OM Mikaeel Habib wins Category B at the highest desert rally in the world

OM Mikaeel Habib wins Category B at the highest desert rally in the world

Mikaeel Ali Habib has primarily lived in Pakistan for most of his life, with the exception of his time spent at Millfield and four years in California while attending university. He has been a fan of cars his whole life and, as a child, enjoyed projects such as building cars and assisting his Housemaster in Etonhurst in the Caterham Car Club.

Rally racing, the WRC and the W2RC were among his favourite motor sports to watch growing up, where he was always in awe of the driver’s skills and fearless driving. “My friends and I always dreamed of driving in the Pakistan races but never really knew how to enter or get a foot in the door, until one day, in 2021, Syed Alyaan Ahmed, a childhood friend, and I, were discussing the race standings for the year and just joked about starting a team on paper. This idea then blossomed, and we created a team, and sponsorship proposal, logo, the works, and spread it to every contact we could find or anyone that would listen. Our dreams were answered when Toyota Pakistan and Abhi, a financial start-up answered our calls and agreed to sponsor one season with a clause for continuation based on performance.” - Mikaeel.

Rally racing is known to be one of the toughest forms of motor sports. Drivers push their cars to the limits and beyond, on tracks designed by the master of all architects, mother nature. Spectators can witness thrilling drifts, jaw dropping jumps, and nervously high speeds, whilst drivers and navigators conquer sand, gravel, and dunes with continuously changing terrain from one to another and back again. Rally racing is a team sport, requiring the seamless collaboration of two distinct roles to challenge the unpredictable forces of nature. The Driver and Navigator share an unshakable trust and demand impeccable communication, both on and off the stage. Unlike track racing with multiple laps, rally races consist of off-road stages, featuring constantly changing terrains. These stages may take the form of either a single extensive loop or a journey from point A to point B. In the world of rally racing, the same turn is never encountered twice, demanding continual adaptation and the ability to respond to the car's feedback. Effective management of damages and breakages is essential to ensure the race proceeds without interruption.

Pakistan offers a captivating mix of landscapes. The Pakistan Rally Racing Federation partners with different provincial governments to plan races across the entire country. They usually have 7-8 official races and a few extra unofficial ones. These races cover a wide range of terrains and track lengths, from 30 to 500 kilometres.

Typically, Thursdays are reserved for vehicle inspection and tagging, where the car and team receive their racing number, determining the category they'll compete in. The racing federation has established two main classes, each with four sub-divisions. First, there's the Stock/Production Category with subdivisions A-D. In this category, the extent of modifications allowed on the race car is defined. Stock category cars are not allowed to modify engines, reduce weight, or alter suspension mounting points. However, interior modifications are permitted, as is suspension adjustment, as long as it's done using the original mounting points provided by the OEM manufacturer.

“Our race team is ASH Racing in tribute to my late father whose initials are A.S.H. We represent TOYOTA Pakistan and are sponsored by Abhi, a financial start-up based out of Pakistan but who are present in the UAE as well. We race a 2021 Toyota Hilux Revo Rocco in the Stock B category, B subdivision because the engine size falls within those size ranges.” - Mikaeel.

On Friday, it's all about qualifying. The evening before, on Thursday, all the vehicles get entered into a draw. Numbers are drawn randomly, and the sequence in which these numbers are called sets the firing order for qualifying day. The quickest driver during qualifying will kick off the race on the following day, with the second and third fastest drivers following suit, and so on.

Saturday is when the action heats up for the Stock Category. Here, racers go head-to-head with the clock and their fellow drivers. The goal is to complete the track in the fastest time possible, and the driver who achieves this, after all drivers have finished or declared a DNF (do not finish), emerges victorious in the race.

In 2022, Mikaeel began his racing career, and at the Thar Mithi Race in the Thar Desert, he achieved a commendable 6th place finish as a rookie, catching the attention of the racing community. ASH Racing team continued to progress, ultimately securing their first podium finish, coming in 2nd place at the HUB Rally, a remarkable feat in their debut year. This podium finish not only earned them respect among fellow racers and larger teams but also ensured sponsorship renewal, enabling them to compete in the 2023-2024 season. In the interim, Mikaeel gained valuable experience by participating in a 12-hour endurance karting race with track car racers, even though tarmac racing wasn't his strong suit. This experience helped him hone his skills in consistency and endurance racing.

“Our 2023-2024 season started with the Sarfaranga Cold Desert Rally, the highest altitude rally in the world. ASH Racing Team qualified in P2 which gave us a great track position for the race day. We managed to win the B-Stock category race with a time of 52:34 minutes around a 70km track, compared to the runners up time of 1:03:34. We also won the fastest time of the day putting up a faster time than any of the other stock category drivers from all subdivisions. In the final leg of the race, we were driving blind due to the dust. We damaged our front suspension and had to manage the car for the final kilometres of the race. Through everything we were able to secure 2 trophies and our first win.

This year’s season has many races to come, and ASH Racing team will continue to put in the work to try and be as competitive as possible. Our goal is to gain enough podium positions to get a chance to race on the international level for Toyota Gazoo Racing. We will aim to compete in the Dakar Race as well as the W2RC championship.” – Mikaeel.

When talking to Mikaeel about how his time at Millfield helped him prepare for his career in racing, he said: “My time at Millfield was an exceptional experience. I deeply immersed myself in sports and found that I love to compete. Millfield taught me independence and overcoming challenged by paying attention to detail, being persistent, and never giving up, regardless of how tough the challenge. I apply this to racing. My navigator and I spent a considerable amount of time studying our notes, paying attention to minor details to provide the most information from navigator to driver; simply and efficiently to drive as fast as possible while protecting the vehicle. During my time at Millfield, I learnt how to adapt to new environments quickly and effectively.

I truly think Millfield shaped me as an individual and was an experience I will never forget. I was part of Etonhurst house at Millfield, where I formed lifelong bonds with multiple individuals. I learnt about myself and the things I was capable of. I am forever grateful to have been part of such a nurturing culture and enriching environment.”

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