Turkish Women’s Rallying champion Burcu Çetinkaya explains that if Turkey had a national hero like Kenan Sofuoğlu in Formula One, the stands would be filled with spectators and laments Turkey’s probable last year with the Formula One Grand Prix, set to take place later this year
While lack of interest from the domestic audience is generally cited as the leading problem behind the potential termination of Formula One in Turkey, Turkish Women’s Rallying champion Burcu Çetinkaya suggests that what lies behind this lack of interest is the absence of a national Formula One hero.
“There are problems. We don’t have a large enough audience and there is no Turkish driver. The two are intertwined,” the famous driver told Today’s Zaman in an interview.
While noting that the amount that Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone asks from Turkish officials, which was raised to $26 million from $13 million by the end of the contract between Formula One management and Turkish officials, is not unfair, Çetinkaya says Turkey was already paying a discounted amount. “The money would not matter if Turkey had a driver racing at the event. Then it wouldn’t be hard [for Turkish officials] to hand over this money [to Formula One management]. The state would pay this without hesitation and if they wouldn’t, the private sector would do it,” she says.
Çetinkaya calls the lack of a single Formula One driver “awful” and recalls the statements of Red Bull Racing (RBR) team’s Dr. Helmut Marko, who argued that with the right investments, a Formula One driver can be raised within five years. “We had the opportunity to make these investments. It is a shame that we couldn’t do it in seven years.”
The Turkish event can look to the Spanish Grand Prix as model, according to Çetinkaya, who says that at the races in Spain the audience members were initially numbered at 10,000-15,000 and Fernando Alonso boosted interest in the event.
Çetinkaya adds that if Turkey had a national hero like Kenan Sofuoğlu (a professional street bike racer) in Formula One, the stands would be filled with spectators. “If you want to embrace a sport, you should embrace the athletes competing in it as well. If we focus only on the organization, that sport will remain superficial [in the country]. There was a World Basketball Championship in Turkey [last summer]. If we didn’t become the second best, or if we didn’t go up to semis or quarter finals, the interest in basketball wouldn’t be as high as it is today.”
The famous driver, who also works as a journalist and TV host, says Turkey should definitely find the necessary means to keep the race in the country, explaining that if Turkey does not see the issue as being a problem regarding Turkey’s Formula One hosting rights, and only as a problem of paying the money that is being asked for, it will lose out. “As we spend this money, we should also at the same time draft a plan to raise a Formula One driver. As long as we don’t have a driver, Formula One will never be popular in Turkey,” explains Çetinkaya.
“Why would a person on the street show interest in Formula One? They need something to attract them to the races. If we don’t have a driver, we will watch the event the TV. Why would they bother going to the track?” she asked.
The 30-year-old athlete sees the departure of Formula One as throwing bags filled with gold into the sea. “That treasure has always been there and we have always been able to access it; however, once it is buried under sand, taking it out will require extra effort. After Formula One is gone, it will be much more expensive to get it back.”
The Formula One races have been one of the most debated issues in Turkey since the Turkish Grand Prix was launched in 2005 after a circuit, İstanbul Park, was built for the races. As the stands of the İstanbul Park became emptier with each passing year, the criticisms, including those against the money spent, began to be taken more seriously. Turkish Motorsports Federation (TOSFED) President Mümtaz Tahincioğlu listed the benefits of the event in an interview with Today’s Zaman as contributing to the development of İstanbul’s Asian side, promoting Turkey’s tourism sector and contributing to the country’s economy. Çetinkaya agrees with the auto sports boss, saying the money spent must have already been won back through the event and the event’s contribution to the promotion of Turkey in the world must also be considered. “It is sad that we cannot make use of an opportunity that has so much potential,” she says and adds that it is not likely that İstanbul Park will remain idle even if Formula One leaves Turkey.
The rally racer was among the first people to drive at the circuit. In the Turkish Grand Prix debut year, a small race became an opening act prior to the actual Formula One race. She says the circuit is one of the best ones in the world.
Çetinkaya has missed only two Turkish Grand Prix races since 2005. She notes that the stands were never filled with spectators and that audience interest was higher in the debut year. She says higher interest in 2005 was also sparked by a Turkish driver, Can Artam, who was considered to have the potential to become Turkey’s emerging Formula One star.
“He was promising at the time. People had the feeling that he could compete in the Formula One,” she says about Artam, whose name has disappeared from media lately.
Women give up rallying for motherhood
Çetinkaya, who is one of Turkey’s best rally drivers, says there are only a few professional female rally drivers in Turkey and in the world. “The number of good female drivers in the world is no more than five or six. There used to be Michele Mouton and she even won a world championship. But there are only a few [successful] female drivers in the world now,” she says.
The champion rally driver says performing motorsports may not suit women, and being a female may become an obstacle to driving professionally. “Usually women want to have children after a certain age. You cannot get away from motorsports for just one or two years. People forget you once you are away that long. The feelings of a mother and a father are not the same. How brave can a woman be when she has a child? This is what people say generally. They say drivers quit rallying after they become mothers, but they don’t quit after they become fathers.”
Çetinkaya was born into the car business as her father was a manager in the auto sector. Her rallying career started in 2005 with the Hitit Rally. She came third in that race. The 30-year-old has also successfully competed in races dominated by male drivers. Her favorite Formula One drivers are RBR-Renault drivers Sebastian Vettel, Germany, and Mark Webber, Australia, and her all-time favorite is legendary Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna.
‘Kenan must be shown greater respect'
When it comes to motor sports in Turkey, the first name that comes into people's minds is motorcyclist Kenan Sofuoğlu. According to champion rally driver Burcu Çetinkaya, there is a reason behind his reputation. Çetinkaya says Sofuoğlu represents Turkey well despite having had a very difficult personal life. After losing his eldest brother in a traffic accident in 2002, the champion motorcyclist then lost his other brother in a bike accident during a practice session in 2008. Last year he also lost his father, İrfan Basri Sofuoğlu, who was the strongest supporter of his career. “He funds his own racing,” Çetinkaya says, adding: “If he was an athlete in a different country, he would be supported more. We should show him greater respect.”
Sofuoğlu became world champion after winning the Supersport World Championship at Magny-Cours, France, in October 2010. Earlier, he had won the Supersport World Championship, in 2007, making history as the first Turk ever to win a world motorcycling title. Sofuoğlu finished in third place twice in the 2006 and 2009 championships. He raced in the Superbike World Championship in 2008 for Honda as part of a junior team and took 18th place. He returned to the Supersport World Championship in 2009 and ranked 19th at the end of the season.
Classic automobiles on show in old İstanbul
İstanbul’s historic Sultanahmet Square was the scene of even more nostalgia on Wednesday during the İstanbul leg of a classic automobile rally. Featuring cars that are at least 20 years old, the Allgeau-Orient Rally was a nostalgic and visual feast for local and foreign spectators alike. Attending the rally’s event in Sultanahmet, İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu wished the participants a good journey. The rally, featuring 305 classic automobiles from 12 countries, has the longest route in the world, passing through 15 countries to end in Jordan. In the Turkey leg of the race, the participants will get the chance to see many Turkish cities,” organizer Nadir Serin told reporters, including the southeastern province of Mardin, the last stop in the Turkey leg of the race. The competitors will donate their cars to the UN and the World Food Program (WFP) at the end of Allgeau-Orient Rally. Arife Kabil İstanbul