September 2, 2015 – Eddy Abou Karam is one of the top contenders to clinch the Lebanese Rally Championship Group N title at the 38th Rally in Lebanon. In a recent interview, Eddy talks about how his 2015 season, his hopes and preparations for Rally of Lebanon, and the competition.
Eddy, how are you preparations for the 2015 Rally of Lebanon, especially after winning the Group N title in the Lebanese Hill Climb Championship, and you’re currently competing for Lebanese Rally Championship title, both for the overall title and the Group N title?
We carried out two tests prior to Rally of Lebanon, they were great and we found the perfect balance and setup for the car. We’ll be doing recce and we’re gonna be very focused on the pacenotes.
We won the Group N title in the Lebanese Hill Climb Championship, but winning the Lebanese Rally Championship is not our aim. However, it would be very nice if we can take it. Our main aim is to clinch the Group N title, and it’s going to be tough; we’re gonna try to have an error-free rally, and the faster man will win in the end.
What is the reason behind your drop in performance during the last couple of events, in the Cedars’ Rally when you weren’t 100 percent on the pace, and in the Bkassine Hill Climb when you clinched the title but couldn’t make the podium?
We tried a new setup on our car in the Cedars’ Rally and it didn’t suit my driving style very well, it took me some getting used to and we were lost with the braking zones. In Bkassine, I didn’t have to push, I only had to secure the title; I tried not to commit any mistakes in order not to lose the opportunity to win the title, which was one of our aims, and thankfully, we pulled through.
You had a very strong start to the season, with a fantastic second place overall in the Spring Rally, and you lead in Jezzine Rally; you won in Deir El Qamar and you were very fast in Falougha. This great start gave you a good points advantage, but your problem in Jezzine cost you the championship lead. How does this affect your preparations for the 38th Rally of Lebanon and the competition with your teammate Rodrigue Rahi who’s ahead of you in the standings?
Our season started in outstanding fashion, we were great and we were on the pace in the first rally, but it could’ve been better; there were some timing issues during the rally, and I wasn’t aware of my time and how much I need to push; they [the ATCL] made a final decision several times, but they changed it. To this day, I don’t know the reasons, although they have GPS tracking technology and they have everything to know just how much we lost time.
Jezzine Rally was great, but it was also the biggest blow for us. I’m not sad, however, because my performance was fantastic and I was doing great; we were competing on the highest level and we made a mistake; we learn from our mistakes and I don’t regret it, I was trying to push, which is good because I’m trying to improve my level and my pace. I’m just sad for the points, if it weren’t for Jezzine, we would’ve been leading the Group N standings, and would’ve been in a better position in the overall championship.
Others have made mistakes, I think Rodrigue was consistent and he was able to complete all of the rallies, although he wasn’t in great positions. He did very well in the Cedars’ Rally, while I had a puncture, but this is rallying, everyone’s exposed to losing or winning because of something trivial.
How much do you think the intra-team relationship between yourself and Rodrigue might affect the competition in Rally of Lebanon, and how do you see the team’s approach in terms of preparations and driver priority, considering it’s going to be a fierce battle between you?
Rodrigue and I have a very good relationship. There are no conflicts, we work separately and we test separately, I have my testing time and he has his testing time in order to avoid conflicts; even in the garage, he has days allocated in order to rebuild his car, and I have my own days as well. Tony [Germany] organizes all of this without causing any conflicts.
The best man will win, the one who’s faster and luckier – of course luck plays a part – will win. I think the driver with the best overall combination will win the rally in the end.
There is plenty of “card shuffling” in Rally of Lebanon, especially with Nicolas Amiouni’s return to competition and his aim to win in Group N. How will this affect your title chances, considering that it’s very a tight fight and anyone can steal points away from you?
Of course, Nicolas’ return will increase the competition. He aims to win the rally and he doesn’t have championship points. I also dream of winning Rally of Lebanon and the championship. I think if I lead the rally in Group N, I will be crowned with the Group N title. It’s gonna be a nice rally, it’s nice to have more competition. Nicolas’ participation will not just affect me, it will affect Tamer and Rodrigue and everyone competing in Group N. I hope it will be a nice rally and I wish everyone the best of luck.
