|The De Sarams, Ilangantilekes, Jayawardenas, Pereras, and Weerasoorias|
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|Nishan Weerasooria sets new rally record
MOTOR RACING: The MRA Rally Championship for 2007 got off to a flying start at Pelwatte in Buttala recently with new records being established. 11 competitors took part along with Dinesh Deheragoda a name well-known in the motor racing scene in Sri Lanka who was amongst the three Mitsubishi Evolutions that took part.
The first stage was a 30.5 km run on gravel and mud with negligible stretches on tarmac posing a stiff challenge to all drivers. Being unfamiliar with the effects of the heavy down pour on the gravel terrain causing very slippery muddy surfaces was the main challenge to overcome by man and machine.
Ameen Dean a veteran competitor at Pelwatte returned the fastest timing on this first leg with a brilliant opening performance Dinesh Deheragoda came in 16 seconds later, followed by Shafraz Junaid’s Honda Civic Four Wheel Drive 23 seconds behind the race leader.
With the unexpected result of the Starlet taking the limelight in the first leg, competition was poised to get fierce. The second stage got off to a very muddy and slippery start through the sugar cane fields.
This stage was unfortunate for Manamendra Amadoru when he lost control of his Toyota Starlet on mud in within the first kilometre and turned turtle landing hard on its roof and being forced out of the race. Newcomer Amadoru showed good potential in his first run being placed 4th in the first leg.
The second stage of 22.8 km started off in the afternoon as scheduled and with the rains having ceased the track had settled and conditions were ideal for some outstanding driving. As expected, two Evolution’s took lead position with Nishan Weerasuriya making a comeback to the rally circuit returning his first stage win.
Dinesh Deheragoda just 2 seconds later in second place. Ameen Deane scored once more coming in third 54 seconds behind Dinesh’s Evo. Dinesh moved into race leader position at the end of the second stage and had to now fight hard to hold that position against the hotting up Evolution IX of Weerasooria.
The next stage was a night run in reverse direction of the first leg of 30.5 km and now the excitement and determination was visible amongst all drivers.
The weather held well giving opportunity to see more driving thrills and by now Nishan Weerasooria was on fire, making the maximum by returning the best driving performance for the first day in the rally clocking 21.3 seconds, leading on second position Dinesh Deheragoda and the rest of the pack by a big margin of two and a half minutes. In third was Rizvi Farook just under 17 seconds from seconds place.
Weerasooria’s blistering pace in this night run put him into race leader position with 2 seconds ahead of Deheragoda on overall timing.
The last leg for the day was rescheduled to start at 11 p.m. with a repeat run of the first leg. The familiarity of the terrain gave hope to all competitors to return better driving performances and the race commenced with Nishan Weerasooria off to a flying start and finishing off with a flying finish on the tarmac in 23 seconds - one and a half minutes ahead of Dinesh, once again pushed into second place followed by Rizvi Farook again coming in 17 seconds later.
At the end of the day Weerasooria had widened the gap with Deheragoda by almost 3 minutes. Shafraz Junaid consistently maintained his third position overall with consistency through every stage of the day.
Sunday was a bright sunny morning despite some rain the night before and the terrain was well set for a day of great driving. Race leader Weerasooria followed by Deheragoda tailing now by almost three minutes were the top runners to challenge. Being the fastest track of the four courses prepared, all competitors were aiming for flying performances.
Eventually it was the race leader Weerasooria and Co-driver Sriomal de Silva making a well-knit team, who took the win once more, establishing a new rally record in Sri Lanka returning an average speed of 104 km per hour for the fastest stage in a rally stage, shattering the previous record of Dinesh Deheragoda - definitely a performance in keeping with WRC performances.
At the end of the fifth stage Nishan Weerasooria was clearly ahead of the pack leading second place Deheragoda by 3 minutes 39 seconds. By this time Dinesh seemed to have no hope in catching up.
Despite all odds, Deheragoda continued to push his best to clinch at least the final stage win and yet again without success and coming in second to Weerasooria once more. Whilst all credit goes to Weerasooria for an outstanding performance on his return to the rally circuit, Deheragoda will no doubt prepare for the next round of the 2007 MRA rally championship to regain his position.
Shafraz Junaid continued to maintain a consistent performance maintaining third overall through the last two stages as well, which is a commendable feat given the uncertainty of rallying. Tariq Hassen finished fourth overall, yet another consistent performer who gained with every stage and built his way up the race order driving his Toyota Hilux taking full advantage of his strength on tough terrain.
Rohan Fonseka in his Mitsubishi Pajero short wheel ended 5h followed by Riyaz Farook in 6th. Ameen Deane could not recover from breaking his suspension on the fourth stage as well as a tyre puncture on the fifth, had to settle for 7th overall despite clocking third best in the last leg.
Another driver with good skill and experience Rizvi Farook was not very lucky this time with his Honda Civic Vtec not performing to its full potential and ending at 8th overall. K. Balasingham, a persistent competitor in his Mini at Pelwatte despite finishing 9.