This is a common desire for guys who compete on the track and one which is difficult to realise. It is even tougher if you are from a country, like Lebanon, where, apart from karts, there are no racetracks to speak of. It is in karting where Ghanem first began dreaming of a future in F1.
“I began racing karts in Lebanon at the age of fourteen. I spent two years in the category before switching to single-seaters in Bahrain. However, to drive professionally I had to move to Europe. It is here where the major championships are held and where the most difficult circuits are found. Europe was also the setting for the A1 Series, a championship I appeared in for half a season before it was, unfortunately, suspended. I then went back to Lebanon where I began taking part in on-road rallies as there are no racetracks”.
It was not an easy time for Ghanem but, thanks to new backers, one that he managed to overcome.
“I came back to Europe in 2009 thanks to a Qatar-based sponsor who wanted to support my efforts to make it into Formula 1. My route to F1 began with a season in Formula 3 before I raced in the last two British championship events, even making the podium. However, I had to put it all on hold again and go back to Lebanon as the sponsor had decided to suspend the investments in my career”.
Still, in 2011, his career reached a turning point.
“Once I had left Europe, I went back to rallying so that I kept my eye in in terms of speed. This year, though, I had a look at what was on offer in other Middle Eastern countries. Luckily for me, motor-racing is becoming more popular and so I signed up for the GT championship and won in the Ginetta. I then decided to enter the Trofeo Maserati Middle East where I will compete with my partner Tani Hanna, a gentleman driver just starting out in racing. We are here at Valencia to get to know the car ahead of the series we will enter. We will also being appearing in the Formula Gulf, a new series sanctioned by the FIA that is dedicated to Arab drivers. We will be racing in 1500cc single-seaters. I have to admit that my aim is to dominate both championships to draw the attention of sponsors who might back a return to Europe and allow me to continue my path to Formula 1. I want to be the first Arab in F1”.
Maybe he didn’t expect to return to Europe at the wheel of a Maserati but Ghanem has taken to the challenge with enthusiasm, alongside Hanna.
“The idea of coming to Valencia came right after the decision to take part in the Trofeo Middle East. As it wasn’t possible to organise private test sessions, we wanted to get to know the car better and feel at home in the Maserati. This was particularly important for Tani (Hanna, ed). I give him lots of advice and, at the same time, get the kilometres under my belt. European series are very well organised and the level of the drivers is good. Above all, I like the championship circuits. I am used to driving single-seaters and my GT experience is limited; the Ginetta is a very different car to the Maserati. Also, I have to share the drive here with my team-mate and so it is more difficult”.
Even so, Ghanem has shown that he can compete with much more experienced Trofeo drivers.
“I covered four laps in the first free practice session and fourteen in the second. Qualifying went well as I came third, just six tenths down on drivers with much more experience than me. Unfortunately I locked a wheel and damaged it. This meant that it had to be changed and I was relegated to the back of the field. I was a bit disappointed but I see it as a chance to gain some experience of being in the pack and to try to stand out. My aim is still to finish on the podium”.