Ashan Silva, currently rated as Sri Lanka's top race driver, and co-driver Irfan Fuad emerged the best pair of drivers at the Northern Speed Rally, a 130-kilometre rally with nine stages, held in Jaffna.
But out of the 14 pairs of drivers and co-drivers, rookie twosome Yasith Gamage and Dhakshina Amarasinghe impressed by their standout performance among the more experienced and seasoned campaigners.
The pair highly praised the organisers of the event, the Motor Racing Association of Sri Lanka (MRA), Army Motor Sports Club and the Jaffna Motor Sports Club, for giving them the opportunity to explore their potential in the most exciting version of motorsports.
"This was actually a highly anticipated debut for both of us and of course the car, a borrowed machine belonging to Kapila Kamal of Narammala. The car I compete in at tarmac events was not fit for a speed rally on gravel terrain, but Kapila was so generous to lend his car and give me and Dhakshina the opportunity to tryout a new combination at rally events. It was a very good learning curve for both of us, and the not-so powerful car," stated Gamage.
Gamage and Amarasinghe, running under the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) flag, had to face unexpected obstacles before they could try out their mishmash as driver and co-driver in Jaffna.
After they reached the northern peninsula, a day prior to the two-day speed rally, Gamage and Amarasinghe had an inauspicious start when the car of their engine did not start.
The technical team, supported by Dynamic Racing, headed by Nadeera Jinasena found out that the bearings of the engine were totally worn out.
While the rest of the team futilely hunted for alternative possibilities, Gamage promptly called his friend Kamal, who was in Narammala, of the engine failure.
"Kamal gave us a few options and all of them were impossible because we were hundreds of miles away from where he was. He was really supportive to send us new replacements but the only option left was to send them by a Jaffna bound express bus. Eventually Kamal had managed to chase down the last bus that had left Negombo just after midnight and handed them over to the bus crew. We got the spare parts around 6.00am on the first day of the rally, and we replaced them and mounted back the engine quickly, but failed to present ourselves for the first round," Gamage and Amarasinghe said on their baptism of fire.
While other competitors went up the ramp in their cars and jeeps Gamage and Amarasinghe had to walk without the car ready to introduce themselves.
They were forced to sit out of the first stage of the rally, which ended up with a 5-minute penalty on their total runs.
But the pair gradually managed to accustom themselves to the newly repaired car and conditions and even went on to record a better timing than the overall winner, by clocking 7 minutes and 29.210 seconds in the fourth stage.
Ashan Silva and his co-driver Irfan Fuad finished second best in that stage with a timing of 8 minutes and 02.985 seconds.
"It was an unexpected, yet great achievement for both of us and of course, the car, which was less powerful than what others drove. We competed in Jaffna with just one motive, that was to see how fitting I and Dhakshina were as a team for rally events. And by the halfway stage we already had developed a good understanding," said Gamage.
Eventually after Gamage and Amarasinghe found out that they were comfortably sitting at overall fourth position, the duo made use of the remaining stages to experiment maneuvers and drills that would help them in the future events.
With the success in Jaffna, the duo is now focusing in competing at rally events held beyond the shores of Sri Lanka.
"The Northern Speed Rally held in Jaffna gave us the much needed exposure and confidence to move forward as a team. We are looking forward to compete at rally events in time to come both in Sri Lanka and overseas. Our team, RAC Racing is grateful to the organisers of the event for giving us the opportunity to compete alongside the most experienced in the field of rally driving," with higher hopes, Gamage and Amarasinghe expressed their gratitude.
Gamage has been involved in motorsports during the past years under the flagship of ACBT and ECU.
He represented Sri Lanka at the Asia Auto Gymkhana Championship in 2017 and is a national champion in Nissan March events.
His co-driver, Amarasinghe, has been involved in motorsports for years and has experience as a co-driver at TSD rally events.
"The experience was wonderful and as rookies to speed rally events, we are more keen to compete regularly. We should be thankful to our sponsors ACRT, ECU, Engineering @ ACBT, Dynamic Racing, RAC Racing and Fox FM for standing by us. We are also thankful to all fellow senior competitors, who encouraged us in numerous ways at the Jaffna event," the duo said.
Eventually Gamage and Amarasinghe were placed overall fourth in the Northern Speed Rally behind Ashan Silva and Irfan Fuad, Shafraz Junaid and Akry Ameen and Nishantha Senadeera and Roshitha Aluthwela.
The duo were placed third in the SLGT Cars class. Sameera Premaratne emerged the Best Rider of the two-day rally.
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