Friday, March 04, 2011

"I am living my dream!" - Burcu Çetinkaya

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Burcu Çetinkaya
Date of Birth: 19 March 1981
Nationality: Turkish
Discipline: Rally

A successful female sportsperson in what is generally considered a man’s sport, Turkish racecar rally driver Burcu Çetinkaya has managed to establish her place in motorsports and has also won accolades along the way. The multi-talented sports personality, who also hosts television shows in Turkey, is touring Pakistan from the 25th of February to the 5th of March, with the aim of encouraging and supporting the local motorsports industry. We got a chance to ask Burcu about her experiences as a rally driver and what she aims to achieve through her visit to Pakistan. Here’s what she had to say:

Us: Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Burcu Çetinkaya:
I am from Istanbul, Turkey. My father is from Nallıhan, Ankara, Turkey, and my mother is half-Albanian from her mother’s side. I speak English, French, Turkish, medium level Italian and German. I graduated from Robert College (the American high school in Istanbul). Afterwards, I went to Babson College in Boston for Business undergraduate studies; after two years I transferred to Koç University in Istanbul, and I graduated with an Economics undergraduate degree.

Us: How did you become interested in motorsports? What prompted you to take up rallying?
My father had been working in the automotive industry for many years. He took me to see my first rally when I was 12 years old. There I fell in love with rallying. The plan stayed in my mind for 12 years, and I managed to start only after I was 24 years old. 2005 was the year I saw my dreams take off - I did something crazy: I sold my road car, took a bank loan, and started rallying.

Us: What training regime do you go through as a driver? And how do you keep fit?
I run eight km per hour, five days a week. I do kickboxing in the afternoons, four times a week. I also do regular daily concentration and balance trainings given by the Red Bull training centre in Austria. Before and during the season, I go testing and training in France with more experienced drivers, such as Sebastien Ogier and Kris Meeke, who have helped me a lot in the past seasons. Before the rally, we have a regular test to do the set up of the car. I look at the onboard cameras after the rallies.
Besides sports I also pay attention to my diet. I don’t eat fried food. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink alcohol. I eat healthy and regularly. I drink a lot of water.

Us: How difficult is it to be a successful female athlete in what is usually thought of as a men’s sport?
Very difficult. Sometimes when we have to wake up before sunrise for three to four consecutive days and drive a rally car from morning till night under rain and on muddy roads, I find myself asking my co-driver Cicek, what we are doing here? Our hands become dry from dust, driving, or changing tyres, and our nails fill with gravel. Then I know the answer. I don’t hesitate. Because I have a dream and I chose to fight for my dream. It is difficult to convince men that we are there for rally driving, and not for showing off, or not because we are women. Any mistakes we make result in reactions about our being female. But on the other hand, any success we get also gets double attention because we are one of the very few women [in this sport] out there. It is difficult to be away from home, from family, almost ten days a month, always travelling. It is difficult to work out every morning to catch up and make up for the missing muscles we need to compete against men. But the pleasure of success, the fact that I am living my dream, makes everything possible and everything bearable.

Us: What are you most looking forward to during your tour of Pakistan?
Meeting people from Pakistan, and getting to know the culture of Pakistan. I want to visit the Tooba Mosque; I have never been to a mosque outside of my country so I am very curious about that. Also, eating local food. But really, most important of all for me is meeting the people of Pakistan. I also read that Karachi is famous for water sports. I love wakeboarding :). I would love to try this in Pakistan as well.

Us: How important is it for you to encourage the local motorsports industry in Pakistan?
It is very important to me. We have very different cultures but also many similar parts. Both our countries are surrounded by Islamic culture and I think I will find a lot of similarities between Turkey and Pakistan. Both our nations have had hard times - we are now nations that know how to fight and overcome challenges. I think this also reflects the soul of rallying. Motorsports requires people with a warrior-like and consistent character. I think such people can easily be found in Pakistan. But another reality is that for motorsports the conditions are much easier in countries such as Europe or the United States.
If I can be of any help or inspiration to any potential drivers in Pakistan, I will be very happy. So this is why it is very important to me to be able to communicate that motorsports is not unreachable.

Us: Would you encourage Pakistani female athletes to consider taking up this sport as a career? How can they achieve success in racecar rally driving?
I would very much encourage them, but they have to know the difficulties. This is a man’s world. And to hang on to it, takes a lot of courage, belief, and fighting. If they can stay strong, concentrate on the sport, focus and not get distracted by the spotlight, then they can consider this sport as a career. It all depends on how much they want to do this.

Us: How central are safety measures and regulations for any motorsports rally?
The most important thing in rally is safety. If the car is not taken good care of, if the belts are not tight enough, there is a life risk - that of my life and of my co-driver’s. So one must race with a good team - for us it is Peugeot Sport Turkey, with the aid of our sponsors like Red Bull, Ansell, Total, and Yokohama.
There is an example from the 2010 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) in the Iepers rally: we had an accident when we were at full speed, where we hit an electric pole at over 150 km per hour, and walked out of the car unhurt. To take care of the car, to have a strong roll cage, to put on your helmet, hand gear and belt all the time is very important to make rallying safe.

Us: What has been the most memorable and unforgettable moment in your motorsports career so far?
In 2010 when we finished the Turkish round of the World Rally Championship (WRC) with Peugeot Sport Turkey in 12th place overall, and as the 2nd S2000 car after the WRCs. We also finished as the best Turkish team ahead of all the guys. The finish line in Istanbul where all the young guys, our supporters, were screaming and waiting for us at the service park... the moment of success is always the best!

Us: What is your favourite car?
My favourite car is Peugeot RCZ, but of course my rally car 207 S2000 is the car that makes me the happiest, although it is impossible to drive it in traffic!

Us: If you weren’t a racecar rally driver, what profession would you have chosen?
I would love to be a journalist. A war correspondent, especially.

Us: Do you have any hobbies? What do you do in your spare time?
I present and prepare two weekly television programmes. One is a live show about sports, aired on Monday nights on Bloomberg HT. The other one has been going on for four years now on TV 24 in Turkey, and it is about cars (classic, modified, new). So between TV shootings, the strong training programme of sports, rallies and events, I really don’t have much spare time. But when I do, I love to learn languages, I love to learn saloon dances, I love to read books and watch movies. I love nature, and I love to go snowboarding or wakeboarding, depending on the season.

Us: What do you hope to achieve in the future? What are your goals?
I hope to get on the podium with Peugeot Sport Turkey and my co-driver Cicek in one international event on the general classification; ERC (European Rally Championship) or IRC or WRC. This is my biggest goal to start with. Then, if destiny allows me, I would love to get as much success as possible. My motto is "always better".

Us: Any message for the readers?
Believe in your dreams, believe in yourself, and work hard. If it is in your destiny, things will come your way. If not, then you will go the necessary way. In any case, at least you will know you have tried.

- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 4th March, 2011

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