Abdullah Al-Rawahi is a rising star in the world of Middle Eastern rally. He currently competes in an R5 Ford Fiesta for Top Team Oman, but since the coronavirus pandemic he hasn’t been in a rally car. We catch up with him to see when he’s likely to be back in the driving seat and how he’s preparing for it.
How’s coronavirus affecting your racing season, Abdullah?
Everything is locked down. You can still move around, but you can’t visit anyone. As well as being a rally driver, I’m in my third year at university, so I’m doing everything online. During this time, I wanted to lose some weight. I’ve been doing a lot of training. It’s better for racing. I’m really happy I’ve achieved that goal.
When’s the last time you were in a rally car?
February. Since then we haven’t been able to get into cars or practice. It’s been hard. My last races were the Jordan National Championship, where I finished first. Before that, I raced in Oman, in the Middle East Rally Championship. We managed to finish second.
When do you think racing will resume?
We’re hoping to start back in September. But all the races will be compressed, and I don’t know what the timetable is yet. The organisers are working on it. The first race is likely to be in Lebanon.
I bet you can’t wait to go racing again?
Being in lockdown has not really been my favourite thing, but you learn so much from it and, hopefully, we’ll come back stronger. I’m really looking forward to racing again. It’s a place where I find myself in a different zone.
Can you describe that zone?
Usually, with motorsport, it’s a different world. For many years, I was in karting and that was a foundation into rallying. When I take part in motorsport, it takes me to a different zone. You forget everything that’s happening in your life. It’s a completely different feeling. For me, I need that space. It’s hard to express it unless you’ve done it.
So, you’ve been karting from a young age. Why did you choose rally and not a circuit-based sport?
Rallying wasn’t in my mind at the beginning. I intended to go into formula racing or GT cars. I raced once in the UK in Formula Three. It’s really expensive to continue and compete with a low budget. For us, when I was in Oman, a famous rally driver from the Middle East said "why don’t you try rallying?". And when I tried it, I really loved it. I didn’t expect to. We’re evolving and, although our budget is low, we’re trying to make the best of what we can do with a great team. And we’re getting better.
What’s your rally style? Do you prefer going sideways or keeping it clean?
Clean. I think it’s because of my karting background. In karting you’re taught that if you go sideways you lose time. In rallying, I do go sideways, but I minimise it. That’s what I feel is right. But I’m still learning. Maybe there’s places where I should go sideways more, depending on the stage. In the Middle East, the stages are quite slippery with loose gravel, which suits this style.
Would you like to compete in the WRC?
For me that’s the optimum goal: to reach the WRC. This year we managed to race with the R5 Ford Fiesta, and it’s a step higher. We’re hoping the year after we can compete in Europe in the European Rally Championship. I’ve also got a Subaru N14 for the group N.
You haven’t been rallying long, but already you’re winning races. That’s a great achievement.
Thank you. Yes, this is my second year. I didn’t race much in my first year, but now we’re trying to move into more international races and gain experience.
Do you do any sim racing?
I have a sim at home, but it’s not a professional one. It keeps me going for the time being, but we’re hoping to get a proper sim. I don’t get much testing time for rallying because it’s really expensive. So, a proper sim could help me a lot. When I go to races, usually because of the budget, we don’t have time to test the car before the rally. We just go for a shakedown. And that’s a problem. It’s like we’re testing in the rally. And it’s really tough to be fast that way. With my recent achievements, I’m hoping we can achieve better going forwards.
Motul is a partner. What sort of difference does that make to success?
It’s been an excellent partnership. And it’s really important for us. In rallying, if one things goes wrong, the rally’s over. You can’t just restart. The engine and everything else needs to be really reliable. And hopefully Motul will continue racing with us and supporting us with a really good product.