By Channaka de Silva
Champion Sri Lankan rally driver Dinesh Deheragoda aims to fly the Sri Lankan flag high in Japan this weekend as he and his team Ezy Racing take part in the Rally Hokkaido, the Japanese leg of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship (APRC), but he knows it will take a daring effort despite the fact that they can’t afford too many risks.
“Rallying is uncertain. I will need to put in 110 percent of concentration I give at domestic racing in Sri Lanka plus 240 km of immaculate driving in super special stages. I will take risks only at a given level. I would not take a risk where I will crash the car and would not be able to finish,” Dehergoda claimed outlining his approach for the big event.
Dehergoda and Ezy Racing are taking part in the Asia Cup segment of the APRC, which is one of the five second tier regional events to the World Rally Championships (WRC), conducted by the world motor racing governing body FIA.
"If I can see myself on a FIA podium and the Sri Lankan flag up there, I would be very happy. Trust me, that is my target. I will not wait till China for that to happen"
The first leg of the Asia Cup which was held in Johor Baru, Malaysia on August 15, 16 and 17 was Ezy Racing’s first foray into international motor racing and Dehergoda and his navigator Shafraz Junaid performed way beyond the levels of a team just finding their feet at the highest level international rallying to finish a creditable sixth overall.
Though Hokkaido is just the second race ever for the team at this lofty international level, Deheragoda is determined to etch Sri Lanka’s name and Ezy Racing’s image firmly in the championship with nothing less a podium finish.
“If I can see myself on a FIA podium and the Sri Lankan flag up there, I would be very happy. Trust me, that is my target. I will not wait till China for that to happen,” Deheragoda said.
EZY Team principal Shafraz Hamzadeen is over the moon with how his team has performed at the maiden overseas assignment. He is keen to see them do better and is extremely confident of that, but prefers to see his team finish the rally to gain some valuable points than taking a risk and crashing out to finish without any points at all.
“It’s a journey. What we learned from Malaysia, we are far more confident. With every step that confidence only improves,” he said. Hamzadeen has made sure that his team would receive optimum level back-up support and technical expertise for the event. He is confident that it would make the difference as the team gears up to challenge the top competitors.
“One good thing is that we have been able to develop local resources in Japan. It can help us resuscitate the car. Straight after the Malaysian event, we packed it off to Japan. After the event, we worked overnight and looked into a lot of mechanical issues. But the physical repair of the car will only happen in Japan. We have arranged all that support that is required there,” said Hamzadeen.
He explained how it was to tackle unknown territory in alien land when they took their first hesitant international step in Malaysia last month. “When we went to Malaysia we didn’t know what to expect. Only in Malaysia did we realize everything, But when we came out of Malaysia, it was different. We learnt how to run a rally team,” said the dynamic leader who however will not be able to be present in Hokkaido this weekend as he will be attending a crucial business meeting in San Francisco.
Hamzadeen who is a keen follower of the sport has an eye for detail. He possesses a vast knowledge of racing, his biggest passion, despite his hectic globe-trotting schedule as an international business leader. He reckons that Ezy has fine-tuned one essential area which is of paramount importance for success and feels it will simply see them perform better in Japan than in Malaysia.
“The biggest area for us to improve was Driver and co-driver combination. They have watched lots of on board videos of all the other drivers. That is the only process to learn. Now we are rich in knowledge,” he claimed.
Deheragoda and his co-driver Junaid are both leading rally drivers in Sri Lanka and it created an issue initially as they both had their own ideas on how to tackle the different challenges. Deheragoda is now happy that they have sorted it out. But the bigger problem was that they had no experience of working together in the same car, ever before the Malaysian race.
“They were a completely new combination. Till they got into the car, they had not driven together,” said Hamzadeen. Deheragoda had been training a navigator and won a few local competitions with him, but at the last moment, Deheragoda found that his navigator was unable to commit himself for the whole championship. He did not wish to change navigators from race to race, so, Deheragoda who knew Junaid for more than two decades, asked Junaid to join him and the rest is history.
“I spoke to Junaid because he is a person who has the passion for rallying. I am fortunate to have Juniad. I am amazed at his passion and extreme determination. He has been pushing me always,” said Deheragoda. “What we found out in Malaysia was that as we were both race drivers, we had our different ways of thinking on what to do. But we said: let’s forget about our individual thinking. Let’s synchronize. Let’s do it the right way,” said Deheragoda who thinks that the approach has brought them rich dividends.