The roar could be heard from the gateway to Yas, as I drove into the circuit last Friday, the 27th of January. As usual, the spirit that charged up the air in Yas Marina lay heavy on my right foot as I resisted a nagging urge to step up. The roar of the Maserati qualifiers hung heavy in the air and dust was still settling down. Soon, the race began, and it continued after a break for the UAE Grand Touring Race to complete the twin race leg of the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK. Some had to be happy today, and some sad to lose the game. But ironically, everyone seemed to be happy!
At the home of Formula One in the UAE, young Lebanese driver Joe Ghanem scored a double victory in Round 3 of the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK. Competition in the one-make race series was intense with action across the field in both 30-minute races.
In the qualifying sessions, the drivers drove criss-cross and helter-skelter in a seemingly anarchic fashion. The madness was in the air, literally. The 18º c chill winds had to be overcome first to bring their tyres up to optimum temperature before they could attack the circuit at qualifying pace!
Ghanem and Italy’s Patrick Zamparini were the only drivers to break through the 1min 14sec barrier, but the field from 3rd to 8th position are separated by just 1sec so it bodes well for an exciting race. By the end of the race, rookie Cheerag Arya has learnt his lessons so well that his Maserati GranTurismo MC Trofeo wound up 10th on the grid.
At the start of the first race, Ghanem capitalized on his pole position and drove faultless for the full 30-minute session taking victory over Zamparini with a comfortable 15second margin. After intervention from the Stewards over a racing incident involving Faisal Shaker and Justino de Azacarte Riveroll in the latter stages of the race, 3rd place was awarded to Zeehog from Lebanon.
In the second qualifying session, it was once again Ghanem and Zamparini battling it out to secure the frontline but as the day warmed up, Lebanon’s Zeehog and Justino de Azacarte Riveroll from Venezuela gave a tough fight and qualified within the 1m 14sec barrier.
The dramatic event had its share of dramatic showdowns as well! As the day drew to a close, Ghanem was called into the Stewards Office and had his fastest lap disallowed due to track infringement and was demoted to 2nd on the grid as a result. This only made the young driver, who sharpened his skills at the Yas Marina itself, even more determined to win the second race.
As the deafening roar of the battle continued, Ghanem and Zamparini led the pack with the pair swapping places a number of times throughout the race with Ghanem victorious at the fall of the chequered flag. Venezuela’s Justino de Azacarte Riveroll secured a well-deserved third place finish.
Joe Ghanem was elated with his day’s performance. “Two starts, two wins! I started the weekend really focused and had an advantage because I know the track a lot, so I had the chance to really experience the car. I think the Maserati Trofeo is the best racing series in the Middle East. I really can’t wait for each Maserati weekend. They’re very exciting!”
Further down the field, there was action between drivers fighting over every position on the grid. Kuwait’s Khaled Al Mudhaf fought two hard races with KSA’s Mohammed Jawa with each driver taking a moral victory over the other.
Maserati had its own man taking part in the race. Umberto Cini, Managing Director of Maserati Middle East & Africa, proved to be every inch worth of his brand, racing within Round 3 to secure an honourable 8th and 5th positions in the races. “It was a great experience to be out on the track with the other drivers in the series as it showed me first hand not only the quality of the racing, but the camaraderie between all of the drivers in the series. It was a great opportunity to race alongside some of the region’s most gentlemanly drivers, and I would urge anyone interested in some of the best racing on offer in the Middle East to contact us to try for yourself.” He threw open the battlefield with his words!
The next round of the Maserati Trofeo JBF RAK series takes place at the Losail International Circuit in Qatar on February 16th-17th. You can stay up to date with all the action from the paddock by logging onto facebook.com/MaseratiME, on twitter at @TrofeoJBFRAK or via the dedicated section within www.maseraticorse.com. DriveME will bring you the relevant action from time to time. So stay logged in!
Pictures from the pit stop: Sudeep Koshy