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Nineteen Fifty Meets: Abdo Feghali

Published: 18 May, 2022


I walked into Pit Stop Karting and the first thing I felt was Abdo’s energy strewed around the whole track; such a positive man, with a heart of gold. He stood in the middle of the tracks teaching and giving tips to his children; I cannot even count how many championships they have won. I tried to eavesdrop, maybe I could pick a few ones, but the sound of the go-karts was just too loud for me to have a glimpse of what he was saying. I came up to him and introduced myself. He said he was waiting for me. We sat on one of those white plastic chairs. Children were playing around, except for his own; they were revising the race they had filmed on a GoPro. I apologized for my intrusion and started asking my questions.

What got you into motorsports? Is it something that runs in the family?

Luckily, I was born into a family directly related to motorsports. My father, Iskandar Feghali, used to be a part-time racer in the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, he had a workshop that was specialized in tuning BMWs. Just imagine a kid growing up, seeing a customized black matt BMW 2002 with a green & blue livery under my house every day. And to this day, I still remember it vividly; it was the first thing I saw before going to school and the first thing I saw when coming back home.

I believe this is where the passion came from; this is where it all started. I mean, hearing the sound of a 6 carburetor just gets to your blood. I used to dream of driving a car like this one day.

Were you given the right tools as a youngster to excel in this line of work?

Unfortunately, no! Back in those days, parents didn’t really want their children involved in these things. They used to say that it was too dangerous and too costly. They only wanted me to study and be good in school. I know my family was and still is in the business, but still they didn’t want me behind a wheel. The cars were unsafe, it was a risky business. But that did not stop me; as I said, it was a passion that I had developed. It flowed in my blood. I decided I would make my own way into the discipline, any way necessary.

Can you tell us more about your rally career? The name Feghali is almost synonymous with rallying in the region, how did that come about?

Luckily, I became a close friend to ex-Lebanese rally champion Jean-Pierre Nasrallah; I believe we are all familiar with that name, aren’t we? I used to be part of his team, and I used to be his co-driver before starting to rally myself. Sometimes, he used to get French co-drivers from France. They would fly to Beirut 2 or 3 days before the race and there was a lot of training going on. He taught me everything about notes and rallying. It’s not easy to take notes, to listen to the co-driver, to know what the codriver wants to say, to believe in him, to trust him, and then to go flat-out. He played a big role in how I started rallying. In 1998, he saw the talent that I had; we used to go drift with my 1989 BMW 325 and do some cool stuff on the karting tracks; that’s how he saw my talent. And in 1998, he gave me a chance at rallying. He gave me a Renault Clio Rally car, front wheel drive, completely opposite of what I used to drive and I participated in my first Lebanese rally. I finished 3rd overall in the first round of the Lebanese rally championship, not only in my category, but overall. That was a strong message to Jean-Pierre, to the sponsors, and to my family who were still really against it and it also was a sort of reassurance to myself. They got the message that I was there and that I meant business. My brother Roger was already a Lebanese Champion back then, he had started 3 years before me. The family now had 2 serious competitors, Roger and Abdo.

What is it like to be a Red Bull athlete? How do they choose their athletes? How long has it been? What are the challenges? The perks?

The first time I found out about Red Bull was in 2000, I was in Cyprus for the WRC. Before that we used to see on magazines Red Bull badges on WRC drivers, Formula 1 drivers, but we didn’t really know what Red Bull was. When I was introduced to the brand I loved it, instantly. I remember I got a Red Bull case with me from Cyprus to Lebanon. And a year after that, they opened offices in the middle-east and in Lebanon. As we all know, they always select talented people, with passion and drive who haven’t yet been champions, and they help them get there. And that’s exactly what happened. I was really happy when they selected me, and this is when this dream started to take shape. I’ve been a Red Bull athlete for 21 years now, not many get to that level of seniority; there are about 3 or 4 all over the world. I’m really happy to be part of this family and for everything we’ve achieved together. Red Bull shows you lots of stuff, they send you to places where you can learn more and they support you with budget; they played a big part in my career. And with Red Bull, I won the Lebanese rally championship. We also participated in the Middle-East rally championship and I always remember the Dubai rally in 2004. I had never seen a desert in my life, we went there and finished 3rd overall, out of all the Middle-East champions. That was big. Oh and by the way, in Cyprus, I stood 2nd on the podium only behind Nasser-al-Attiyah, the legend. Definitely, being a Red Bull athlete helped a lot.

Tell us more about the Guinness world record for the longest drift that you’ve set. What was the record to beat? Is there a way to manage the tires for them to go that long?

In 2008, I came up with the idea called Red Bull Car Park Drift along with the Red Bull team. We started it in Lebanon, and then it went regional. And now I’m proud to say that it plays on the international spectrum. Every year, we travelled everywhere for the events. People were really happy, we introduced drifting to everyone, and how accessible it is to all. You could do it with your own personal car, and what we provided was a safe environment. People kept asking me back then, what’s next? Once, I was on live TV at the Qatar motor show, they asked me that question too. And that’s when I suddenly told them that I wanted to beat the Guinness World Record for the longest drift. And I honestly had no idea about that record, at all! When that was all over, I contacted my manager, and I told him that we were in trouble and that we needed to find out more about it and about how to do it. The record was 5.5 km held by a Chinese driver. The major difficulty was the tires, because they won’t last that long, the more you’re drifting, the hotter they become. And that’s when they can explode. Luckily, we were introduced to Alex, a French engineer in Guadeloupe. He has a cover for the tires called “easy drift”. After a lot of testing, we managed to beat that record by double the distance one year later. It was absolutely crazy.

What kind of cars are you into? Do you like classic cars? Do you have a favorite car or car manufacturer? What do you drive on a day-to-day basis?

