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GP Week : Issue 24
5 Minutes with ... Martin Prokop A young Czech is turning heads in the Junior and Production Rally Championships. He spoke toMARTIN HOLMES Martin Prokop came to rallying through the enthusiasm of his father, but in those days it just wasn’t possible for his father to race himself. He enjoyed rallying and used to go and watch with Martin or go to help as mechanics. They were living at Vihlava, a small town between Prague and Brno in the middle of the Czech Republic, but there was only one rally run in that region. The centre of the sport was always around Zlin, where this weekend’s Barum Rally is based, and they often went there. The first time Martin drove a rally car was when he was 18. His father’s business is Jipocar, who are the official sponsors of his rallying. It is a transport and logistic company, working in the motor industry, and is a family business. His mother and his sister Petra all work together in the company and particularly for the rally team. This year Martin is making a major attack on the world championship. He and the Swedish driver Patrik Sandell are alone in both contesting the PCWRC and the JWRC series. GPWEEK: You had to wait until you were 18 to start rallying. MARTIN PROKOP: My father stopped me getting involved any earlier, saying that I had to study and prepare to work in his business. In the end I got my way, even if it meant I lost a few years compared with other drivers of my age. Running a mixed World Championship programme must have its difficulties? I think our mixed programme this year is a good thing, but last year I changed from one to the other in mid season. Starting off with the PCWRC and moving to JWRC meant I had useful experience I would not otherwise have had. This year I have found it is very important to have a test between rallies when I am moving from one formula to the other. If I don’t it can take a day to readjust myself. I did not do a test before Mexico, and that was a disaster for a whole day. How does driving in PCWRC and JWRC differ? 18 They are totally different. Super 1600s (JWRC) are real racing cars – they are not easy to drive … all the time these cars do what they want! You have to fight them all the way. Group N is easy to drive but they are heavier cars so you have to start braking every time very early. With Super 1600 you can brake really late. I guess the Super 2000 will have the best of both worlds, but I have not driven one, yet, but hope to do this after New Zealand. I drove a Skoda Fabia World Rally Car for a season in the Czech Republic, on tarmac events, and last year I had a test in a Xsara WRC as a prize. That was more easy to drive than a S1600 but it was so frustrating. I could have run a season in such a car as a prize, care of Citroen Sport, but I threw it all away in Finland when I had been leading the JWRC category. I went off the road and lost the chance to be champion. The Czech rally community seems to be very close. We are a small country and we know everybody! My closest rally friends are Roman Kresta who is older and Jan Kopecky, who is the same age. Jan had the chance to start his World Rally Car career very early when I was spending more time back home in Group N cars, but we spend a lot of time together in private life. I have been working with Roman for three years and we are in touch almost every day. I have been working with him for the last three years and it has been incredible for me. He is the top driver in Czech Republic and when I was younger I never thought I would have the chance to meet him, let alone work with him! He has taught me everything he knows about rallying, I can tell I am now driving much faster since we started working together. Could you ever believe a rally in your country would ever be so important as the Barum Rally? Rallying is very popular these days – more drivers from our country come to world events than many bigger countries and the Barum Rally has a lot to do with that. Unfortunately I do not have the chance to go to Zlin this year to watch the event because I will have already left for New Zealand. I wish everybody good luck and a safe event. I expect there will be a great battle between Roman and Pavel Valousek who has the BF Goodrich Peugeot for this event. I hope that Roman will win, but in any case, it will be good to be there.