August 29, 2016 – He’s been enjoying one of his most successful seasons ever, as evident by his maiden victory in Jezzine Rally. He’s 2nd in the Lebanese Rally Championship, but the fourth and final round of the season, the 39th Rally of Lebanon, won’t be an easy affair for him as he’ll have to face five R5 cars in his Evo X R4. We interviewed Tamer Ghandour a few days ahead of Rally of Lebanon in order to discuss his season so far, his preparations for ROL and his plan for next year.
Q: You had a great start to the season with 2nd place overall in Spring Rally, and then a major career breakthrough in Jezzine Rally, scoring your 1st ever victory. You could’ve finished on the podium at the Cedars Rally if it weren’t for a late mechanical problem. Was the season better than expected?
A: It has been a brilliant season, despite our late retirement in the Cedars Rally, which was caused by a clutch failure. There has been ups and downs and we needed to adapt to the car, but I believe our performance was very good and the car preparations were outstanding. We are very ready for Rally of Lebanon.
Q: You were one of the main championship contenders in Group N last year, but you switched to an Evo X R4 this season. What made you take that decision, knowing very well that there are faster R5 cars?
A: I made the switch to a Mitsubishi Evo X R4 because we had been competing in Group N for many seasons, and we did not have the budget for an R5. We wanted to progress in order to boost our chances in the Lebanese Rally Championship, and the only option available within our budget was upgrading to an R4. We made the upgrade and it helped us in many areas, but it required a bit of getting used to. I don’t plan on competing with R5 cars but the aim, like I said, was to boost our chances; it’s impossible to catch a good driver in an R5, but I’m there to snatch the opportunity in case anyone falters. We had some good races, especially in Jezzine, where we were able to challenge Roger and Abdo.
Q: How are you preparations for Rally of Lebanon?
A: I’m extremely ready for Rally of Lebanon. We tested throughout the season, not just before Rally of Lebanon, and we got to understand the car during the Lebanese Rally Championship and Lebanese Hill Climb Championship. The Evo X R4 is slightly different than its Group N counterpart, and you can benefit from its lower weight in certain situations. However, the gap between the two cars will be clearly visible in Rally of Lebanon, in which the stages are quite long, unlike the previous rounds where the longest stage was no more than 15 kilometers. You need stages that are more than 20 kilometers long in order to really feel the difference between the two cars; Group N cars are more fragile on the longer stages, and that’s where the R4’s advantage starts to appear.
Q: What is your strategy and target for Rally of Lebanon? There are five R5 cars that are theoretically faster than you.
A: My main target is to have fun, perform well and enjoy myself out there. We will attempt to finish in the top 5. There are five R5 cars that are faster, which is why we need to push hard. However, a top 5 finish is a realistic target for us.
Q: Tell us more about your relationship with your co-driver Salim Jleilaty.
A: Salim is a childhood friend; we used to race karts together and drive cars together. I began my racing career alongside Alain Georr because he had a lot of experience and I needed someone like him. When I earned my own experience, I decided to bring Salim into the team because he completely understands me as we’ve been friends for as long as I can remember. We’re completely in sync outside the car, and I needed that sort of dynamic inside the car. Salim is a very calm person and he’s gained the necessary experience, so we’re doing a lot of long and fast stages together. I’m very happy to have him and there’s a lot of chemistry between the two of us. We go through our ups and downs, but we always talk things through and solve our differences.
Q: What about Motortune Racing? How is it like being part of their team?
A: I have to thank them a lot because we’ve been working together relentlessly since the beginning of the season. Roger helped me develop and he helped me quickly adapt to the R4 through his valuable feedback. The car let us down in the Cedars Rally because of a very petty mechanical problem, and stuff like that happen, but other than that, I have no complaints whatsoever.
Q: You had your first taste of an R5 in Baabdat Hill Climb when you drove a Ford Fiesta R5. Tell us more about that experience. Also, how would you compare it to the R4?
A: Everyone was shocked to see me in the Fiesta R5 in Baabdat because the car lacks power and torque compared with the R4 or Group N, so it’s not suitable for a Hill Climb, but an opportunity to drive the car presented itself and I took it. It was an outstanding car, and I was extremely happy because I immediately adapted to it. My main target was to match the Group N times, and thankfully, I was able to do so. The main difference between the R5 and R4/Group N is in power, torque and endurance. You cannot easily extract maximum performance from an R5 car in a Hill Climb because of the short distance, but the brakes and tyres never seem to fade. It’s such a pleasurable car to drive and it was the best ever experience for me. We tried to have one for Rally of Lebanon but there was none available.
Q: Having driven the R5, is there a plan to compete in one next year?
A: Definitely, definitely. Plan A is to compete in an R5 for a full season next year because these cars are the future of rallying. Plan B is to stick with the R4; it’s the best car budget-wise and it’s very fast, but we need to upgrade to an R5 if we’re looking to advance and progress.
Q: Tamer, who has been your support throughout the year and who would you like to thank?
A: I would like to thank my family for their ongoing support. A lot of time, effort and money have gone into this, and there were a lot of sacrifices, so I thank them for being there for me. Also, a big thank you to my sponsors Beit Misk, which is like a second family to me, in addition to API, Khoury Sanitary, Signs & Beyond, Bosch, MV Agusta, Ziad Richa and A to Z Printing. I’m also grateful to a lot of people behind the scenes and, of course, to you guys and all of the media for the coverage.