Lankan rally duo create history with Asia Pac podium finish
How would you sum up your achievement?
Shafraz: I am honoured by this victory since I was the slowest car on the APRC grid. Some of the high-powered cars who ran throughout the season failed to make it to the finish due to mechanical issues, which pushed up my luck in the ranking, but everybody in the sport tells me that it is not just about power and that managing man and machine is also a skill of the rally driver.
How challenging was this attempt since you participated in the same rally last year?
Shafraz: Last year we drove in the Indian Rally Championship category; this year we were in the APRC category doing 207km of special stages and 294km of transport stages, which is more than double the distance within the same time frame. Due to the stringent FIA APRC specifications, we had to rent a different car and we were not happy with some of the performance aspects of the car after shakedown testing and we were in two minds about running. However, since we had gone all this way and were committed to our sponsors, we decided to take the challenge. This had its risks because the power was not enough for my style of driving to handle the corners; we feel we could have been much faster.
What was it like to co-drive in a speed rally of this nature?
Akhry: I took to navigating and co-driving a little more than 20 years ago with a good part of it with Shafraz, but this was my second attempt at international level. Considering that we did not have any speed rallies for the whole of this year in Sri Lanka, I have had no practice since last year. This was a challenge and I did experience some tough times misreading a part of the stage. On the other hand, we got to develop on our pace notes from last year and get a better grip of my style of making the calls. Both Shafrazs’ driving and my co-driving we are competing with the big teams with a fraction of what we call ‘seat time’ or experience.
How difficult was your participation?
Shafraz: Gearing for participation is somewhat more difficult than the competition itself. Firstly, I owe it to Dinesh Deheragoda who showed me the way and for giving me the experience by inviting me to co-drive him in the 2015 and 2016 APRC season. Riyaz Farook, who is a veteran in our local racing and having his business in Bangalore, also helped us in many ways. Niroshan Perera, the FIA Asia Zone Coordinator introduced us to the correct parties in coordinating our entry.
Then, we did have the challenge of funding. We had to work hard and go it alone last year to show the possibility to our sponsors and this year Maxxis Sri Lanka my local sponsor met me halfway. We are also grateful to HTL Logistics and Contura Lanka who pitched in for various aspects.
Akhry: Participation is a big undertaking because of the costs involved. As a small team we have to depend on a lot of people. The race team that rented the car too was a collaboration between GT Tuners, Bangalore and OTT OTTAP, Malaysia, while Volkswagen Motorsports India and Motul Oils India also pitched in different ways. We are also grateful to our previous car supplier Aniruddha Rangnekar and Chettinad Racing who were there for us despite the fact that we were not running their cars. And we cannot forget the Sunday Times and the other media who have supported our endeavours and recognize our sponsors.
How did you prepare for this event?
Shafraz: I think the passion to perform and behave like an organised racing team was our main driving force. To state it briefly, Akhry and I did cross-train in the lead up to the event with cycling, etc, and we also reviewed our videos from the previous attempt; while my local engineer Amjad Rizvi from my garage ProMech Autoworks did the preparatory work for our car setup and went in advance to overlook some aspects of the car preparation. It was also upon Akhry and myself to prepare proposals and have detailed discussion with our sponsors on various aspects.
Suresh Subramaniam (with mic, 2nd from right) at the SLTA 100th year celebration launch in Colombo
Janaki Alahapperuma the only female who is among the top participants at SMSC Motor Rallies