From Karachi tracks to podium finish

In Local
March 28, 2024



KARACHI:

The desert air shimmered under the relentless Dubai sun, which cast a golden hue over a sprawling circuit. The smell of burning rubber hung heavy in the air. The stage was set for an exciting competition. Among the throngs of seasoned competitors from around the world and sleek racing machines, a sense of anticipation crackled like static electricity.

As the engines roared to life and the first rays of dawn kissed the horizon, a hush fell over the bustling paddock, punctuated only by the rhythmic thud of racing hearts and the distant echo of revving engines. It was in this electrifying atmosphere that a new force emerged from the swirling dust clouds – Omni Racing, a team representing Pakistan’s Omni Karting Club.

Their arrival, unexpected and bold, sent ripples of surprise through the seasoned participants.  Here, in this crucible of international motorsport, these underdogs from Pakistan were ready to rewrite the narrative, their eyes set on a finish that would defy expectations and etch their names on the podium.

Coming from the tracks of Karachi to an international track was an experience that the team of four never had before. Led by Syed Ovais Naqvi, Shahzeb Qureshi, Omer Khuhro and Sanaan Jamali were in Dubai to compete against the top Formula4 drivers, Euro Cup Champions and local Track Champions. Each team member has been working on their skills for more than two years. They knew they had to do something big to make Pakistan proud, and so they did.

From Local Circuits to Global Arenas

Long before the roar of engines filled the Dubai Autodrome, Omni Racing, a team coached by the Omni Karting Club in Karachi, Pakistan, nurtured a burning ambition: to compete on the international stage. Years of karting on local circuits fueled their desire to test their mettle against the best in the world. Their journey to the Dubai Endurance Karting Championship wasn’t just about the race; it was about pushing the boundaries of Pakistani motorsport and etching their names in history.

Omni Karting Circuit (OKC) isn’t just a racetrack; it’s a breeding ground for Pakistani motorsport dreams. Recognising the lack of dedicated facilities for aspiring racers, OKC established its official racing team, Omni Racing. This team has a singular purpose: to create a bridge for top local drivers, honed at OKC, to compete on the international stage.

Omni Racing isn’t interested in local competition. Their focus is on providing a platform for Pakistani talent to shine at prestigious international events like the Dubai Endurance Karting Championship, where they achieved a remarkable P2 in Corporate Cup, P6 in Nations Cup, and P15 overall. This achievement, for a team new to international circuits, shows their immense potential.

Prior to OKC’s arrival, motorsports in Pakistan lacked a dedicated space for enthusiasts to pursue their passion.  Now, with an international-standard facility, OKC aims to invigorate the entire motorsport ecosystem in the country. They plan to host local racing championships, fostering healthy competition, offer driver development programs, and comprehensive training. These initiatives will help establish kart racing as a recognised sport in Pakistan. For OKC, the vision extends beyond individual success. They aim to uplift not just the names of participating drivers but also the reputation of OKC and, most importantly, Pakistan’s motorsport scene on the international stage. 

The team captain and the CEO of OKC, Syed Owais Naqvi says that Omni Racing acts as a beacon of hope to all aspiring racers from Pakistan that they too can have an opportunity to race at the international level if they become top-level drivers locally. “Omni Racing and its drivers will be an inspiration to the local drivers to learn from. All the knowledge, skills and race craft that Omni Racing drivers bring back to Pakistan from the international races will be transferred to the local racing scene and local drivers,” he said.

“By competing and racing against the Omni Racing drivers at the Omni Karting Circuit in the Omni Championships, the local drivers will not only gain knowledge and develop their race craft but they willalso gain confidence in their own abilities,” he added.

Samnan Jamali, talking about his journey with OKC, told The Express Tribune that OKC is built in such a way that if one masters the track, he should be good on any given track on any given day. “Most of the corners and challenging turns are there on the track. This helps us in adapting any track very quickly” said Jamali.

“From a very young age, I was in love with motorsports. It felt like I was supposed to be in professional racing. Now, being part of a team representing Pakistan on international grounds, it’s like a dream come true! We will be giving our best, with a promise of improving race by race. ‘Arrive, raise hell, leave’ — that’s what we’re here to do,” he said enthusiastically.

Omer Khoro believes that OKC has helped them in learning the basic principals of karting. “When it comes to racing, it’s the basic principles that you have to get right. Knowing the racing line and perfecting your braking points which are to my opinion same in both Autocross and karting,” said Khoro.

He added that the Endurance Championship team called Alpha Racing was formed with one goal: to have the best drivers under one banner and win the championship. “Having that experience in Pakistan gave me a lot of confidence that helped us in putting up a good show in the Dubai Endurance Championship,” said Khoro.

Preparing for triumph

The road to the championship was built on a foundation of relentless training, strategic planning, and overcoming unforeseen hurdles. For Omni Racing, the months leading up to the competition were a crucible, testing their physical and mental fortitude. Their preparation involved a gruelling training regimen designed to hone their racing skills, navigate the logistical challenges of an international event, and secure vital sponsorships for their journey. 

Naqvi, who has participated in number of international races before, explained that having driven in different circuits allows one to experience various layouts and understand the physics of racing lines, braking, and throttle inputs required at different types of turns. “It tunes your skills to comprehend and adapt to new layouts easily and quickly because previous knowledge and skill sets can be applied to new layouts. The key to going fast at any track is to understand its layout and what needs to be done at the entry and exit of each corner,” he shared.

Talking about the challenges while preparing for the competition, captain Naqvi shared the obstacles and limitation they faced. Limited exposure on the international track posed as a great challenge. “The lack of seat time in racing conditions, limited exposure to different tracks, and the lack of experience in racing against high-level international drivers pose significant challenges,” shared Naqvi.

