Noel Jammal, an unusual F3 driver

Despite the cacophonous chaos enveloping Zouk’s main road, one sound dominates the din. Cars and trucks chock the road in both directions, their exhausts pipes adding a few degrees to the afternoon stifling heat. Snippets of conversations, music emanating from car radios and the screams of visitors to Dream Land amusement park invade ears; above this brouhaha the whine of accelerating go-karts cuts through the competing rumor.

From this street, one can hear the Lebanese Kart Championship candidates training hard at the Pit Stop Karting. The competition is only one week away and the preparation becomes more and more intense. The training track is in effervescence. From the parking lot one can see the karts at full speed turning laps, but one can above all hear the roaring of the engines. A dozen teenagers wearing racing suits, hoods and helmets with different colors and sponsors logos take the turns on the track.

To supervise these teenagers, a group of five people in their forties stand in the pit area. Five or six karts are parked there, while the group observe and comment the driving battle. However, someone attracts attention because of his age difference. Around 21 years-old only, the young man seriously observe the race, squinting his green eyes from time to time, and talking and laughing with his older colleagues at some moments.

This lover of mechanic sport has had a growing notoriety in the Arab world because of his last year’s victory at the European F3 Championship. Indeed, Noel Jammal, a professional F3 driver is the first Arab driver to ever win a title of this importance. His last year’s triumph upgraded him to the first class rank of F3 driver, bringing him closer and closer of his dream: being a F1 driver.

Noel has a peculiar appearance for a F3 driver. His light brown hair cut in a relaxed way, his warm smile, and his large shoulders identifies him more like a windsurfer. As opposed to the majority of formula drivers who are tall and thin, Noel rather had a stocky body type. One meter seventy-five high, he weights 82 kilos. “I lost six kilos recently but I still have to lose twelve kilos to significantly improve my performances,” he says with a smile.

His physical appearance testifies of his love for life. Born to a Lebanese father and to a Spanish mother, Noel is a bon vivant who says he always liked to eat, drink and party. His style of life is not as ascetic than the others athletes, since Noel enjoy making the most of everything. “I am taking my time to lose weight,” he adds while biting into a huge Mexican burger.

This young man has an atypical path for a F3 driver. Born in Madrid, Noel discovered his passion for mechanic sports at the age of five when his dad brought him to a go-carting for the first time. Actually, Noel was more attracted by motorcycles than karts, and this is how he started motorcycling. From five to seven years-old, he practiced this sport before stopping for a year. He came back to motorcycling in 1998 at the age of eight, and participated in the Spanish Mini Bike Championship. He won.

In spite of this success, Noel did not persevere in this path, and stopped practicing motorcycling or any kind of mechanic sport for ten years. His start in the F3 world was purely by chance. While most of the F3 drivers entered this world because of an intensive practice of kart, Noel was at the right place at the right time.

For his 18 years-old birthday, he asked his father to spend an afternoon in the Emilio De Villota F3 racing stable to try driving some cars. His performance was remarkable and the racing stable, impressed by Noel’s innate talent for driving, asked him to accomplished more trials. His skills finally lead him to join Emilio de Villota team in 2009 where he made his starts in the world of F3.

However, Noel was destined to achieve more, and because his father believed in his capacity, he decided to open a racing stable: Cedars Autosports. This racing stable wears the Lebanese colors of Noel’s father: red and green. To maintain this creation, Noel’s family needs $150,000 a year. After only two years in the F3 world, the racing stable gained some notoriety and his now financed by several Spanish sponsors who contribute to $90,000 of the annual fees.

Noel did not disappoint his family and sponsors. With the Cedars, he quickly rose and within two years of driving F3, he won the title of class B champion of the European F3 Open Cup, and surpassed the Spanish Kart Champion scores. In his short career, Noel already won five races and went on the podium ten times. Two weeks ago, at the Magny Cours circuit in France, he set the record of speed for one lap, completing 2, 530 meters in only 1:35:6.

This performance is not due to the car since all F3 have the same engine and aerodynamic construction, but rather to the talent of the driver. Indeed, Noel is a real hothead who has an aggressive and offensive driving style. He often tries to accelerate in big curves, in spite of the possibility of accident. “Last week I broke my training kart because I wanted to take the big curve at a maximum speed. It did not work,” he said with a radiant smile.

Noel always had this part of craziness in him. In spite of this young age, he already leaved in four different countries. Indeed, because he was a dissipated student, Noel was expelled from different school in Spain. His parents then took the decision to send him in a boarding school in Switzerland. However, he was also excluded so in 2004, Noel ended up in Lebanon. But, three years later, the school decided to expel Noel who finally ended up in a military academia in the U.S. There, he successfully got his high school degree and came back to Lebanon to enter university. “I never could stand in place,” he adds with a smile appearing on the right corner of his mouth.

This madcap part of his temper leaded him in an impressive accident last year at the Magny Cours circuit. While he was getting out of a corner at a speed of 264 km/h, another driver slammed into his car, pushing Noel out of the track. Noel rolled eight times at a high speed before his car came to a stop on the sand next to the trail. After a minute in his car, Noel stands out, violently hits the car, and heads to someone from his racing stable who was worried for their main pilot. One year after Noel smiles at the memory of this impressive incident.

