Ben Sulayem Raring To Go In Syria, And Aiming To Give Ford An Anniversary Title Mohammed Ben Sulayem is aiming for a winning return to action when he chases a fifth victory of the season at the wheel of his Ford Focus World Rally Car in the...
Ben Sulayem Raring To Go In Syria, And Aiming To Give Ford An Anniversary Title
Mohammed Ben Sulayem is aiming for a winning return to action when he chases a fifth victory of the season at the wheel of his Ford Focus World Rally Car in the Syrian International Rally on September 6-7.
The Arab world's top driver has fully recovered after his dramatic exit from last month's Rally of Lebanon, and he looks forward here to the latest event to enter the FIA Middle East Rally Championship.
Q: Have you and your co-driver, Ronan Morgan, recovered fully from your accident in Lebanon?
A: Thankfully, we have. It's well known now that I was treated for first-degree burns to my face and neck, and Ronan had treatment for second-degree burns to the right side of his face and both hands. But neither of us has been left with any after-effects. We were blessed.
Q: How has the accident affected you?
A: It has definitely made me even more conscious of the need to prepare thoroughly for all events, and take every precaution. We were both wearing our rally suits at the time, and they protected us from more serious injuries. I've seen drivers roll down their suits to the waist after completing a stage, and this was a lesson to everyone to make sure you're wearing the best protective clothing at all times during an event.
Now, I can't wait to drive the Ford Focus WRC in Syria. It's the car I drove in Jordan, although it's been completely rebuilt since then.
I'm just as eager as ever to win the Middle East drivers' championship, but my main goal is to give Ford the manufacturers' title again to mark the 100th anniversary this year of the company's debut in motorsport.
Q: It's a pity that the accident marred your last rally with Ronan Morgan. How much has he brought to your rallying career?
A: Ronan has played a huge part in my success. We were a team, working together to get the best out of each other. He wasn't just my co-driver, he was my best friend, and someone I could always rely on, trust, and depend on. He gave a huge amount of effort and commitment to me, and I'll always be grateful to him. We won't be competing together again, but we'll be friends as long as we live.
Q: How hard has it been to find a replacement?
A: You can't replace someone like Ronan easily. Our partnership was the most successful in international rallying in terms of the number of rallies, and championships, we won in our 14 years together. Of course I'll miss him, but we'll always be friends. Khaled Zakaria was with me this year in Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, and we won all three rallies. He'll be rejoining me for Syria, and we'll take it from there, with just one other event to follow for me in Dubai this year. Khaled has done very well so far, and we'll sit down at the end of the season and discuss plans for next year.
Q: What do you see as the future for the Middle East Championship, it seems to be creating a lot of interest for overseas drivers/spectators?
A: The future looks very bright. The championship is expanding. Cyprus and Bahrain joined the championship in the last couple of years, and Syria is in the championship for the first time this year. Saudi Arabia has now held two rallies and that's a very exciting development which could lead to Saudi becoming another major championship venue in the next few years.
The championship really needs the support of more manufacturers. Ford is the only major manufacturer actively involved in the championship at the moment.
I'd like to see some of the other major manufacturers, particularly the Japanese, supporting Middle East drivers. These guys already drive their cars in the championship, and the manufacturers get a lot of good mileage out of it through media coverage, without contributing. They sell a lot of cars in the Middle East, and they should support motor sport here.
Q: Are there many new challengers coming into the championship that could challenge your domination?
A: There are some very good drivers capable of challenging me, but two of them are competing in the World Championship at the moment -- Abdullah Bakhashab of Saudi Arabia, and Hamed Wahaibi from Oman. I had some tremendous battles with Abdullah before he left the Middle East, and although Hamed has only competed here in Group N, he is obviously a very talented driver and would be a big threat if he was here.
It's not for me to say where they should drive in the future, but if they did return to the Middle East Championship, it would be great for rallying here.
Q: What do you do to relax after demanding events of hard competition?
A: It's takes some time to unwind. After each rally finishes, there are a lot of media interviews, requests for photographs from the press, and rally fans, a press conference, and then a prizegiving dinner. All that can be tiring, especially if it's been a really tough event. After all the official business is over, I always like to get home as soon as I can to see my children, and being with them helps me relax.
Q: What do your friends / family think of your passion and success in the sport?
A: Generally, I think they understand my love of rallying, and they're all proud of what I've achieved, just as I am.
Q: How much longer will you continue to compete?
A: Because of my relationship with Ford, I get to drive the best rally cars in the world, and that's something that excites me. I'll carry on for as long as I feel that excitement. I still have a lot of driving ahead of me, and I haven't thought seriously about retirement, although I know that will come some day.