Motorsport and the Need for Speed – Interview with Oleksandr Tymoshchuk

Motorsport is a choice for those who love speed. It’s either your biggest passion in life or not your cup of tea. Oleksandr Tymoshchuk, DevOps Engineer at Daxx Kharkiv, is a big fan of this extreme sport, who has achieved impressive results in it. In this interview, Oleksandr tells us more about his hobby and pulls back the curtain of what it’s like to be a racer.

Motorsport - Oleksandr Tymoshchuk
Oleksandr Tymoshchuk

How long have you been interested in motorsport? How has it all started? 

I’ve been into cars since childhood. Show me a little boy who doesn’t like hearing the roar of engines and speedy cars. I bet you can hardly find one. Back in 2008, I plunged into the life of motorsport for the first time. I got invited to assist the referees on the track during the autocross in Kharkiv. That’s exactly when I set myself a goal to become a sports car pilot. No matter what. 

I was refereeing until 2018. Also, I was an officially accredited person of the FIA and was involved in refereeing/organizing virtually all official types of motorsport throughout Ukraine. In 2012, I got invited as a co-pilot for an amateur rally. It was a starting point of my life chapter as a motor sportsman. Unfortunately, we didn’t reach the finish line at that competition, but it didn’t upset me. I had a clear understanding that achieving excellent results without preparation and training wasn’t possible. As Michael Schumacher once said, “Losing can teach you more than winning”

From 2012 to 2014, I continued to be a referee and participated as a co-driver in amateur rallies several times. In August 2014, I managed to buy a small sports car (which I still have). In October, I passed an exam and got a driver’s license. Yes, it was quite a funny thing — I bought my first car before I got a driving permit. I guess buying this vehicle prompted me to get a driver’s license as soon as possible. Since then, I’ve been participating in various types of competition in my own car. Also, I take part as a co-driver in semi-professional and amateur teams sometimes, in which my car simply doesn’t fit the class.

Motorsport - Referee on autocross racing
Oleksandr is a referee on autocross racing. Kharkiv (2016)
Motorsport - autoslalom
Autoslalom. Kharkiv (2015)

Did you take any extreme driving courses?

To be honest, I didn’t. I came to motorsport quite late, learned a bunch of things by myself, and polished my skills with every race. Most motor sportsmen have been training in karting clubs since childhood, where they master driving vehicles in non-standard conditions. Ironically, I tried myself in karting competitions after I’ve already received awards in big motorsport. Now, when I have a chance, I train on closed grounds or tracks and upgrade my level during the races. 

Motorsport - winter carting
Why not go to winter karting in the off-season? (2017)

Why did you choose motorsport? What do you like about it?

I believe you don’t choose motorsport; motorsport chooses you. Having tried once, you either understand that it’s not your cup of tea or can’t imagine your further life without it. 

Why motorsport? It’s all about speed, risk and, to some extent, freedom. I like testing my limit and driving to the extreme. It’s like walking on the razor’s edge. On the track, you’re limited only by your own and your car’s capabilities. During the race, you entirely commit yourself to it. No mind-wandering. This could be quite dangerous instead. In motorsport, it’s possible to drive legally without any restrictions. But I’m not a fan of car street racing on public roads. A track, a platform, or a rally trail is kind of an outlet for those who love speed. 

Motorsport - Ferrari
Just a Ferrari fan!

What are the possible risks and difficulties? Have you faced any of them? 

It all depends on the level of competition. There are such contests, in which you need to follow the traffic rules most of the time. We call them calculated rallies. A co-pilot holds a big responsibility there. The task is not to arrive as fast as you can but to arrive exactly on time. Being late or being early is penalized. The crew doesn’t know where it will get in the end. We use a special book for navigation — a legend. Usually, we get it 30 minutes before the start. The risks are minimal. You can compete in any car. As a rule, horsepower doesn’t affect the result here, so you can drive even on a family minivan. 

In other kinds of motorsport, there are medium and high risks. For example, slalom or sprint slalom (high-speed maneuvering in a car) I would refer to the average level. You can have small damages or scratches here, but it’s quite a rare thing. Beginners are also allowed to participate. 

