With F1 fever gripping the kingdom, BTW finally got the chance to have an interesting chat with one of the most familiar faces in the racing circles of Bahrain, Raed Raffii. Currently standing third in his category, Raed shares with us his life being a race car driver and expectations from Bahrain Grand Prix 2015.
Share with us the memories of your first race/win and the difference you feel today when you are behind the wheel on a race track.
The first race will have a special place in my memory. It was in 2005 and I finished at the podium. I remember being far from having the confidence to drive a big car. And with so many different racers around me overtaking me and then me overtaking them in return, it was a tough time. But getting to be at the podium on my first race gave me the confidence I needed. It was also amazing to get to learn and experience so many different things.
The feeling behind the wheel is still the same. Of course I’m not scared anymore but all pumped up and excited. But once you start after the lights go off, everything begins to fade away and the focus comes down to where you are going.
What creates a professional race driver?
For those who are not into motorsports, it’s all about sitting behind the wheel and steering. But there is a lot of mental and physical preparation that happens on and off the track. Learning about the engineering of your car, studying the track, etc. is just part of it. A top race driver is a combination of many things. Driving long distances requires the mental ability to concentrate and focus especially when there are others around you.
How did you come to professional racing and who made you the professional you are today?
I was lucky to have started my professional life with the top karting team of Batelco. I raced with them for 7-9 years in various categories and was always encouraged to try different categories. There were a few people from Thunder Arabia who believed in my potential. They put me in a car and took me to experience the races of Europe and Asia. There are my friends and colleagues always supporting me with funds whenever I run short during any of my race-related travels. I am actually blessed to have so many people around me giving me the right push, enabling me to do what I love to do the best. It is my sincere hope that I am repaying their support with my hard work and race results.
As a race driver how do you cope with different track conditions at different places?
A good driver should be able to cope with any and all climatic conditions and should be able to control the car in all situations. And when you race with those who already are well accustomed to such an environment, all one can do is to forget about what you lack and maximize what you have got and go forward. Thinking about danger slows you down.
Tell us about your current team – Team Bahrain.
The whole Team Bahrain project started back in 2006, but it became a team of 6 drivers only by 2011-12. I am indeed lucky to be part of the project which is supported by our Government. I had my first race with the team in 2013. In between, I had to be away from the team nearly for a year but last year I was called to re-join the team. This is my full season this year with Team Bahrain.
I am honoured to be given the chance to represent Bahrain and be there to race. I hope I haven’t disappointed them this season and I can only promise that I am working really hard to be prepared. And hopefully if given the chance I would like to go for the championship.
With your season finale race at the BIC circuit this weekend, how do you see your beginnings this season and where you stand now?
I am satisfied with my consistency this season. I was never behind 5 or 6 position where I should be. I think this season went well. I am currently third in my category with 6 overall. If I stay focused in the coming races, I should be able to finish good, considering this is my first season with Porsche which is the toughest championship in Middle East. My aim is to try to win in our category and then top 4 or 5 overall.
How do you think is the Middle East’s reception of motor sports?
The growth rate of interest towards motorsports in our region is not bad. But somewhere down the line there is lesser enthusiasm towards finding new talents in racing compared to how talents are spotted and supported in other games like tennis or football. If such an attempt is made, I am sure that in the next ten to fifteen years’ time we can have Arab drivers regularly in Formula 1 races, while currently there are very few drivers from GCC in GP3 and other championships.
What are your expectations with Bahrain Grand Prix this year?
Formula 1 this year is going to be really interesting. It’s not only the Mercedes 5 but Ferrari is also coming into the game. During the last Bahrain F1, the Mercedes drivers where fighting very hard the whole race and was really exciting for fans to watch. As for the Porsche GT3, it will also be exciting as we have Schmid and Ashkanani racing against each other for the championship. For our category we have 7-8 drivers and 10 laps to cover. So it should be fun to watch the challenge this year.
I would like to invite all of you to the BIC this year and support Team Bahrain. This year we are having absolutely marvelous arrangements at BIC for everyone to enjoy. It is up to each one of us to work hard and make this event a grand success.
Where do you find yourself in the next 5 years?
I am 26 now and will be 31 in the next 5 years. So it will be difficult to say where I will be then; if I am racing or not. It will be difficult to predict as it depends on the support I get and the passion I will have towards the sport. As long as I have the passion in me I will continue to work hard and give my best.
When you start young, the experience grows with your mileage and you become an attractive package for the market. I was fortunate to start at the age of 15. Unfortunately it is not the same for everyone as there is a lack of funds or support or vision to pull young talents up.
Meanwhile I want to try to do well with Porsche and maybe win the championship. And then there is my dream to race against my idol, Lewis Hamilton. Of course it’s not about beating him, but just for the fun of the experience.
For me racing is all about driving on that track. And some day if I am not there driving, I would rather be there in front of the TV watching it.
Your message to the street racers in the Kingdom
As a teenager, when you get a car to drive, you may not be thinking with your head but I am sure that as one gets older and wiser, one understands that our roads are not designed for racing and you can jeopardize other people’s lives. People should learn to respect the rules. We have racing tracks that are designed for racing and it is better to vent your energy out there. Have fun at such places and take the danger off the road.