EZY Racing off to Japan with “realistic goals”

Thursday, 18 September 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

EZY Racing will leave for the Japan leg of the Asia Pacific Rally Championship to be held in Hokaido, Japan from 27-28 October. Following are excerpts of an interview with Team Principal and CEO of EZY Racing Shafraz Hamzadeen prior to their departure for Japan Q: What made you take EZY Racing international? A: This is a question I have been asked by many people. There were three primary reasons we took EZY Racing international. Firstly, if we look back at the target we set ourselves when we entered the sport in 2010, it was to be the first motor racing team to represent Sri Lanka in the international racing arena in an FIA-sanctioned championship. Back then we set ourselves a goal of five years to develop ourselves and become a competent unit which could gain recognition internationally. Over the last four years, we set about achieving our goal in a structured manner where we contracted the best drivers, invested in resources and managed our partner ecosystem professionally. As a result we developed ourselves into a successful motor racing team and a brand in Sri Lanka, hence we decided to fast forward our plans by a year and activate our international plans in 2014 as opposed to the original plan which was to go international in 2015. The second reason for us to move internationally was the opportunity that we saw for motor racing in neighbouring countries. Earlier this year, we were invited by our first international partner, the Interactive Group, to set in place our young driver program in Pakistan. The response was overwhelming. It was then that we realised that our neighbouring countries provided us with half a billion people who were emerging socially, which provided us with a great opportunity to create our brand EZY Racing among them. APRC therefore became the logical choice as it helped every nationality follow one form of racing internationally where EZY Racing participated. The third reason was that the holding company of EZY Racing, EZY Corporation, was very strong in their business presence in South Asian and South East Asian countries. This provided the EZY Corporation with a platform to connect socially with the masses through EZY Racing as it was an adrenaline sport. Q: Why did you choose to compete in the Asia Pacific Championship and the rally format of motor racing? A: There are many formats of motor racing that are conducted by FIA. Formula One is the pinnacle of circuit motor racing in the world. The equivalent in rallying is the WRC (World Rally Championship). These are easily considered to be the top two motor racing events in the world due to the safety standards they follow, the technicalities and complexities involved in the sport, the prime fitness and skills of the drivers, the glamour, deep pockets and large budgets that sustain a complex team that leads to over 500 people in a team and so on. When we first decided that we needed to focus on the project we decided that the step forward needed to be a meaningful step where if we couldn’t compete in the world’s best events, then we definitely had to compete in the region’s topmost event. It is during this period that we eliminated our initial thoughts of competing in neighbouring country tournaments and seriously looked at an FIA sanctioned event. The only event that made sense in this respect was the APRC as it was the premier event in the Asia Pacific region for motor racing. So back in 2012, we decided that we will seriously consider ‘Project APRC’ and set ourselves a timeline of three years to develop a fresh team which could qualify to compete internationally. Two of the biggest challenges we faced during this process was that the APRC was considered to be the topmost regional event to leading rally events in the world; so it was an extension of the WRC. With all due respect to Sri Lankan motor racing, as far as standards of motor racing were concerned we were way below the standards of racing expected by APRC. Understandably the organisers locally have their fair share of challenges as they need to make the sport appealing enough to encourage many people to participate in Sri Lanka. So they cannot lay the same standards as those of international racing events. However for us, this was a massive climb. Just going through over 700 pages of how to prepare our car to run internationally itself was an ordeal. We also had to develop a support system, a team, a driver and co-driver combination etc. Here again Sri Lanka had absolutely no history of participating in the APRC. So everything we did was brand new. We did get tremendous support from the ASN locally and the SLAS. However, managing this entire operation in a sustainable manner still stands as a challenge as we need to learn in every race and carry those learnings forward. So when we looked at all these variables, APRC was the rational choice both for sustainability and realistic achievements Q: What were your first thoughts when you saw your driver Deheragoda in the ER 88 and the Sri Lankan flag over the ceremonial start in Malaysia? A: To be honest it was a very emotional moment for me and my team. I still remember the moment that Dinesh was called, announcing EZY Racing representing Sri Lanka. It was at that moment that I realised the true magnitude of our achievement. Fortunately for us we had a massive crowd following because the entire EZY Corporation travelled from Singapore to Johor Bahru to support the team. So it was very encouraging for the driver and team. Hopefully we will be able to hear our national anthem being played on the podium one day. That definitely is a day that I would eagerly look forward to and I’m sure it would be an emotionally overwhelming day. Currently that looks quite farfetched though; fingers crossed, rallying is all about endurance and you never know when the unthinkable happens. Q: Are there any plans for a second car to run in the APRC? A: Well it’s definitely in the radar, but nothing concrete right now. As a professional outfit it always makes sense to have multiple cars competing which gives a team greater presence. The MRF team has two while the Cusco team has three cars running in the APRC. However, like I said before, these are established teams and in comparison we are just a start-up team. Our objective for this year is to participate in and complete the rallies. This would provide us with tremendous learning as a team and hopefully these lessons will help us to improve race by race. We are hopeful that from next year we can up our pace to be much more competitive. A second driver and a car is definitely a thought that would be considered and hopefully would be achievable towards 2016 or so. We anticipate that by then we would have some international sponsors on board and definitely look forward to encouraging drivers from any of the other countries of EZY Racing’s presence to fill the second position. Q: What are your plans for EZY Racing locally and internationally? A: In Sri Lanka we have established ourselves very strongly as a brand. We are proud of what we have achieved as a team and that has resulted in us becoming a recognised brand in the country. In 2012/13 we test marketed a few products under the brand of EZY Racing. The response truly overwhelmed us. From 2012 to today, we have done various programs and entertainment events under our brand EZY Racing and ER. The success that we have achieved through these events has made us realise that our brand’s acceptance is quite large amongst the public. In 2015 we hope to come up with many programs under the EZY Racing brand. These programs will be run both locally and internationally and will focus on creating passion for motor racing and capturing the interest of the mass audience. We intend on starting a massive campaign on the lines of a new marketing theme of ours called ‘RIMP’ which stands for Racing is My Passion. These programs will be referred to as RIMP programs. Q: When can we expect to see a line of EZY Racing merchandise? A: We have planned two brands out of our motor racing affiliation. One is the motor racing merchandise that would come under the brand EZY Racing. Hopefully we will be kicking off this collection early 2015. We have lined up a whole range around the ER 88, which includes the ER 88 1/43 scaled model car, the entire range of EZY Racing driver wear which includes the driver T-shirts, caps, shorts and pants. We also intend to come up with the RIMP collection which will have a different line-up. The second brand that we intend on launching is the ER collection which will be a premium collection of wearables. This is scheduled to be launched in late 2015. Q: We understand that the Japanese Rally is very different to the Malaysian Rally. How optimistic are you of the team’s chances in Japan? A: We had quite an amount of work to do on our car after the unfortunate incident in Malaysia. We want to set very realistic goals and don’t want to get too carried away. The truth is that we have never run in Japan. All that we know is what we have seen and heard. Just like in life, till you experience the situation you never can prepare yourself to face those challenges. What we have heard is that Rally Japan is fast, unlike Malaysia which was very technical. We also understand that the weather can be very challenging. We will go into the rally the same way we engaged with Rally Malaysia and that is to complete in the rally. We want to set ourselves some realistic goals so that we don’t set goals beyond our reach. It’s important that we set achievable targets. The most important goal for us is to complete day one strongly. Like in Malaysia we will then assess our situation and decide whether to push or not on day two.

