Motorsport may not be popular in Nigeria, yet at the last Lamborghini Super Trofeo Championship in Belgium, the Nigerian flag was not only hoisted, its national anthem was also rendered. It was the first for any African country in the history of motorsport– all courtesy of Swiss-born, Shahin Nouri, who chose to race for Nigeria as against his native country, Switzerland. Kunle Adewale reports on why Nouri chose to race for Nigeria, his plan for motorsport for the country and his ambition to climb the podium as champion in the European Lamborghini Championship
Motorsport, which was initially leisure for Shahin Nouri has now become a serious business. “When I was a kid my dad was always watching Formula1 on television and that was how I got hooked up. I realised I had some talent to be a good racer. In 2007, I had the opportunity to sit in a racing car, and from then on, there was no turning back and I became very serious with it. Initially, I was doing it as a hobby until 2013 when I started serious racing. In my second race, I won and since then there was no turning back,” he recalled.
In his latest race in Belgium on the F1 circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, Nouri, racing for Nigeria, emerged winner and for the first time in the history of motorsport and African Nigeria’s national anthem was rendered.
For ‘Fine Boy Racing’, as Nouri is fondly called by admirers, it was an amazing feeling winning on one of the most challenging tracks in motorsports– the most loved track among the racing drivers.
Asked what he did differently in his preparation towards the Belgium on the F1 circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, he said: “What I did differently in my preparation was that I did a lot of simulations; I did one in Geneva and another one in Monaco with my coach and we did six hours simulation daily. It was very tiring because it involves a lot of mental process. I have to learn the layout of the track, the breaking points and the turns.”
On how long training he puts in before a competition, he said he trains all year round to keep in shape to know how to react vis-à-vis the setup of the car.
“It’s an ongoing thing because if you stop racing, you will need another six months of vigorous training to be back to your best. The track in Belgium is one track with lots of hills, unlike on a flat track that you drive on the same level of elevation. There are turns on the track that are very challenging and it takes a lot of courage to go on a maximum speed especially on the turns,” he noted.
It is not common to see a white man compete for an African nation and Nouri was always confronted with the reason for his choice to compete for Nigeria as against his country of birth–Switzerland.
“People always ask me why I do put the Nigerian flag as against Swiss flag whenever I am competing, but I tell them that I live in Nigeria and I am very proud of the country. Also I want to prove to the world that Nigeria is a great place to live in. My family is in Nigeria and my wife is a Nigerian. I am very proud to live in Nigeria and be the country’s ambassador in motor racing. I also want to correct the erroneous impression of the Western world that Nigeria is not a safe place to live in. I’m very proud to be living in Nigeria. It’s a country with great opportunities, though its image is not palatable outside but I’m very proud to be representing Nigeria. I see myself as a good ambassador of the country and I can do whatever any Nigeria can do.
“I don’t see Nigeria as big security risk as presented by the western media, though we have the issues of Boko Haram and the likes, but fortunately we don’t witness them in Lagos where I live, which for me is safe. Honestly, I feel safer in Lagos than when I travel to a city like Paris. In Lagos, I know how and where to go to, but in Paris I don’t whether it’s safe to go to a neighbourhood at a particular time. As for security issues, we have to live within our environment, be careful and be on our toes.
“I don’t think am more careful in Lagos than in Paris or in New York. On the whole, I think Nigeria is safer than any country in Latin America,” he said.
In spite of his achievements in motor racing and how much he has portrayed Nigeria’s image in good light with the sport, the government of Nigeria has not acknowledged his effort, but he is not losing any sleep over this.
“Nigeria has its problem for now; the country is also in a very difficult situation economically, but I am sure at some point I’ll get some form of recognition from the government. If you look at my car, it was completely branded in Nigeria’s colours with a Nigerian flag on it. I’m not pressuring anyone; I am just doing it for the love of doing it. It makes me happy when people see me, a white man representing a black country. After all, in football there are lots of African players playing for France, Switzerland, Italy and many other European countries, but now it’s the other way round. It gives me a lot of joy,” he said.
On what is doing to make motorsport more popular in Nigeria, he said.
“What we should do in Nigeria is to put in some infrastructure in place, construct a racing track for young talents. On my part, I am already making enquiries on how to go about making the sport more popular in Nigeria. For now, we don’t have a learning or racing centre.
“Nigeria is the number one country in Africa and I don’t see why we cannot have proper racing track. No doubt, it is capital intensive but with government support, it could be achieved with a land proposed in Lagos or Abuja. Government could also use Motorsport to promote tourism, which would also boost the economy of the country. There is also another series called Formula E, it is like Formula 1 but with electric car and it is done inside the city. Maybe Lagos State government can delve into that and be the first to host the event in Africa.”
Recalling how he felt after coming out tops in his last race, he said: “I was super happy, when I was driving on the last lap knowing I had won. Though, no member of my family was there, and maybe it was good for me because there was no distraction but I was constantly getting in touch with them. My wife has been very supportive of me and the children were very happy because they were watching the race live on television. On the podium I was feeling great.”
In spite of the risk involved in the sport, the Swiss-born motor racer would not discourage any of his children if they decide on motorsport for a career.
“All my children are very interested in motorsport as they watch all my races. They are already into it; so, if they want to go fully into it why not? It’s risky but if you do it properly it’s okay by me. As long as they are not just crazy going into it just because they want to go fast because motor racing is not just about going fast. You have to be prepared. It’s like running a company. You have to ensure the foundation is there, that the talent is there and you are quick enough.
“The logistic have to be there it’s not just about running. It’s not just about jumping into a racing car; it’s really about preparation, logistics and planning. So, if they really have the right mind set, why not. But they must focus on their education first,” he said.
Asked about how he came about the name, ‘Fineboy’, he said, “When I was doing my racing licence, I asked my wife what name to put on my licence to represent Nigeria and she said, ‘Why not Fineboy?” And before then, sometimes when I’m travelling from Lagos to Abuja at the airport some attendants would look at my direction and say ‘fineboy, come here: And I thought it is a good name and that was how I adopted the name ‘Fineboy Racing’.”
His wife is a third-generation Nigerian with her great grandfather, late Michael Elias, who came to Nigeria in 1886.
At the end of his racing career, Nouri would want to be remembered as being a proud Nigerian. As someone that promoted and showed good side of the country to the outside world.
The story of Nouri would not be complete without mentioning famous Brazilian Fomula1 driver, Ayrton Senna. Watching Senna race inspired the Swiss-Nigerian so much that he always wanted to be like him, if not better. His death was however a sad moment for Fineboy Racing.
He is hoping to come up tops in the overall championship and one day win the European Lamborghini Super Trophy.
“Thanks to those good results I recorded in Belgium, I was first in the first race and was second in the other race, which earned me a lot of points and now I am second placed in the overall championship with only two points behind the first person with two rounds of four races left,” Nouri said.
His next race is slated for September 17 and 18 in Germany and another race in December in Valencia, Spain. His focus now is to do well in those races to overtake the current number one racer– Trendy Steve.