Lebanon and the Middle East’s most promising young racing driver Joe Ghanem admits he loves the ladies and likes a good party.
He actually asked me after our meetup on Yas Island earlier this week – which was in line with the launch of the new Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor, for which he is a brand ambassador – if I was heading to Allure that night (the happening club on Yas), and I had to remind him that it was a Monday and that the club was closed.
But don’t be fooled. Once this 21-year-old gets behind the wheel, or to talking about his passion for Formula 1 and his steely determination to shoulder his way through the crowd to chequered flag greatness, it’s plain as day where his priorities lie.
Would you say your father Samir Ghanem, (who was a prominent Lebanese Rally Champion in the 80s), is the reason behind your passion for motorsport?
As soon as I was born, that was all there was – the cups, the trophies at home, the racing cars… But it’s not only because of the atmosphere in which I grew up, it’s because I had something in me which really attracted me to cars.
And what in particular about cars and motorsport appeals to you so much?
The adrenaline rush. It’s a kind of high you get, unlike any other, when racing, and I believe I have a gift or a talent for it, and I would feel guilty if I lost it. I feel like I’m kind of a messenger who has to give back by going all the way to the top, and the top is Formula 1. But back to that feeling, I like the challenge; it’s a challenging sport which requires guts in order to do it. It needs intelligence, patience…I think my character suits this sport.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Apart from work, of course the gym is essential, and this takes up a big part of my day. Race car drivers do a special type of training which mostly consists of cardio and strength training. It’s not about having big muscles or being very strong, it’s about having endurance to withstand the race. A very important muscle in particular that we work on is the neck because it takes a lot of g-force and normal people couldn’t handle the amount of g-force we do.
Also, I spend a lot of time trying to meet people who can open doors for me in my career, trying to advertise myself, working online, researching and watching any and everything that has to do with cars. Besides mental and physical training, the marketing part is very important in a driver’s career too. It’s an expensive sport and the hardest part is getting the money and sponsorship to continue your career. This is the part of my career I don’t like. It proves to you the unfairness and the politics involved. Money really talks in this case.
You have to do a lot of mileage in a racing car and have a lot of experience until you can be competitive because the competition is very high, and this requires a lot of money. So to start out unfamous and unknown, it’s really tough and you really need to have a good team behind you. So I thank my family because they’re the reason I’m here. They gave me that push and then step by step things started to work out. My father follows my races, sometimes travelling with me, and my sister is my manager.
At 21, do you have any other hobbies?
Ummm other than women, yeah, I have other interests. I go out clubbing with my friends, do a lot of water sports, skiing in winter in Lebanon, hitting the beach and going on boats. I love to live, visit new places, try new things. But at the same time I’m really focused on racing; it’s the way I live, what’s around me on a daily basis…I work as a race instructor at Yas Marina Circuit so this helps keep me close to the cars, close to the track… I keep a good balance. I believe if you don’t have balance in life, you will have a ‘crash’ in one of them. So, never take anything to extremes.
What has been your favourite or most memorable racing event, and why?
The Formula 3 back in the UK because it was a very high step for me. I was the first Lebanese to score a podium finish. Also, the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK series is great (he currently leads the driver standings). And the rallies I’ve done have always been great. I got into rallies because in Lebanon we don’t have any race tracks and when I faced some downs in my career I had nothing to do but rallies. With that said, I’m also very keen on having a future in Rally if Formula 1 doesn’t work out by a certain age, because Rally can be done until a later age.
Favourite race car?
Of course a Formula 1 car, which I haven’t tried yet. I expect it to be a car that scares me, and that excites me. And favourite road car? JG: Ferrari by far. I’ve tested many Ferraris. A team mate in the Maserati trophy, Mr. Tani Hanna – he’s a 47-year-old rookie who I coach and he pays for my racing – is in the UAE Ferrari club and has five new Ferraris and we always test them. For me, it’s not only the car itself, it’s the story behind it; Enzo was an amazing personality. I’ve been to the Ferrari factory in Italy too. You can see the passion they have for this product. Everyone in that town – even in the restaurants etc – are affected by this car.
So, you’re growing in popularity, gaining sponsors and now you’re a brand ambassador for Gillette Arabia. Do you feel pressured at all by this surge in popularity?
Gillette is a very big international name, so I am very grateful. I don’t feel pressured at all. I need all the attention and media I can get to get ahead in this career.
Who is your favourite driver of all time?