 “Difference between local racing and FIA championship is huge”

Following are excerpts of an interview with EZY Racing’s star driver Dinesh Deheragoda Q: How do you feel now that you have your first international championship appearance out of the way? A: I feel that the experience and data gathered by my crew and myself in Malaysia will surely help in the upcoming rallies in the current championship. Finishing the Malaysian Rally in one piece, despite the extreme weather conditions in which it was conducted, was indeed a relief. Q: What did you learn from your first international rally? A: I need more preparation and coordination with my team. There is so much to do within an allocated time as per the regulations or else we face time penalties. The demand to be up there is no easy task for me and for ER as a team. Our experience will surely take us forward in the coming rallies. Q: What areas do you feel you will need to improve? A: I need to look at the whole championship a great deal differently. Improving coordination with my co-driver and getting our pace notes fine-tuned is an area that I am mainly focusing on now, alongside with more preparation among the team within the timeframes allocated by the FIA. Q: What steps/preparation are you making to improve yourself and your performance? A: I am doing many dummy practice runs with my co-driver to improve our in-car coordination related to pace notes and at the same time the level of physical fitness and preparation to run rallies of almost 1,000kms in two days including  about 250km of Special Stages (SS), which is highly demanding. Q: Coming 6th in your first international debut is a great achievement. How does it feel? Could you have done better? A: Honestly, my expectations in Malaysia were to finish 4th or may be 5th the most. 6th for me personally is a little disappointing. However, with the above mentioned preparations in place, I am hoping that Japan would see me through to at least one to two higher placings in comparison to Malaysia. Q: How is the car preparation coming along? Is it very different to what is needed for local racing? A: Additional preparation of the car is needed for Japan as there was an incident where I hit a palm tree in Malaysia and ended up with some damages to the front left of the car. We have limited time in Japan to prepare the car. EZY Racing as a team has provided me with all the resources that are required to do all the maintenance with the equipment that we carry in the ER88 container. The high standards of the FIA require the car to be within the exact regulations, plus we need to adhere to many local regulations for each country when we drive the rally cars on public roads in-between the Special Stages (SS). Japan out of all the countries has the strictest road regulations. With all these regulations in force, the difference between local racing and FIA championship is huge. Q: Do you miss racing in Sri Lanka? Will we see you run in Sri Lanka again? A: I don’t miss Sri Lankan racing as I have had my share of racing locally and have won over 25 Championships at National and Club level together over the past 17 years. My passion now is competing at events under the governance of the FIA. I may participate in just one rally towards the latter part of November this year with a mere intension of giving a try to secure the National Rally Championship which I have won 6 times in the past. There were two local rally rounds that were conducted earlier this year where I won both and I need to finish 6th overall to retain the National Rally Championship.