Muscat: Omani rally driver Hamed Al-Wahaibi began his challenge for home glory by recording the second quickest time through the opening 3.90km super special stage at the Oman Rally Sohar International on Thursday afternoon.
The 53-year-old and his New Zealand co-driver Tony Sircombe are bidding to win the Sultanate’s flagship special stage event for the first time in their new Motortune-prepared Škoda Fabia Evo.
They set a blistering pace through the opening stage to card a time of 3min 46.1sec and reached the night halt a mere 3.3 seconds behind the 17-time regional champion and recent Dakar Rally winner Nasser Saleh Al-Attiyah.
It was a particularly encouraging start for the Omani, who returned to action at the Cyprus and Oregon Trail rallies last year, but has not competed in a top line event since October 2021 and is not registering for this year’s regional series.
“Good first stage and getting back into it without taking too many risk,” said Al-Wahaibi. “The car was working well and the team is perfect. Tony is fantastic. Everything is smooth. I am here to compete with myself and enjoy the rally. I am not here to compete with anyone else. I am not registering for the championship and I am not worrying about the championship.
“I just want to enjoy myself. If I beat Nasser, fantastic. If Nasser beats me and I finish second, fantastic. We know Nasser’s capabilities. I am very proud of Nasser and what he is achieving. He is a good friend.”
Co-driver Tony Sircombe added: “A good easy start. I think the pressure is on Nasser to perform a little bit, maybe on that first stage. Knowledge is really on the other roads over the weekend and we will be behind him, so we will see his lines and what risks he is willing to take. We are happy going into the weekend.”
The bulk of the competitive action in the Oman event takes place over 12 timed gravel stages on Friday and Saturday. Al-Wahaibi will be hoping to take advantage of three days of testing he carried out earlier this week in the Hatat region.