I’ve never had a favourite driver but I do look to the big names and take the best characteristics from each one of them to combine them and apply in my life and career. Aryton Senna’s talent, Michael Schumacher’s dominance, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Loeb, Valentino Rossi…all those people who came into motorsport and dominated it. As an Arab driver, I think I am the one who is leading the pack now. I am not a fan of anyone in particular. I am a fan of myself.
Lastly, can you give one word in your native language that can describe your life and your vision?
‘Batal’. It means champion or hero. If I had two words, I would say ‘batal al alam’ – world champion.
Dubai Autodrome will host round five of the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK race series this weekend.
Five drivers are in contention to be crowned the overall Trofeo Champion for the 2011-12 Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK series.
Lebanon’s Joe Ghanem is currently leading the series with 187 points after a slew of victories in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
However, he cannot relax as fellow countryman Zeehog has overcome a poor start to the season and pose a strong challenge in second position.
With 104 points still up for grabs in the series, Zeehog can still take victory with his current tally of 114 points with two rounds still to go.
Team-mates from KSA’s GR8 Racing Faisal Shaker and Mohammed Jawa are sitting in 3rd and 4th positions respectively with 112 and 107 points, while Khaled Al Mudhaf is in 5th position on 96 points.
The Kuwaiti driver has had his fair share of battles in all of the races so far, but holds an advantage going into the fifth round.
Few of the ‘gentlemen’ drivers in the series have raced at the FIA-accredited track on the outskirts of the city, so Al Mudhaf will be using his past experience to try and gain the upper hand.
Joining the ranks of drivers in the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK series this weekend will be UAE driver Humaid Al Masaood.
Al Masaood has vast experience of racing at the Dubai Autodrome having won his class in the Dubai 24hr endurance race and also previously drove the Maserati GranTurismo MC Trofeo during the 2010-11 UAE GT Championship.
The 12-strong field will battle over two 30-minute long races on Friday afternoon following qualifying in the morning.
Umberto Cini, managing director of Maserati Middle East & Africa, is looking forward to seeing the series race in Dubai.
“After some spectacular racing at other circuits across the region we have high hopes that the Dubai Autodrome will provide yet another challenging weekend of racing. As all the cars are mechanically-identical it comes down to the driver to prove himself on the circuit – and they’ve certainly been doing that in previous rounds.”
Motorsport fans who are unable to make it to the circuit can keep up to date with all the action from the track via www.maseraticorse.com and Maserati Middle East & Africa’s facebook page at facebook.com/MaseratiME.
Live race reports and paddock action will also be available via the official Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK twitter account @TrofeoJBFRAK.
The Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Middle East will make its Qatar debut at the Losail International Circuit this weekend.
The series will also be run at night for the first time since its launch three years ago.
And, while the UAE’s Karim Al Azhari will be aiming to build on his fourth place on his series debut in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, his compatriot Musaed Al Murar returns to action after being forced onto the sidelines by work commitments.
Championship leader, Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz Al Faisal, chasing a second title in three years, could take a major step towards that target in Rounds 9 and 10 on Friday and Saturday night.
His nearest challenger, compatriot Bandar Alesayi, trails the 2009-10 champion by 16 points and needs two big performances in Doha to revive his fading title ambitions.
The biggest challenge to Abdulaziz in Qatar, however, could come from young Austrian star Clemens Schmid who has matched the Saudi’s three race wins this season and is relishing another two-round battle for supremacy.
Both will also be aware of the threat from Oman’s Ahmad Al Harthy who returns to the series after missing the last two rounds in Saudi Arabia’s Reem International Circuit, and will be hoping to reproduce the form which took him to victory in Round 4 at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
Fresh from his first GT3 Cup podium finish on home territory at Reem earlier this month, Saeed Al Mouri will be aiming for a repeat performance to strengthen his grip on the third place in the series.
After missing Rounds 7 and 8 at Reem, a fourth Saudi driver, Fawaz Algosabi, has given himself a lot of ground to make up on German Hannes Waimer in the hunt for the Mobil 1 Trophy for rookies and drivers over the age of 45.
Qatar’s excitement at hosting its first GT3 Cup rounds, and the first night races since the series was launched, is heightened by the prospect of a first Qatari Porsche champion in the intermediate class Michelin Silver Trophy.
Veteran Qatari driver Saadon Al Kuwari holds a nine-point advantage over Armin Schmid and will be hoping local knowledge of the Losail International Circuit will help him increase his lead over the Swiss driver.