“A driver can only improve by competing against quicker drivers, learning from their lines and driving styles. Additionally, the financial challenge of racing internationally without sponsorship adds another layer of difficulty,” he added.

However, he said that these challenges can be overcome through more racing opportunities and seat time, aiming to steepen the learning curve. “Each driver will individually learn and develop their racecraft by competing with top international drivers, and this knowledge will be imparted to the team. By performing well, we can build a reputation for the team and attract sponsors,” Naqvi explained.

Another member of the team Shahzeb Qureshi agrees with Naqvi. “As a professional rally driver and kart racer, preparation for race day is ingrained in my way of life,” he said. “The best way to prepare is by being in the driving seat. I’ve been a prominent supporter of the Omni Karting Circuit since its soft launch in January 2021, and its very first competitive race taught me that I possess a racing edge. Karting is just as strenuous as rally driving, and both serve as fitness regimens,” explained Qureshi.

Understanding the mechanics of endurance racing is crucial. “After just one hour of driving, you can lose about one kg of water weight. Multiply that by four to six hours of racing, and you can imagine the toll it takes,” said Qureshi.

Jamali echoed this view, saying, “Over the past year, I’ve been able to learn more due to the platform we now have. Before that, we didn’t have a track here or exposure to racing in Pakistan. I’ve significantly improved because of the seat time and dedication I’ve given to the sport.”

He also shared that along with the seat time, mental strength is vital. “If your mind can be trained to be strong, maintaining composure is a piece of cake. The key is positive thinking and staying focused,” explained Jamali.

On the Track – Triumphs, Tactics, and Teamwork

The Dubai desert heat intensified as the roar of engines filled the air. The meticulously planned training of Omni Racing was about to be put to the ultimate test. It was a do-or-die moment.

But the team had it all perfectly implemented on the track to surprise the top racers on how an underdog team from Pakistan ended up on the podium. The captain explained his role during the race. “As the captain, my role is to consider all perspectives and explore various options or solutions for approaching certain tasks or challenges. We then collaborate as a team to thoroughly discuss all aspects among the four of us and collectively make decisions on the most ideal course of action,” explains Naqvi.

He added that each driver is assigned specific key roles, granting them independence to make decisions and implement strategies within those roles. “Essentially, our approach emphasizes involvement, independence, and responsibility for each team member,” he said.

Explaining the most crucial aspect during the race, Naqvi says, “To maintain the team and drivers’ focus on the primary objective and block out all other external distractions is crucial. This principle applies both on track during racing and off track while managing the team. Drivers must maintain a laser-sharp focus throughout each lap, corner after corner. Simplicity is key—avoid overthinking and overdriving. Above all, it’s important to have fun and enjoy the experience!”

Qureshi explained their motivation and objective: “the green and white flag that is linked to our soul.” He said, “Representing Pakistan on the international circuit under the Omni Racing badge is our collective privilege. This being my second race in the endurance series, with the first being the 24H round 4 in 2022, I’ve gathered valuable insights that enable me to be an effective strategist for the second race. Naturally analytical, I take on the responsibility of setting the pace and devising strategies for the team to employ. These strategies are then presented to the team for discussion, where others can contribute their input by adding or subtracting from the proposed plans,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Khuro belives that it’s all about adaptability. “The sooner you adapt to a kart and the layout, the better your lap times will be. I have the ability to quickly gauge how the machine is behaving, allowing me to make necessary adjustments accordingly,” he said.

A Historic Achievement

The checkered flag signalled the end of the Dubai Endurance Karting Championship. But for Omni Racing, the significance transcended the finish line. Their wins – P2 in the Corporate Cup, P6 in the Nations Cup, and a phenomenal P15 overall – weren’t just podium finishes, they were a declaration of Pakistan’s burgeoning racing potential.

“Arriving as a completely raw, rookie team with two drivers racing at the Dubai Kartdrome for the first time, achieving a trophy and finishing in the Top 15 overall is a remarkable feat. The team has displayed superb chemistry, understanding, and support both on and off the track. Individually, each driver has undergone a tremendous learning curve and has grown immensely in their personal skill level and racecraft,” Naqvi said.

“The racing experience was truly phenomenal. Despite facing stiff competition and lacking international race experience, the Omni Racing team performed exceptionally well. Remarkably, all drivers were within just one second of the higher-placed teams,” said Naqvi.

Naqvi shared that all the other teams expressed appreciation for Omni Racing calibre and clean driving, and zero on-track penalties. “Given our performance in this race and how quickly we adapted to a new layout, it’s evident that our upward learning curve will continue,” he expressed.

Throughout the 12-hour race, we stuck to our strategies and showed great teamwork, avoiding penalties and maintaining focus”, shared Qureshi. “We faced tough competition from 27 top teams worldwide, including champions from Formula 4. Despite being underdogs, we held our ground. Setting the fastest qualifying time boosted our confidence.  The post-race reception from the motorsports community was heartwarming, with even rival teams congratulating us. Wow, what an exhilarating experience!” he exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Jamali while sharing his experience said, “The race was competitive as expected! Competing against top wasn’t easy, but we were prepared to give our best.” He added that team is eager to continue challenging them in future races and putting Omni Racing on the map.

Naqvi while adding to the enthusiasm of the team said that Omni Racing and this team of four Pakistani racers will undoubtedly continue to improve with more seat time and international racing experience. “The aim is to participate in the entire championship by racing in the remaining three rounds and narrowing the gap between us and the top teams,” he concluded.

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