Montreal Canadien finds Motorsports in Middle East.
By Nasir Hameed
Ramez Azzam is competing in this year’s Formula Renault WEC Championship.
He also raced against Jean Alesi and Johnny Herbert in Speed Car Series.
Hameed: Your racing career started in Middle East, what is the level of interest among local youngsters in motorsports?
Azzam: It is still relatively low. The number of youngsters in the national karting championship is always increasing. I think when the Formula 1 comes to Abu Dhabi there will be a lot more interest in motorsport for the younger generation which should hopefully encourage them to start karting.
Hameed: How long were you in karting?
Azzam: I didn’t do much serious karting at all. I started in rental karts in February 2005 and that’s pretty much all I did till the end of 2006. Then my dad bought me and my older brother racing karts and I participated in one round before going off to do Formula Campus.
Hameed: You attended Autosport Academy in France, what did that experience teach you in race craft?
Azzam: It was a good opportunity to do the Autosport Academy as a start into motorsport in Europe. I think I learnt a lot about competitiveness in this year and that you can never let a tenth go because it matters!
Hameed: Who is guiding and managing your career?
Azzam: The person who really got me into motorsport is David Terrien, an ex-karting world champion and he is currently managing the karting track in Dubai. He takes care of the driving side of things. For everything else my manager Marco Zecchi handles!
Hameed: You raced in Formula Renault in 2008, was the learning curve in a more competitive environment and new tracks wider than you expected?
Azzam: I was always going into the season as one of the most, if not the most inexperienced driver. I knew from the start it was going to be a tough season and it turned out to be even more competitive than I had expected!
Hameed: Where do you see the biggest improvement in you as a driver compared to your rookie year in single seaters?
Azzam: The biggest improvement is probably confidence within the car. When I jump into a single seater now I feel more in control of the car no matter what the weather conditions are like. In my rookie season in cars it was very difficult to adapt to different track and weather conditions as I live in the U.A.E where it was either dry or sandy!
Also being with a strong team helps my driving and confidence a lot. I have built a strong relationship with my engineers and mechanics and this helps a lot with confidence on track.
Hameed: You have started the 2009 season with a podium finish at Nogaro, what is your goal for this season?
Azzam: My goal for the season is to improve race by race and become more competitive. Podium finishes is a goal that I will aim for in the early part of the season before hopefully improving and starting to go for the top step
Hameed: Earlier in February you took part in the Speed Car race in Dubai, how did this deal come about and what was it like racing against ex-Grand Prix drivers?
Azzam: The deal came in unfortunate circumstances. A relative of the original driver Hasher Al Maktoum passed away, so he was unable to participate in race two. I had my dad waking me up on the Saturday morning telling me I was racing so it was a big surprise!
It was a real experience racing against the likes of Johnny Herbert and Jean Alesi, not many 17 year olds can say they raced against the greats of motorsport so I am proud of having that!
Hameed: What part of Canada are you from and where is home base during the racing season?
Azzam: I lived in Montreal in Canada. My home base during last season was in United Arab Emirates, but this year I am moving to Milton Keynes in the UK.
Hameed: How do you find drivers in junior category in terms of friendliness, are some already displaying cut-throat mentality that motor racing is famous for?
Azzam: A lot of us get on quite well as friends off the track, but on track it is a war whether you are teammates or in rival teams. Sometimes the arguments on track continue off the track but I like to mind my own business and do my talking on track!
Hameed: What is the Azzam Agenda for the next few years?
Azzam: Well we are still in the very early stages of the 2009 season, so we must see how the first half of this year goes before starting to plan the next two years. The next ideal step is a Formula 3 championship or possibly Formula Master.
Hameed: Any interest in Indy or Nascar racing in future?
Azzam: It’s a completely different type of racing but I wouldn’t rule it out in the future!