Tossing up the Sand


a difference of 37 seconds

By Brian Wright

As 2013 has come to a close, the Egyptian rally circuit saw one final event in November for its local teams. And although many were upset to hear about the delay of the Pharaons Rally to mid-2014, the El Farouki Challenge stepped up to the plate and stunned not only the public but the participants as well for its strong organization and creative track design.


This is the first year of the El Farouki Challenge, named in honor of Azzam El Farouki who passed away after a long battle with chronic disease. As one of Egypt’s biggest names in the rally circuit, El Farouki dedicated his life to the promotion of this sport and is one of the main reasons that many of the current teams and events are so successful today.


Held over the course of two days, the El Farouki Challenge began at the foot of the Pyramids and headed into the depths of the Western Desert, wrapping around the oasis of Bahreyya and ending back in Cairo after sending teams through over 500km of dunes, rocks, and other forms of challenging terrain. This is but one of a number of local events held throughout the year in the local rally circuit that also includes the El Gouna and Desert Challenges, leading up to the major international event the Pharaons Ralley.


As an extra treat this year, the opening of the Challenge was preceded by a prologue event held on the construction site of the New Giza Compound. Attended by local media, television, and many of the country’s elite, the event was designed to give the Egyptian public an insider’s look into the world of the rally and show off how well-developed the sport has become.


Cairo West and Cairo East Magazines sponsored the second place-getter, Youssef Marzouk, and were delighted to see him come in a scant 37 seconds behind the winner, something normally only found in Formula One events. To find out more about the El Farouki Challenge, Cairo East Magazine spoke with participants Hani Omar, Hani Madbouly, Hossam Zayat and Yara Shalaby from the Al Rahhala racing team and Youssef Marzouk from Desert Cruise.

CEM: How did you feel about the El Farouki Challenge overall?


Hani Omar:  It was great and I think that on the overall we are seeing a general trend in improvement. Each event the level seems to be getting better with the participants, the organization, and even the public awareness and support.


Hani Madbouli: The track was the best for me and it seems that the planners did a fantastic job and made it especially rough for the co-pilots! For example, if I look at a dune and see the right side of the dune would be the best way to get across, you find that the GPS waypoint that you have to go to is on the left side!


This was the first time to hold a prologue for an Egyptian event. How was the response?


Youssef Marzouk: It was great to see everybody around and get some amazing exposure. It is hard for the media and the public to be right next to you during the race for what can sometimes be a number of long hours to finish a particular stage. When it is all shortened into a quick presentation everybody enjoys and I think that this will really help get us more sponsers and support in the future.


Yara Shalaby: This was my favorite part by far! It was an amazing social event and shows how far the sport has come and is a great indication for the future. There are so many new young drivers around and new teams that are starting to come together that I can tell any local races coming in 2014 as well as the international Pharaons Rally will see Egyptians performing better than ever.


What was the best stage for you?


Hossam Zayat: Without a doubt the first day. As a co-pilot I found it to be very challenging with a lot of different types of terrain. You have to negotiate, change strategies, and do a lot of planning quickly and deal with any sudden differences, the whole day really kept me on my feet.


Hani Omar: As a driver, and especially if you have a really fast car, the second day was also a lot of fun because there was a long part where you had nothing in front of you except a flat open stretch. We could run all the way up to 150kmph and just cruise through that part!


Were there any major challenges?


Hani Madbouli: On the second day we were having problems with our exhaust system, and every time you pushed on the gas too much the engine would shut off. We handled it thorughout the day but right before we got to the finish the engine cut and we couldn’t get it started again. We actually ended up rolling through the finish line, which was great because the line was at the top of the hill and if what was left in the car couldn’t get us up the hill there was no way that we could push it.


Yara Shalaby: This was the first time for me to encounter an accident on a course. When we were going over the dunes, I went up in the air and put on the breaks on the way down. This is something that you don’t do but I wasn’t aware at the time, and when the wheels hit the traction caused the car to flip over. It was a serious problem and took over an hour and a half to get back in and I didn’t end up finishing that How do you work together as a team?


Hossam Zayat: As a co-pilot my job is navigation, checking in with the organizers, and making sure that everything moves smoothly so the pilot can only focus on driving and handling the terrain. The most fun that I have is when you run through a really rough area, which means that I am constantly watching the maps and trying to plot out the best strategy to get through. The opposite is when we are on a flat terrain where we are just running at top speeds. This is really boring for me because there isn’t much to do, but this is where the drivers really get to enjoy the track the most.


Youssef Marzouk: During this race we ended up having the top three cars together most of the time, which requires a lot of careful planning. Less mature drivers would try to make moves to get ahead which can be dangerous, but everybody was really professional and it really showed how much more developed this sport is becoming.


And a special question for Yara, how is it as a woman in the rally circuit and how would you encourage more women in Egypt to take up the sport?


Yara Shalaby: I really don’t understand because it is not something new on the international stage and there are a lot of women that race around the world. I even know a lot of women that love to go out and drive in the desert on vacation but have never taken the step to go professional. For me it is a lot of fun and a great learning experience to find out new things, explore new terrain, and work with all the great people involved.


If I wanted to give advice, I would focus on setting up a car. The big fear that everybody has is that if they have a good car that they use on a daily basis they don’t want to enter it into rallies because they are afraid that something might happen and they won’t be able to use it the following day to do their daily routine. If they have a second car that they can dedicate to the races then that would be optimal, and you can fit it with all of the extra required equipment. Then it is just a matter of joining the circle, getting introduced, and then off you go!


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