As a member of the media working on a rally, sometimes your interview won’t go as planned. Your interviewee might be a bit closed off, unavailable or simply refuse to talk to you altogether.
But other times, you stumble across some complete gold. And the best times are when this happens completely by accident.
This is what DirtFish’s Tiffany Stone experienced during last weekend’s Oregon Trail Rally (OTR), the final instalment of the 2021 American Rally Association presented by DirtFish National Championship.
She was speaking to Hamad Al-Wahaibi – who lay fourth overall in a McKenna Motorsport Ford Fiesta Rally2 – about his experience so far on his ARA debut and how he was finding the stage.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt you here man,” came the rather distinctive voice of this year’s ARA champion, who’d spotted Al-Wahaibi.
Travis Pastrana had something he wanted to say and DirtFish’s mic caught it.
“I just have to say there’s been a lot of good guys who have come over [to the ARA] in your car, and your times are freaking unbelievable dude.”
Al-Wahaibi looked delighted and offered Pastrana a double fist pump which, of course, he gladly accepted. Pastrana then resumed conversation.
“Let’s go, next year let’s make it happen man come on.”
“They said no!”
“There’s more cars. What do you mean they said no, who’s they?”
“They offered us a deal and they decided not to.”
“You’ve got to figure this out. I’d love to see you, we need more guys about. I’m impressed, the stage times, awesome man.”
“You’re awesome man. Thanks buddy,” concluded Al-Wahaibi.
“He is correct, your stage times have just been getting better and better,” said Stone as she refocused on the interview, having been a first-hand witness to this beautiful moment. Al-Wahaibi refocused too.
“One thing is the speed, I don’t come without experience,” he said, in reference to his vast career that has included 41 World Rally Championship starts.
“I’m naturally talented, I knew this since I was a kid, but what I’m finding in America… look at this. I mean we wouldn’t get that anywhere else in the world. It’s so cool, everybody’s friendly, I just love it here.”
His passion for the American rallying experience certainly showed in his driving. Al-Wahaibi, born in Oman, has been all over the world in the rally car but hadn’t driven for nine years prior to entering both the Jordan and Cyprus rallies in a Škoda Fabia R5 this year.
Armed with a Fiesta Rally2 for the first time on OTR, Al-Wahaibi was comfortably quicker than his RC2 class rivals and was, as Pastrana said, a seriously impressive guest driver – and there have been some seriously impressive guest drivers in 2021.
The table below illustrates just how good Al-Wahaibi was last weekend.
|Driver||Car||Pace deficit to leader (s/mile)|
|Josh McErlean||Hyundai i20 R5||2.395|
|Callum Devine||Ford Fiesta Rally2||3.129|
|Marty McCormack||Škoda Fabia R5+||3.222|
|Hamad Al-Wahaibi||Ford Fiesta Rally2||3.468|
|Tom Williams||Ford Fiesta Rally2||5.020|
|Kyle Tilley||Ford Fiesta Rally2||6.354|
We’ve included drivers who have appeared as guests in R5/Rally2 cars throughout the season and simply calculated their average stage deficit – in seconds lost per mile – to the leaders (either an Open class Subaru WRX STI or Ford Fiesta WRC).
Josh McErlean emerges as a clear winner as he even beat the Open class cars on a stage of the Olympus Rally, but that’s to be expected given he’s a Hyundai junior driver who is beginning to prove his pedigree in the WRC.
But Al-Wahaibi is incredibly closely matched with Callum Devine – a proven European Rally Championship podium-finisher who’s won Irish rallies and was competition Craig Breen had to work incredibly hard to beat in 2019.
Marty McCormack had a pace advantage over Al-Wahaibi’s splits too given his McKenna Škoda was running in Open class specification.
Perhaps the best drivers to compare Al-Wahaibi to then are Tom Williams and Kyle Tilley, and his pace is over 1.5s quicker per mile than Williams and almost three seconds up on Tilley.
And it’s worth pointing out that Enda McCormack, who was second in the RC2 class and defeated John Coyne to the class title in his Hyundai i20 R5, was another couple of miles shy of the leader. So in layman’s terms, Al-Wahaibi’s defecit to the overall pace was nearly half that of his closest comparable rival on OTR.
Pastrana was therefore more than right to take notice – and it’s incredibly sporting of him to do so so publicly. Al-Wahaibi would be a truly fantastic addition to the ARA next year, provided he can get himself a deal…