August 29, 2016 – He’s one of the youngest drivers in the Lebanese Rally Championship and Middle East Rally Championship, and he’s already made a name for himself by securing some outstanding results in the two championships and in only his second year in a rally car. Rodolphe Asmar’s talent is undeniable and it’s an essential ingredient in his quest to become one of the region’s top drivers. We talked to Rodolphe ahead of the 39th Rally of Lebanon, discussing his season so far, his strategy for September’s event and his potential plans.
Q: You drove the Ford Fiesta R5 for the first time in Spring Rally and finished 3rd overall, and then you improved in Jezzine by finishing 2nd overall. You switched to the Mitsubishi Evo X in Cedars Rally but was forced to retire. Regionally, you had lots of success, with 3rd places in Jordan and Qatar. How would you rate your season so far? Is it better than expected?
A: I would say yes, especially in the Middle East Rally Championship in which my results were better than expected; it is my first year in the regional championship and the first season I compete on gravel. We were surprised with our good pace in Qatar, and then we started to improve event after event; we could have probably won in Jordan if it weren’t for the issues we faced. We learned a lot; we are improving and learning from our mistakes, which is the most important thing.
Q: You’ve driven on gravel and on asphalt and in very different conditions. What has been the toughest event for you this year, both locally and regionally?
A: Both the Middle East Rally Championship and Lebanese Rally Championship were difficult; I had to adapt to the gravel stages, which were completely different to asphalt. However, I also had difficulty on asphalt because there was a constant pressure to deliver in front of my home crowd. Nevertheless, we did not let those difficulties hamper our progress and were able to translate them into positive results. We were able to deliver from the outset here in Lebanon, and Motortune Racing’s expertise coupled with Joseph Matar’s experience helped me out massively in the MERC.
Q: We know that your main focus is the Middle East Rally Championship. You’re 4th in the MERC standings and 2nd in the MERC 2/Group N standings. Do you think Rally of Lebanon gives you an advantage over your MERC rivals?
A: It is true, my main focus is the MERC because I’m not competing for any titles here in Lebanon, so our work is aimed at the MERC. I will try to gain as many points as possible in Rally of Lebanon and I should be able to benefit from the foreign drivers’ lack of experience on asphalt to gain valuable points that should help us remain in contention for the Group N/MERC 2 title. I just hope we don’t run into any problems in order to avoid losing any points.
Q: What’s your strategy for Rally of Lebanon?
A: Naturally, our target is to win and gain maximum points. We will try to be as fast as possible without taking any risks. If my Group N competitors are too far ahead, I would have to settle for 2nd or 3rd in the category, but I will definitely push for victory if we see that it is possible.
Q: This is the second time you tackle Rally of Lebanon. Have you learned anything from your previous experience in 2015?
A: I couldn’t pass the 50-kilometer mark in last year’s edition of the event, so it doesn’t really count and there was really nothing to learn, which is why I can’t do a proper comparison, especially from a performance point of view. I’m just hoping for the best this year.
Q: You won the Lebanese Hill Climb Championship in Group N. Firstly, describe your season-long battle with Eddy Abou Karam. Secondly, do you think the title triumph gives you more confidence going into Rally of Lebanon?
A: It was a brilliant fight with Eddy, great sportsmanship. I couldn’t go for a third attempt in the first round in Arsoun so I did not properly compete for the win there. In Bkassine, Eddy had an accident in his second attempt and we were able to win. As for Baabdat, I was under a lot pressure to deliver and I was pushing hard but I pulled it off in the end.
It’s very nice to have a title and it does give me confidence. We knew we had good pace in a Group N car in the Cedars Rally and our results in the Hill Climb championship confirmed it. I think we should be even faster in Rally of Lebanon.
Q: Do you think you’re ready to make the switch to an R5 for next year’s MERC and is there a plan in hand?
A: It’s every driver’s ambition to compete in an R5, but it is very expensive and we had a certain budget for this year, which is why we preferred to appear in more events but in a lower category car. Our aim is to compete in an R5 and we’re gonna try our best to have the car for a full season next year.
Q: Are there any sponsors for Rally of Lebanon and who would you like to thank?
A: We have no main sponsor, but I would like to thank IPT and Athletic Training Performance for their backing. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without the valuable input of Roger and Abdo Feghali, my co-drivers Joseph Matar, Georges Nader and now Ziad Chehab. Lastly, a big thank you to my family for its continuous support and for always being there for me.