Cars are my passion. Luckily I own 8 cars, and I drive them all the time. However, I don’t like classic cars. I think they are beautiful, to display and to look at. But when it comes to driving, they fall short. Due to my TV work on Driven MBC for the last 12 years, I tested a lot of classic cars, but unfortunately, I did not enjoy any of them. The technology, responsiveness, power, and the breaking found on newer cars are an evolution of those classics that we are talking about. So why drive a car that was maybe really good 30 years ago but doesn’t come close to the performance that is now available. For me, a classic car is just a thing to look at and appreciate, I prefer newer sports cars. And in Lebanon, because the tarmac is slippery, I would always go for 4-wheel drive cars. Front and rear-wheel drive cars aren’t that enjoyable with that kind of infrastructure. For me the Mitsubishi Evo 10, the Subaru Impreza STI or even the Golf R for daily use are the best option. I like to drive the Golf R MK7 on a daily basis, and recently I bought the Yaris GR, it’s a very cool car, it’s a WRC car but for daily use. It has a lightweight 3 cylinder; we upgraded the car to 350hp and it’s so nice to drive now. However, it’s a manual, so I prefer driving the Golf R on a daily basis. The DSG is a beauty, especially how smooth it is in traffic. Damn that Lebanese traffic.

How do you pass on your knowledge and passion to your kids? How is it like to have a vocation so early on in life? Can you talk more about Christopher and Luca’s successes in karting? At what age did they start racing?

I was actually asking myself that same question when I got married. How would I handle this with my kids. But it was just so natural, they are part of the Feghali family; it’s in their genes. They follow every race event, so they were aware of everything that was happening. In 2013, when he was 4 years old, Christopher started karting, and 3 years after that, he won the Lebanese Championship. He won it 5 times so far. He won in the middle east, in the MENA region, and we won twice in Europe: in Portugal and at Le Mans in France. I’m really proud of the potential I’m seeing in Christopher, he has a dream. And I did not push him to have this passion, it was innate. As for Luca, he is on the road to get there. He is going to have it easier, because now he can learn from both myself and Christopher.

We have a difficult target to reach with Christopher. He told me one day “Pap, I want to reach the Formula 1 level, and if that didn’t work out, I want to do what you and my uncle Roger are doing.” Which is rallying, hill climbing, drifting. We know how hard it is to get there, but it’s a dream and we’re working on it. And he knows it.. He said “I am ready, and I already love that".

What kind of trainings do they go through?

Definitely, physical training whether at school, at home, anywhere, they work out a lot. They have the simulator at home. This helped them a lot. Definitely when it comes to karting, for the way that they drive, and the technical track that we have here, you need to be fit. Christopher is always playing basketball, Tennis, Football, and anything that keeps him in shape for karting.

Aren’t there some special trainings for drivers? I know that they train the neck muscles a lot more than other athletes to sustain extreme G-Forces for example.

Yes definitely, but that’s when you reach higher levels, in Karting it’s not that effective. But he’s aware of those kinds of trainings, now thanks to social media, he sometimes comes and tells me about things that I even don’t know about. I’m happy that he knows a lot of stuff, he knows how to prepare and how to prepare for later on as well, he’s curious and dedicated. We’ll definitely have to change his workout when he gets to single-seater racing in Formula 4, in 3 to 4 years’ time.

What are the next steps for them?

Even though Formula One is known for being nearly inaccessible, we believe that with his talent, with my connections, with the amazing results that he is achieving everywhere, that there is a chance, there is hope. And especially with my connection to Red Bull racing, who have two teams in Formula One. Christopher is already on the radar of Red Bull, but he cannot be signed as one of their athletes yet. We have to give him at least two years first, when he turns 14. That’s when the preparations to race in Formula 4 start. They start at 15 or 16 years old. And from there on, as I said, we have a target in mind, and in case we couldn’t reach that level, we will go into rallying and other forms of racing.

How do you balance your career, your children’s careers and being a family man at the same time?

I feel very lucky. I am being able to manage all of that with my wife who helps a lot. You know, I travel almost every week for work, and my kids understand that. But whenever I am in Lebanon, it’s like a vacation for them, so I’m fully committed to them. We go karting, we go out for outdoor activities. Whenever I am here, I just dedicate myself 100% to my family and to my kids.

Do you have any tips for parents who want to give a chance to their kids at a professional racing career?

Anyone who wants his kids to be involved in the sport, buy them a simulator, a steering wheel with pedals, and let them drive. They will understand everything. I have around 6 simulators now. It helped a lot in educating ourselves; how to stay in shape and react well. And the kids learn so fast on them, like Luca now, the things he learned on the simulator are impressive. The breaking zones, taking the right cornering lines, how to control the car while going sideways, and all of that stuff. So parents, if you want your kids to race or you see that they like cars: go get them a simulator! You can get a proper one for a price starting at 3,000$, and then make a jump to an even better one. I would recommend linking your PC to it, through a software called steam, and from there you will be able to buy F1, circuit, GT, rallying, drifting, and anything you would want to get.

What’s next for you? Would you consider competing again?

Definitely, I mean, nowadays we know how hard it is in Lebanon with what’s happening all around, but definitely, every year, I try to find a place for me to compete in, because it’s in my blood. Last year, I drove a 208 Peugeot R2, maybe one of the slowest cars ever, but still, I enjoyed the rally a lot. The show that we did, and the results I was achieving with that car were amazing. Imagine being 3rd or 4th overall with that car, it was stunning. I am definitely looking out for new things this year, but I will need to sort out all of the budgets for Christopher to make sure he still has at least 4 races outside of Lebanon first. And then I will maybe do a couple of hill-climb races with my evo 9 prototype.

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