This turbo-charged Turkish race car driver talks about her life from hairpins to handbrakes.
Few of us have actually experienced the rush of motorsports and know what it really feels like to race at mindbogglingly high speeds under trying conditions. Burcu Çetinkaya, however, can tell you all about it. The Turkish racecar rally driver has made her mark in the male-dominated sport, and is currently touring Pakistan with the aim of inspiring motorsports enthusiasts in the country.
The star sportswoman became interested in racing while attending a rally at the age of 12 and eventually took up the sport when she was 24. “The first rally I participated in was a round of the Turkish Rally Championship, the Hittite Rally in Ankara (the capital of Turkey) in 2005,” she recalls. Since then, Çetinkaya has gone from strength to strength and has amassed quite a long list of impressive performances. “I have been the Turkish Ladies Champion for five years in a row, from 2005 to 2010,” says Çetinkaya. Her team has also placed highly in various rally championships, outshining a number of both male and female participants.
The rally driver had to face several difficulties when she initially entered the motorsports arena. “To find sponsors was the biggest difficulty. To learn how to be patient was another one. After I started to be successful and find sponsors, then the problem was to convince people about my goals. In the beginning, they wanted me to stay where I was, go for the ladies championship and not try the ‘impossible’. Then I had to fight to achieve my goals.” She feels that “the help of the Turkish rally champion Volkan Isik in trainings helped [her] a lot,” when she was starting out.
As can be expected, her training regime is quite extensive. “All year long, I have a physical training programme where I run eight kilometres, at least five days a week. I work a lot on my arm muscles, again a minimum of five days a week. Before the start of the season, we have testing with the car for two to three days; we take the data from my driving and try to see the places for improvement. Also, before each rally, we have a shakedown test of fifty to hundred kilometres to warm up. And after the rallies, I watch the onboard cameras in detail to be able to see where I make mistakes.” She thinks a person needs to be calm and patient if they want to take up motorsports. “They must like challenges, and have a warrior-like character. They need to be very well disciplined and persistent. And most important of all, they need to be really brave.”
Çetinkaya cites a number of reasons for wanting to tour Pakistan: “the colourful culture, the clothes, the beautiful mosques and most importantly the people of Pakistan! As you may know, Turkey and Pakistan have very good relations. We also have a high percentage of Muslims in the country, so we have some cultural similarities. And Benazir Bhutto was one of my heroes when I was a kid, so that also made me very curious about the country. When the 2010 flood hit Pakistan, in Turkey we really tried a lot to help. That was also the first time I planned to go to Pakistan, but it was not possible because I was away at the races. I am very happy that I will stay [in Pakistan] for ten days [from February 25 to March 5]. I want to meet as many people as I can and learn as much about Pakistan as I can when I am here.”
As for what she aims to achieve through her visit, she says she’s here to motivate people. “Nothing is impossible’ is a phrase I really appreciate. If there are people with dreams in sports or art or anything else, and if their families are unsupportive or have financial barriers, like I was at the beginning, there is a message I can give them. The biggest barrier standing in the way of our dreams is within us. If we can be creative and fight hard with discipline, we can fight for our dreams. I dream to meet people interested in this and motivate them if I can.”
The touring rally driver hopes to discover the scope of rallying in Pakistan during her visit. “I hope after ten days [of touring], I can be more clear about [how the sport can be made more successful in Pakistan], but the media can help a lot.” She thinks having a local motorsports hero would help. “If there is a worldwide successful sportsperson from your country in the sport, people will be more motivated to follow, and sponsors will be more encouraged to help.”
Women in motorsports
Burcu cites Michele Mouton as her favourite racecar driver. “She is the only woman in the world of motorsports that won a few world rally championship events and finished second in the championship at the top level in the 1980s, and showed that impossible is nothing.”
While Burcu hasn’t met any female Pakistani racecar drivers yet, she is looking forward to meeting some during her tour. She thinks encouragement and a change in mentality could help make it easier for women to take up motorsports. “In this sport, women and men are not put in different categories. Only in some countries, ladies prizes are also included in the championships to encourage women. But in the general classification there is no separation. There are two types of women in this sport: the first is there for attention, the other for success. I think the ones there for attention also give some colour to the sport, but the ones there for success are the ones that should really be encouraged. Women’s cups can be organised to choose the talented ones. I think the biggest help would be to encourage women. When there is a lady driver who is doing well, every mistake [she makes] is highlighted to show that she is not capable, so I think if this mentality can be fought against, things can get better.”
Activities and interests
In her spare time, Çetinkaya likes to read books and watch movies. “The books by Osho and Paulo Coelho, and Mesnevi by Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī are books I have read over and over many times. My favourite movie is Güneşi Gördüm (I Saw the Sun), a Turkish movie directed by the Turkish singer, actor, and director Mahsun Kirmizigul. I also liked Amores Perros a lot. Also, I really love Indian movies; Ek Ajnabee, directed by Apoorva Lakhia and starring my favourite Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan, is a movie I really like. My favourite singers are Sezen Aksu, İbrahim Tatlıses, and Mahsun Kırmızıgül from Turkey; Garou, and Dany Brillant from France; and Frank Sinatra." As for TV shows, Çetinkaya says, “I love Top Gear and it is my favourite show so far.” She even hosts two television shows in Turkey and enjoys snowboarding and wakeboarding.
The future looks bright for this ambitious sportswoman and we can only hope that her tour of Pakistan will help motivate people, especially young women, to pursue their own dreams.
- By Sameen Amer
The Express Tribune - 27th February, 2011