Muscat: After weeks of intensive training and preparation, the four teams contesting the inaugural Oman Youth Rally Cup (OYRC) go into competitive action for the first time tomorrow, as they look to make their mark in local motor sport en route to a much bigger target.
The OYRC runs as a special category within the 2013 Oman Rally Championship, the first round of which gets under way with a super special stage at the Oman Automobile Association headquarters in Seeb at 3pm today.
For the four crews, their teams of technicians and the two other young Omanis chosen to represent their interests throughout the season, the 166km two-day event marks the start of a new initiative using motor sport as a vehicle to ultimately make the Sultanate's roads safer.
The spirit of the 32 young Omanis taking part in the OYRC is typified by 23-year-old Ehab Ahmed Al Zadjali, one of the four selected drivers, who has already shown his talents on the Oman karting scene and dreams of competing in the World Rally Championship.
"I'm participating in the Oman Youth Rally Cup to experience the programme as it will help me in my future racing career, and the training will help me in my personal development, " said Al Zadjali, whose sporting hero is former World Rally Champion Colin McRae.
"The community activities which are part of the Oman Youth Rally Cup are very important in creating road safety awareness in Oman, and I'm very happy to be a part of this project."
Al Zadjali, who works as an Oman Air cabin crew member, will be partnered by co-driver Mazin Muhanna Al Nadabi in one of the specially designed Toyota Yaris models selected for the series after being built and tested in the Sultanate for rallying.
The Oman Youth Rally Cup is officially supported by Oman Air Cargo, Oman Sail, BR Karts and Sparco. The winners of the inaugural Oman Youth Rally Cup will be decided by a scoring system combining rally results and performance in a year-long series of road safety community events.
Hamed Al Wahaibi, Oman's leading rallying figure, is driving the OYRC with the dual objective to develop the country's next generation of rally drivers and road safety ambassadors.
The series covers all five rounds of this year's Oman Rally Championship, and the 32 young Omanis who came through an intense selection and training programme will also take part in a year-long series of community activities aimed at making roads safer.
"Over the next two days it is all about rallying, and it's very satisfying to feel the excitement of the 32 young people who are getting this opportunity in a sport which has given me so much pleasure over the years," said Al Wahaibi. "I'm excited for them."
"One of the things that has impressed me over the last few weeks is that, while they're all motivated by the chance to compete in our national rally championship, they're just as enthusiastic about helping us achieve our goals in road safety."
Driving another Toyota Yaris, Said Rashid Al Ghaithi, a technical account manager, goes into action today alongside 19-year-old airport management student Mannan Al Rawahi who has been karting since the age of eight.
Al Rawahi, whose ambition is to be an international rally driver, says: "The Oman Youth Rally Cup is a very good opportunity to learn more about rallying, and I'm proud to be a part of this project as road safety is a major issue in Oman."
Another driver excited by the dual challenge of the OYRC is 23-year-old Yaqdhan Mubarak Al Rashdi, whose sporting hero is F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel.
He said: "My love for motor sport and the chance to develop myself as a professional driver is what attracted me to the Oman Youth Rally Cup."
"I'm honoured to be part of this programme and I think it's a great idea to use rallying to promote road safety and let people know how important it is to follow basic safety rules."
His co-driver is Ahmed Saud Al Sibani who is studying HR at the Higher College of Technology.
Completing the OYRC driver line-up is telecommunication engineering student Zakariya Ahmed Al Aufi, who has competed in 22 rallies as a co-driver over the last five years.
He said: "The Oman Youth Rally Cup has given me the chance to prove my driving skills, something I was unable to do earlier due to financial limitations.
"Motor sport is in my blood and winning the first OYRC title is what I'm aiming for so I can prove that I de served the chance."