Muscat: To most people, the smell of burning rubber as car tyres screech across an asphalt floor, spewing smoke on their way, is a serious cause for concern.
For 18-year-old Haitham Al Hadidi, though, these were the sounds and smells that heralded him as he was crowned the ‘King of Drift’ athis first ever Red Bull Car Park Drift. Widely perceived as the underdog in the competition, having finished second in his first ever qualifier last month at the Oman Automobile Association, Al Hadidi wowed the judges and spectators alike as he ran the testing gauntlet with ease, twisting and turning as he expertly navigated the obstacle course with a consummate ease that belied his tender years.
But what makes this a doubly momentous occasion for the Sultanate was that this year’s Car Park Drift Final – the 7th edition of the competition – was held in Oman.
Held at the historic Port Sultan Qaboos in downtown Corniche, the Red Bull Car Park Drift saw the best racers from among the regional qualifiers across 11 Arab nations taking part in the competition, alongside the top three finalists from the finals of the Oman leg of the qualifying rounds.
“I am very happy to have won this tournament, and it makes me so happy to bring pride to the Sultanate of Oman,” he said, after clinching a first-place podium finish. “Preparing the car wasn’t easy but all of my family supported me. Together, we spent days and nights making the car ready for the competition. I was feeling very confident going into this race. Now I want to go outside Oman and train some more!”
“I only started drifting a few months back when I got my driver’s licence,” he added. “My dream is to put my country on the map for drifting and motor sports in general. Drifting is not easy, it needs a professional driver with a professional approach. I plan to become the best motor sports athlete possible and represent my beautiful Oman internationally.”
Al Hadidi wasn’t the only Omani on the podium. He was joined by countrymen Ali Al Balushi and Tarek Al Shaihani, making it a trio that brought victories for the Sultanate, another first for Oman.
All three racers received their trophies from His Highness Sayyid Taimur bin Assad Al Said, the Chief Guest at the Red Bull Cark Park Drift.
The challenging course was designed by legendary drift champion, Abdo Feghali. The Lebanese holds the record for the world’s longest drift, timed at more than 14 minutes, 18 seconds, which was set at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi in 2013, totalling 11,180 metres which was split across 43 laps.
He is looking forward to the next generation of Omani drivers who will be in the driving seat when it comes to drifting.
“The level of drifting in Oman is now really good and, every year, I must make the lives of the drifters harder and harder with increasingly challenging track layouts,” commented Feghali.
“The work of the Oman Automobile Association is to create a special drifting track. It has really helped to educate people about drifting and has given the public an opportunity to watch events at one place,” he added. “This has contributed a lot towards the development of motor sports, especially drifting, in Oman.”
Sulaiman Al Rawahi, the Managing Director for Oman Automobile Association, was quick to congratulate the three racers on winning accolades for the nation.
“We are proud to see three of our talented local drifters–Ali Al Balushi, Haitham Al Hadidi and Tareq Al Shaihani–in a position to represent the Sultanate against the region’s top competitors,” he said.
“The Red Bull Car Park Drift Final will surely go down as an event to remember for years to come and will in spire the next generation of Omani and regional drifters to pursue their dreams.”