AFRICAN rally champion Mohammed Essa yesterday got a hero's welcome on his return from Turkey where he had gone to receive his FIA-ARC 2012 trophy and immediately declared his intentions to challenge for the world title.
Fans led by the Zambia Soccer Fans Association (ZASOFA) thronged the Kenneth Kaunda International airport to welcome the 23-year-old Essa who won the 2012 ARC rally with two rallies to spare.
More good news followed for Essa as his sponsors Madison General assured him of maximum support during the 2013 rally season, while the Zambia Motor Sport Association (ZMSA) asked for the rally driver's recognition by allowing him to present his title to Republican President Michael Sata.
Essa said his ambitions were to defend his African title but that he would love to aim high by attempting the World Rally Championship with the Dakar Rally another challenge he was looking forward to.
"It was really an exciting and challenging year and I would not have made it had it not been for our crew, sponsors, family and the fans.
"This achievement wouldn't have be en possible if it was not for Madison Insurance and I promise that I will maintain my determination and continue raising the flag high," he said.
Essa, who was welcomed by Ministry of Sports Director Bernard Nakachinda, Sports Council of Zambia (SCZ) board members Haroon Ghurma and Ian Mbewe, Madison General Managing Director Chabala Lumbwe and his family members among others, said he would continue participating in tournaments that his sponsors would want him to compete him.
Nakachinda commended Essa for his triumph that came after Chipolopolo won the Africa Cup of Nations finals in a year that the director of sports described as a success.
He said 2012 was a successful year for Zambia looking at the major success scored by the various athletes, a feat that was as a result of development and improvement of infrastructure countrywide.
"You now have to work hard as everyone out there wants this title. It is not easy being at the top but I am happy to note that you are ambitious and already aiming high and let me also thank the sponsors for helping you," he said.
He called on other stakeholders to come on board and complement Government's efforts in supporting sport which he said was an expensive venture to be done alone.
Ghumra also commended Essa for his triumph, saying it is not easy to win the ARC but that he managed because of his determination. He urged Essa to continue flying the Zambian flag higher this season.
Lumbwe said Madison were ready to sponsor Essa so that he could realise his dreams as he had shown what he was capable of doing. He said Essa's victory last year was a beginning of many achievem ents for the rally driver and that his company would be with him all the way.
"Let me assure you (Essa) that sponsorship for this year is guaranteed, we are thrilled and excited with your success but you must sustain being on the top and that is why Madison will always be with you," he said.
ZMSA vice president Sam Ching'ambu appealed to the Ministry of Sports through Nakachinda for Essa to present the title to State House, saying his triumph was at par with the AFCON title won by Chipolopolo.