Tamer Ghandour was better in terms of raw speed in the last few events. Do you think he’s faster, or are you faster and it was a strategy from your part to preserve the car or preserve points?
I have no doubt that Tamer is very fast and has plenty of experience, a lot more than myself. He knows how to benefit in areas that require experience and other small areas that make a difference. There are places where we are better, and in the end, I’m the one who’s knocking on their door. I have been racing since 2011, but I started taking it seriously in 2012, and I think I’m the one who’s knocking on their door and I’m doing a good job. I think we’re good, we’re in a good position.
Last year, you lead Rally of Lebanon for a short period but you had mechanical trouble that was perhaps avoidable. How much did you learn from past experiences, especially last year, to preserve the car and finish the rally, considering Group N aren’t ideal for lengthy rallies?
Leading Rally of Lebanon last year was great, and I don’t think anyone has ever done it before with the experience I had. Of course, our mistake was disappointing, we broke the rear driveshaft and then we tried to push hard, but we picked up two punctures. I learned a lot from last year’s rally. Rally of Lebanon is a school and every kilometer in it is a school. I think this year will show that we learned from last year, we’ll be a lot better this year.
Indeed, Group N cars don’t endure very well compared to R5 and RRC cars, and even R3T cars, which are relatively new, and R3 cars, but we have to take good care of the car and be slightly easy on it. I think I’m doing better in this area, we’re not facing any problems, we’re not breaking any driveshafts, we didn’t have any mechanical problems this year. It also depends on my driving style, which got better with help from my team, I’m trying to improve myself. Group N cars are competitive, but you got to know how to use them.
How would you describe your relationship with your co-driver Joseph Kmeid after spending a decent period of time with him in the car and after many successes this year and last year. How is the chemistry between you, and how is it helping you improve?
Of course, Joseph Kmeid has been in the game for a long time and he has a lot of experience with the ATCL rules and regulations, with the notes and with the special stages. Joseph is helping us improve, he’s very experienced, he knows where I need to push and where I need to take it easy. He’s doing his job perfectly.
Rally of Lebanon is the biggest event of the year, and we’re seeing plenty of drivers complain about sponsorship and are competing from personal investment. You have been backed by the family business, but we’re not seeing a new sponsor that has noticed your success. What is happening in that regard?
You know very well that it’s a tough situation with the sponsors, even drivers with more titles and experience are finding it hard to attract sponsors, and some of them have sponsors, but they ran out of budget and were no longer able to continue. For the first time, we have Eurol lubricants backing us for this rally and they wanted to give us a push after seeing that we have a chance to win the title. I hope we can manage a good result, perhaps we’ll receive more support from more sponsors in an approach similar to Eurol.
There has been changes to the Rally of Lebanon itinerary, including a new stage in Toula. What do you think of the new stage, and what kind of cars does it suit, knowing that it will be very tough on the brakes?
The super special stage is very nice; the super special kicks off the rally in a spectacular way and attracts a lot people, who can enjoy the rally cars. It attracts more people than all of the rally.
We have to wait and see the new stage in Toula, we’ll be doing recce, but it looks fast and demanding, judging by the videos we’ve seen; it’s nice to see some changes and I hope that they always introduce changes; I hope they can find us a nice new stage in order to improve the competition and avoid saturation, as everyone knows every special stage.
How are the team’s preparations and its support throughout the year? What are the team’s chances in the different categories, especially with Henry Massaad who’s leading the front-wheel drive category?
Tony – and the team – as usual, does his job perfectly, and he’s fair with every driver and he tries to motivate all of us. Henry’s arrival to the team, although late, is good to Tony’s business, and Henry’s got a great chance of winning the front-wheel drive class title, and even the Rally of Lebanon. I wish everyone the best of luck.
What is your best memory from Rally of Lebanon and what kind of memory would you like to make?
My best memory of Rally of Lebanon is from last year, when I managed to lead the rally, and even after that, we clocked some great times in trouble-free stages; the performance was very good and I learned a lot. I hope I can apply and combine everything I learned from the 2014 event, which was a school for me, in order to do a good rally and take the win.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I wish the best of luck to all of the teams and drivers, I hope they can manage a good and safe rally. I also hope that the ATCL will do its job, for once, and that they’ll abide by the rules and regulations, without any bias; I hope that they’ll be fair with everyone.