Sajaad Zuhair making his debut in Rally Racing, set the tempo of Rallying when he set a blistering pace to be the man to beat in Sri Lanka’s very first International Standard Rally, organized by the Southern Motor Sports Club held in Ampara, Sri Lanka. Zuhair who was driving the 4WD category for the first time this season, while also making his maiden appearance in a rally, emulated what his international teammate Mike Young achieved on his debut by stunning the rally racing fraternity by announcing his arrival with some spectacular stage wins.
The EZY Racer on his rally debut, starting at the disadvantageous car number 1 slot, went on to steal the limelight by leading the rally after 6 stages on day 1 before chronic mechanical failure on the 4WD of his Mitsubishi Evolution ER9 forced him to battle along the fastest and longest sections in 2WD mode, costing him 45 seconds in the rally thereby conceding the rally lead to Janaka Dias at the end of the first Day.
“It’s quite pleasing to be able to fight for the rally victory on my first ever rally on gravel” said a jubilant Zuhair at the end of the first day. Zuhair who battled in spectacular fashion with experienced Janaka Dias, were entangled in an APRC styled battle where each competitor was split seconds apart from each other in certain stages. “We definitely have the pace to challenge for victory. It’s unfortunate that the last 3 stages didn’t go the way we wanted and we had to fight on 2WD, which wasn’t ideal. We lost power as well as my throttle was getting stuck. However we are pleased to be in second place and look forward for tomorrow” he said.
The 18 stage rally which was held in 6 sectors comprising 3 special stages per sector over 2 days, was definitely one of best rallies held in Sri Lanka and forced the drivers to bring out the best in them. Zuhair who was co-driven by New Zealander Malcolm Read who also co-drives EZY Racings International Driver Mike Young, used his experience to guide Zuhair through the rally by providing composure and impeccable pace notes.
With the dawn of Day 2, the crew at Auto Force, the technical partners of EZY Racing managed to get the car back in order for Zuhair to set authoritative times to win the first two stages of the 9 stage day, and thereby shaving off 12 seconds from the 45 second deficit, conceded to rally leader Janaka Dias who himself was driving in spectacular fashion. However during the 27km long stage Zuhair’s issues with 4WD reappeared and ended up conceding a 25 second lead to Dias.
Zuhair who is known for his daredevil driving skills, set some intense pace once again to give himself a fare chance to take on leadership. With 2 stages to go and 50 seconds to catch up thanks to the continuous mechanical issues, Zuhair lost his rear whole entering a fast corner which saw his car being thrown into a ditch, and thereby losing 12 minutes, conceding his potential rally win.
With the Rally victory now out of sight, the EZY Racer was determined to finish the rally by ascertaining his position as the new Rally King of Sri Lanka by winning the shortest stage of the rally by a commanding 25 seconds, to establish his dominance in the rally.
The Black and Red team, known for their ability to unearth talent, were reminded of their maiden International podium when Mike Young making his debut in APRC 4WD segment drove out of his skin to provide EZY Racing Glory. “Why we compare this to Mike’s performance in New Zealand in 2015 is because the unknowns for us was greater than the known. That’s what compelled us to get Malcolm over to co-drive as we were confident that Sajaad would gain immensely from Malcolm” said Team’s Founder Shafraz Hamzadeen.
“We came into this Rally primarily to conclude some of settings we wanted in the car. The ER9 is a brand new car and we introduced this only a month back. It was important that we had ample running in the car together with sufficient data so that we could prepare ourselves better for the upcoming races. We also wanted Sajaad (Zuhair) to get some good seat time on the ER9. The Rally stage wins were a big bonus for us. We’re very happy about this weekend as we achieved our objectives fully” Said Hamzadeen further.
EZY Racer Junaid who was initially 3rd in the Rally was unfortunate to have experienced breaking issues and completed the rally in at 5th place.
Final classifications of the rally will be announced this week after considering penalties that needs to be applied. The remarkable crew at EZY Racing and Auto force managed to turn the car around every time without incurring any penalties.