Muscat: Dr Mohammed bin Sulayem, the Arab world's most successful rally driver and a road-safety campaigner for more than 25 years, said the new initiative in Oman to take racing off the roads could ultimately help save lives throughout the region.
Sulayem, vice-president of the FIA, the governing body of the motorsports world, believed Hamed Al Wahaibi was setting an example that other Middle Eastern countries could follow in the years ahead, with the launch of the Oman Youth Rally Cup (OYRC) this weekend.
Al Wahaibi, Oman's top rallying figure, has designed the OYRC to create the Sultanate's next generation of rally drivers and road-safety ambassadors.
Thirty-two young Omanis will compete in the 2013 Oman Rally Championship, which gets underway tomorrow; they will also be involved in a year-long series of community activities designed to encourage the wider public in the Sultanate to become safer drivers.
"In Oman and in many other countries in the Middle East, far too many young people are killed because they risk their lives, and the lives of others, by racing on the roads," stated Sulayem.
"We have to do all we can to educate them about the dangers and to persuade those who want to drive fast to race only in a properly controlled motorsports environment, like the one Hamed and his team are creating."
"If they're successful — and they're working very hard to make sure of that — the programme in Oman could become a model that may make a difference in other countries in the region in the future."
Sulayem, who has supported road-safety campaigns in the United Arab Emirates and other parts of the Gulf since 1985, wants to attract a new generation of young Arabs to rallying to revive the Middle East's first form of motorsports and to simultaneously reduce road deaths.
He persuaded the FIA to add a Young Driver class to this year's Middle East Championship as part of plans to lure more youth into rallying and has applauded the move in Oman to do the same and to build road-safety awareness.
The 32 participants in the OYRC, which will see four teams competing in the Oman Rally Championship, passed a tough selection process and have been involved in an intensive training programme to prepare for Round 1 this weekend.
Al Wahaibi recruited Lebanese rally star Abdo Feghali, international co-driver Allan Harryman, and experienced rally team engineer Chris Hodgson to conduct the training, which has continued with sessions for drivers, co-drivers, and technicians over the last five days. Sulayem was impressed by the range of instruction delivered and has found special significance in the sessions on first aid, CPR, and fire fighting.
In 2001, while competing in the Rally of Lebanon, Sulayem and co-driver Ronan Morgan were treated in hospital for burns after their car was engulfed by flames.
"It was a very scary incident, and it made me so much more aware of the need to be properly prepared for all eventualities in motorsports," he remarked. "Hopefully, none of the youngsters will be involved in incidents like that."
Sulayem has a strong affinity with the Sultanate, where he enjoyed some of the best moments of his rallying career. He won the Oman International Rally six times; with the first of those wins, he secured his first Middle East title.
Using specially designed Toyota Yaris models that were built and tested in the Sultanate for rallying, the four teams competing in the 2013 OYRC will enter the first round of the Oman Rally Championship on Thursday after a full recce of the route tomorrow (Wednesday).
The winners of the inaugural OYRC will be decided by a scoring system based on a combination of rally results and performance in a series of road-safety community events.
The full Oman Youth Rally Cup line-up: Team Red – Driver: Said Rashid Al Ghaithi; co-driver: Mannan Al-Rawahi; technicians: Sami Saif Al Salmi, Ammar Saif Al Mamari, Ahmed Said Al Abri, Nawaf Hussain Al Bulushi, and Haitham Tariq Khalfan Al Gihannami.
Team Blue – Driver: Zakariya Ahmed Al Aufi; co-driver: Issa Mohammed Ahmed Al Wardi; technicians: Ayoub Sulaiman Al Mahrami, Moath Salim Said Al Riyami, Hassan Hamed Al Barashdi, Bader Saud Mohammed Al Sibani, and Mawan Ahmed Al Subhi.
Team White – Driver: Ehab Ahmed Al Zadjali; co-driver: Mazin Muhanna Al-Nadabi; technicians: Jarah Hamood Al Tooqi, Mohammed Yaqoob Al Busaidi, Mazin Mohammed Al Nabhani, Mohammed Suleiman Al Bahlani, and Munther Ali Sabeel Al Hinai.
Team Green – (drivers and co-drivers will alternate) Driver: Yaqdhan Mubarak Alrashdi/Haythem Khalid Soomar Al Zadjali; co-driver: Ahmed Saud Al Sibani/Ammar Hussain Al Bulushi; technicians: Nasser Salim Al Namaani, Hilal Saleh Hilal Al Taie, Arfat Hilal Al Aghbari, Salem Al Harthi, and Hussain Hamed Al Shukaili. Captain-OYRC teams: Hamed Al Subhi; Coordinator-OYRC teams: Mohammed Al Mazroui.