August 31, 2016 – He has never been off the podium so far this season and he aims to keep it that way at the 39th running of Rally of Lebanon. Bassel Abou Hamdan leads the RC3 class in the Lebanese Rally Championship but he doesn’t plan on playing safe as he has his sights firmly set on a class victory this coming weekend. We interviewed Bassel ahead of the event in order to find out more about his preparations and his target.
Q: You finished 3rd in Spring Rally, 1st in Jezzine Rally and 2nd in Cedars Rally. You lost the win in the Cedars due to a penalty at the very last minute. Tell us more about your season.
A: It has been a great season, I have no complaints. Unfortunately, we had a small issue at the end of the Cedars Rally that prevented us from reaching the podium on time, so we had to settle for 2nd place. I had a lot of pressure at work and distractions in my personal life, so I wasn’t completely focused. Other than that, everyone did their job perfectly, the car was great and the only problems were coming from my side because I was under a lot of stress and I was not giving the championship my all.
Q: You lost the Lebanese Hill Climb Championship FWD title to Patrick Njeim in the final round in Baabdat. It was close between the two of you. What went wrong for you?
A: They changed the points system this year, otherwise we would’ve been comfortably in the lead. I think the cancellation of the third heat in Bkassine did not do me good because my first two runs were far from ideal and I had a lot more pace in hand, but I couldn’t improve due to the cancellation and I think Rony Kanaan suffered the same fate. We didn’t expect Patrick to be in the mix in the 208 R2, but he’s a wonderful driver who’s focused and determined. In the final round in Baabdat, I under-fueled the car in the third and final heat because of my lack of focus, so I lost power at some point and I lost almost 3 seconds as a result, which cost me the win.
Q: Naturally, your focus is now on Rally of Lebanon. How are your preparations?
A: We did not proceed with any tests because I had only arrived to Lebanon a couple of days ago. I completed two runs in every stage in Recce and I think they’re enough for Rally of Lebanon. I would’ve prepared as well as other drivers had I had the time, but our lack of preparation does not mean we’re going to be uncompetitive.
Q: You’re leading the RC3 championship. What’s your strategy, knowing you have tough competitors such as Rony, Henry and Robert? Are you going to attack or are you going to play it safe in order to secure the title?
A: We never compete to play it safe, we’re here to race. We already took the title in the past, so we’re not extremely eager to secure another one and we’re more focused on winning Rally of Lebanon.
Q: With Robert and Henry having very low chances of securing the title. Do you think their participation will be a positive or negative in the fight for the title between you and Rony?
A: I think their presence is a big positive because they push me to do my best. Let’s not forget about Rony as well, he has improved so much and he’s a great sportsman. I just hope everyone will be in the mix. I don’t think anyone’s presence is a negative, because we’re all here to compete and apply our experience. I think I’m going to be happy with the outcome knowing we did our best in a stressful season for me.
Q: You’ve been with your co-driver Firas Elias since the beginning of your racing career. What’s the secret to your success?
A: I think that is the best question I’ve ever heard. Firas is someone who is dear to me. He’s a fantastic co-driver who I trust a lot and who helps me improve in my weakest areas. There’s a lot of harmony between the two of us and we’re both equally experienced. I tested with different co-drivers outside of Lebanon and that’s when I discovered the importance of having a co-driver that is close to you.
Q: Bassel, you’ve been competing in front-wheel drive cars for a long time. Have you considered upgrading to all-wheel drive? What’s Plan A for next year?
A: I would love to upgrade to all-wheel drive because it has a special taste for me and I used to drive all-wheel drive cars before switching to front-wheel drive. To be honest, a FWD car’s running cost is cheaper throughout the season, which is why we chose it, and it’s also very enjoyable to drive and requires courage. I would definitely switch to an all-wheel drive car, perhaps an R5, if the budget is there. However, we all know that it’s very expensive and needs a lot of effort.
Q: Who has been your support throughout the season? Who would you like to thank?
A: I would like to thank my family, my wife and my friends for the moral support. A big thank you to Maher Monzer who always puts us as his number 1 priority and who has been preparing the car perfectly, in addition to Roger Feghali who helped us with the setup, and Philippe Kazan for always being there. Of course, I’m also very grateful to Firas Elias who I consider head of the team. There’s also my sponsors Cordoba, Ayadi Group, ACT Holding and Tadeem. I hope we can do our best despite the lack of preparation. We all know Rally of Lebanon is long and is never won in the first couple of stages. Best of luck to every crew and a big welcome to all the foreign competitors.