In spite of this accident, Noel succeeded to get the champion title last season. This title was a turn in his career. First of all, it attracted a lot more of attention on him. For instance, Noel has an ongoing contact with Red Bull to sponsor his car. “Red Bull only takes the bests. I am very happy they contacted me.” He is going to pass some tests this summer with Red Bull, and if they are positive, the red Cedar F3 might have to add some blue color on its cover.

Second of all, the champion title helped Noel to mature in his racing career. The driver currently is at a crossway where he has to sacrifice his bon vivant temper to get closer to his ultimate goal. This season, Noel is much more serious and dedicated to F3.

However, the beginning of the 2011 season did not reflect his growing implication. So far, Noel raced twice (in Valence and in Magny Cours) and had problems with his cars at each race. He is far behind his opponent in the points count. However, he still has six races before the closing of the season, and still has his chance to get at the top of the podium. “If you start a race whit the idea that you are going to lose, you are not getting anywhere. Positive thinking is very important in this sport.”

Within this state of mind of positive thinking, Noel increased his training to achieve his dream. He went to one of the rare hospital specialized for formula drivers, the Italian hospital “Formula Medicine.” There, he spent a week of intensive tests which concluded to a precise mental and physical schedule for the spring semester. “The body is like the engine of a car. You have to know how to maintain it.”

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Noel does resistance fitness which consists in repeating many time the same movement with light weights. He has to accomplish theses exercises for an average of two hours per day. On Tuesday and Thursday, he does one hour of strength training and one hour of cardio to train his heart beat. The Saturday morning, he has to run for one hour and to alternate a slow speed during three minutes with a sprint for one minute.

These exercises are very important as they help Noel to lose weight, thus making his car lighter; but above all this training helps him to augment the strength in his muscle which is critical in this sport. For instance, in turns, Noel usually has to sustain on average his weight multiplied by three. To support this, his body needs an intense preparation.

With this exhausting schedule, Noel also has to find space to improve his driving skills. Since there are no F3 circuits in Lebanon, Noel trains at the Pit Stop Karting. However, his training got a bit compromised because of a neighbor who could not stand the noise of the karts. Since this neighbor had an influent job in the government, he pressured the creation of a law which says that karts professional training is only allowed on Thursday from 5-7am and Saturday from 12-2pm.

This training is essential for improving his driving skills but not as much as the official training set out by the F3 federation. Before the opening of the season the European cup usually organizes 30 days of tests for the drivers. These days allow the drivers to train in some circuits of the cup where the drivers have the possibility to drive freely during the day. They usually accomplish 120 laps a day. These training are very important to help the pilot get familiar with his car and the circuit, thus giving him the chance to establish a strategy. To attend these trainings, Noel has to travel around 25-30 times a year.

But Noel does not only have to conciliate these several mental, physical, and driving trainings. Indeed, as opposed to 99 per cent of his peers professional drivers, Noel also study in university. He is currently taking classes at the Lebanese American University (LAU) in Beirut where he is majoring in International Business.

However, Noel is encountering some problems in his studies due to his repetitive absences. Last semester, the university forced him to drop the twelve credits he was taking. Indeed LAU does not consider his international training, and his races in the European F3 championship as valid excuses. Noel met with every authority in the university but none of them accepted to understand his situation. Noel kept a particular bad souvenir of M. Nawas, the dean of student of LAU Beirut, who gave him the example of a basketball player. “If the basketball player is part of LAU team, I will justify him all the absences he wants. But is this player goes in the national team, it won’t be my problem anymore.”

This episode as well as the difficulties to find sponsors and support from the Youth and Sport Ministry in Lebanon discourages Noel to stay in this country in spite of the strong attachment he has. He is currently sacrificing his sportive career to attend classes in LAU. As a matter of fact, Noel could only attend seven tests day instead of the thirty planned by the F3 federation because of his classes. It is not easy for Noel to sacrifice his passion for his management classes. “When I arrived on the circuit, I am really stressed because the other drivers have had the chance to get more training and more experience.”

In Spain, several universities made advantageous offer to Noel, making him reconsider his choice to study in Lebanon. For example, a Spanish university is ready to grant him free tuitions to the conditions that he puts the name of the college on his car. Moreover, moving back to Europe will bring him closer to the F3 circuits.

At this critical period of his life, Noel has to make a choice. His last year’s victory proved him that he has the potential to be a great F1 driver. Spain has with all its advantages for his racing career could boost his chance to make his dream come true.

On the other side, Lebanon’s government and society lack of interest in Noel career curbs his progress. In spite of these problems, Noel is very attached to this country. “I travelled a lot but I have a thing for Lebanon.”

But the driver has gained experience and self-confidence. More dedicated than before to his passion, Noel wants to do everything it takes to live his dream. He is seriously thinking of coming back to Spain for the next semester. “The F3 is a sport full of sacrifices,” he added.