March 1, 2017 – Eddy Abou Karam won the Group N title of the 2016 Lebanese Rally Championship after a phenomenal season alongside Joseph Kmeid in a Mitsubishi Evo X. For 2017, Eddy decided to take things up a notch by switching to an i20 R5 – Hyundai’s latest R5-spec rally car. We discuss Eddy’s 2017 plans in this interview.
Q: Eddy, you accomplished your target last year by winning the Group N title. This year, you’re switching to a Hyundai i20 R5. Why did you choose the Hyundai?
A: When I entered the world of rallying, I was never expecting any results as it was purely for fun. After I started feeling good in the car, I made it my goal to challenge more experienced drivers and fight for the championship title crown, which we achieved last year. Having done that, I am always looking for new challenges so this is my new one. I chose the Hyundai i20 R5 because I wanted to do something that nobody has done before and it seems that the car has good potential. It’s also part of the challenge as I am always ready to learn from my own experience and not from somebody else’s, although that would take more time.
Q: Have you had the chance to test the Hyundai i20 R5? And how is it different from the Group N car?
A: I have only cruised in the i20 R5 near the plant in Germany, but I did test Skoda Fabia R5 here in Lebanon and in Spain in order to get an idea on the new R5 cars. I plan to do a big testing program on home soil which I think will benefit me more than testing in another country. It’s a big difference between the Group N and the R5, in terms of driving style, power, gear ratios and much more. All I have to do is try to adjust my driving techniques to suit the R5 since it’s completely new for me.
Q: We know that there are several drivers who have been driving R5 cars for a while now, so they’re going to be hard to catch. What is your plan and target for 2017?
A: I know it’s going to be difficult to really get the hang of the car quickly but I am very motivated to do a great job behind the steering wheel, although it may take a while but that’s what pushes me forward to be ready for the fights as nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it.
There’s a good chance that we may skip the opening round of the 2017 season because the car might not be here on time due to many setbacks. A lot of people tried to prevent this plan from happening, but everything worked out well in the end and we have a two-year plan to race the car.
Q: Is your co-driver Joseph Kmeid part of the two-year program?
A: Yes, Joseph has earned his place in it and I hope he will always have the motivation, like me, to keep improving.
Q: Roger Feghali recently sampled the i20 R5 with Hyundai Motorsport. Has there been any communication between the two of you? Have you shared feedback?
A: Yes, I was completely aware that he was going to test the car, but I haven’t gotten any feedback from him. As I told you, I prefer to learn my own way so I don’t think it would have mattered if he passed the feedback along or not. Also, I would have gladly offered my car for him to test as I owe it to him for letting me test the Fabia R5 late last year.
Q: Have you found any sponsors for the new season? We’re aware that an R5 car is much more expensive to run and maintain than a Group N car.
A: I have been in negotiations with some sponsors and I hope they fall into place before the start of season since, as you mentioned, the costs almost doubled compared to a Group N car, but I have high hopes that we will get some support along with what we pay personally.
Q: You’ve been competing with Tony Germany Rally Skills (TGRS) team since the start of your career. How is the switch to an R5 going to affect that? And will you be getting support from the factory?
A: We will be working closely with Hyundai Motorsport who will provide us with chassis, engine and electronics engineers to support us, but all of this is under the wing of TGRS. It’s a new challenge to TGRS as much as it is to me and I hope they will live up to the expectations, which is something I don’t doubt.
Q: Are there any specific people who have helped you reach this stage? Anyone you would like to thank?
A: First of all, I would like to thank everyone who tried to prevent this from happening or tried to take advantage of me; they only made me stronger and more insisting to see this through. The real people who helped me reach this stage are extremely dear to my heart and I cannot thank them enough so I will not be doing it publicly. Also, I would like to thank you guys for being there.