Sri Lankan champion relishes new challenge in Dubai Rally

Multiple Sri Lankan champion Dinesh Deheragoda. (SUPPLIED)

Multiple Sri Lankan champion Dinesh Deheragoda faces a stern test this weekend when he makes his maiden appearance alongside the Middle East’s top drivers, hoping his excursion into the Dubai International Rally will be the first of many.

On home territory, Deheragoda has notched up an impressive haul of 22 national and club championships since entering the motor racing scene in 1996, proving his versatility with wins on tarmac and gravel racetracks, in hill climbs and rally cross events.

He now faces a completely different challenge in the 34th Dubai International Rally, having seen its fast and demanding desert stages only via the internet before tackling the real thing on UAE National Day weekend.

Deheragoda hopes for a much happier ending than the one he experienced on his only other appearance to date outside Sri Lanka. That was two years ago when mechanical failure brought an early exit from a candidate event in India for the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship.

“Since then I have always wanted to compete overseas,” said Deheragoda, who enters a Group N Mitsubishi Lancer Evo in the Dubai International Rally, held under the patronage of Sheikh Majid Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

“I have limited opportunities because of my commitments in Sri Lanka which means December is the only month when we don’t have championship events.”

“So the timing of the Dubai Rally is right for me. Depending on how it goes this year I will be back in 2013. The organisers, the ATCUAE, have been very helpful by guiding me as to what should be done first time out. Their approach has been very encouraging.”

Deheragoda, who will be partnered by regular co-driver, Sanjaya Roshan, added: “All I really know about the driving conditions in Dubai is what I’ve seen on the web. It will be tough, but I believe we are prepared for it.

“I will need to use all my 16 years of driving experience and see how fast I can adapt.  The main objective is to complete the rally and of course to see if I can fight for a trophy.”

Among the Sri Lankan’s Group N rivals in Dubai will be former Middle East production class champion and regional Super 1600 title winner Ron Oakeley, who is partnered by Jamie Turner in a Subaru Impreza, and his close friend and regular visitor from the UK, Simon Nutter.

Nutter, who has two Middle East Formula Two rally titles to his name, will be accompanied by son Robert in another Subaru.

The sixth and final round of the 2012 FIA Middle East Rally championship has its ceremonial start on Emaar Boulevard, in Old Town Dubai, at 7.30pm on Thursday November 29.

The rally action begins in earnest on Friday morning November 30, with six Leg 1 special stages running in the Malaiha and Shawka area, all easily located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road.

Another six special stages on Saturday’s Leg 2 are in the Al Dhaid area and are easily located from the Sharjah-Kalba Road or the Al Dhaid Road.

The survivors will reach the finish back on Emaar Boulevard, Old Town Dubai, at 4.30pm on Saturday 1 December.