Muscat: After spending five years calling out pace notes to guide someone else to success, Zakariya Ahmed Al Aufi is delighted to be back in the driver's seat and holding the early lead in the inaugural Oman Youth Rally Cup (OYRC).
Partnered by 19-year-old co-driver Issa Mohammed Ahmed Al Wardi, Al Aufi topped the OYRC standings after producing a controlled performance when the new series got underway for the opening round of the 2013 Oman Rally Championship over the weekend.
Claiming fourth place overall, the duo finished 1 minute and 17 seconds ahead of their nearest OYRC rivals, Ehab Ahmed Al Zadjali and Mazin Muhanna Al Nadabi, who took sixth place overall.
Only 37 seconds further adrift and claiming third place in the OYRC were 23-year-old Yaqdhan Mubarak Al Rashdi and co-driver Ahmed Saud Al Sibani.
Driving the fourth locally built Toyota Yaris that was specially designed for the OYRC series, Said Rashid Al Ghaithi and co-driver Mannan Al Rawahi were forced to retire after rolling on the fifth of the eight special stages.
They were unhurt, and with four more rounds to come and a year-long series of community events also contributing to the final OYRC standings, they have plenty of time to make their mark on the series, which is officially supported by Oman Air Cargo, Oman Sail, DR Karts, and Sparco.
For Al Aufi, entering a rally for the first time as a driver, it was a perfect start after sitting in the navigator's seat for 22 events over the last five years.
"I started participating in motorsports as a driver, taking part in autocross, drifting, and karting, and I won of lot of trophies," said the telecom engineering student. "For me, rallying was always my dream, and the only thing that stopped me was a lack of finance."
Turning to co-driving as a step closer to rallying, he accompanied several drivers in the Oman Championship, including OYRC founder Hamed Al Wahaibi.
His biggest success came alongside Khalid Soomar — the outright rally winner during the weekend — helping him to grab titles in 2008 and 2011.
"I learned a lot from them, and I was very happy to get my chance to drive in the Oman Youth Rally Cup," stated Al Aufi. "I was aiming high in the first event. After the super special stage on the first day, I was five seconds behind Yaqdhan (Al Rashdi), but I know you don't win or lose rallies at that stage.
"During the first stage on the next day, I opened with a lead of 18 seconds, took another 25 seconds at the next stage, and was comfortable after that. By the second round, I had a lead of around 1 minute and 25 seconds, and I was able to slow down over the last two stages to bring the car to the finish line."
Al Aufi was grateful to technicians Hassan Al Barashdi, Marwan Al Subhi, Ayoob Al Mahrami, Bader Al Sibani, and Moath Al Reyami for helping him survive his one scare.
The OYRC runs as a special category within the Oman Rally Championship, which will stage the second of its five rounds on April 11and 12.