection will get closer. At the end of the interview with Sirgani he thanked the medical, timing, logistics and media teams and marshals.

The result sheets are the official final standings after the changes made by Bosla.

See you in Gouna.

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