Motorsport - Pedestal on Kuyalnyk Rally
The pedestal on Kuyalnyk Rally near Odesa (2017)

Championships in mini-rallies, rallies, cross, and other semi-professional and professional sports have a high level of risk. Although there are trophies for production cars, you need to understand that this is a rally and scratches on the paint could be the smallest damage. Breakdowns of suspension, engine, box details or a running gear are quite possible. Serious accidents can also happen. I was dealing with all of the above. But accidents are probably the most difficult.

I had a head-on collision with a tree at high speed on a fast lane in the woods. My chest and neck hurt for 2-3 weeks, and the car had to be repaired for several months. It’s not funny at all. I have to note that rally cars are more secure than regular ones. They have a steel safety cage inside of them. A pilot and a co-driver are fastened with 5-point seat belts and have special jumpsuits on them that protect against fire for a time during which you can leave the car. Helmets and fire extinguishing systems are also a mandatory attribute for such cars.

Technically, it’s much safer in such cars than in those that you can usually meet on the road. But such level of safety is a necessity given the speeds at which we drive in the fields, in the mountains, in the woods at competitions.

Motorsport - A springboard jump
Kuyalnyk Rally. A springboard jump (2017)
Motorsport - Mariupol
At the opening of the Estuary Cup in Mariupol (2018)

How often do you participate in motosport competitions? What achievements, titles, or awards are you proud of?

Previously, competitions were held every weekend during the season (from March to November, with a hot season in summer). I even had to choose sometimes whether I would go to Mariupol for the championship or stay in Kharkiv and compete for the local cup. Unfortunately, the events of 2014 and current quarantine measures affected us a lot. This season, I participated just in two races. In one of them, which was held in fields near Derhachi, I participated out of the competition as part of the crew with a 000 number. We opened competitions and were the first car to enter the track. Our primary task was to help organizers and to check out if the track was ready before the battle peloton started. Also, we served as a marker for spectators signaling that the battle crews will start in a couple of minutes. It was very responsible work. The point is that real rally monsters were about to start in a few minutes right after my crew. My car is less powerful and doesn’t have a safety cage. I had to drive as fast as I could so the battle channel didn’t catch up with me, and to be accurate at the same time.

Motorsport - XADO Rally Cup 1
XADO Rally Cup. Crew 000. Derhachi (2020)
Motorsport - XADO Rally Cup 2
Motorsport - XADO Rally Cup 3
XADO Rally Cup. 36 sec before the start (2020)

As for titles and awards, I had the chance to get the title of the Candidate for Master of Sports for second place in the national series in autoslalom according to the season results. But I decided not to bother myself. In general, I stood on the pedestals of different competitions and different steps. As they say, I’ve got a lot of cups to brag about. 🙂 But they are just nice benefits. There are situations when you win a cup but aren’t happy with the result because it could be better. Sometimes, you don’t win a cup but feel over the moon because you pushed yourself to the limits and squeezed the most out of the car.

Motorsport - TimeAttack 2
The first TimeAttack in Kharkiv. Oleksandr won third place in his class (2020)
Motorsport - TimeAttack
TimeAttack, Kharkiv (2020)

I don’t know what cup I’m the proudest of. I can say which one has the most value for me. We won it in Dnipro. It’s valuable to me not only as a sporting achievement. It was a co-pilot’s rally. My co-pilot rode it for the first time. We were focused on training, not the result. But we did very well and got ahead of very experienced crews, including those from Kharkiv. To be perfectly blunt, we were even surprised to come in first. That was the first and only cup we received via Nova Poshta. The award ceremony was scheduled for the next day, so we decided to return to Kharkiv that night and not wait for it. The next day after counting the results we got a congratulation by phone and handed our cups by the delivery service. 🙂

Motorsport - Druzhba Rally
Cups for the first place in Druzhba Rally in Dnipro, delivered by Nova Poshta (2017).
Kuyalnyk Rally in Odesa region. +32° on the street (2017)

Tell us about any interesting or memorable situation from the races. 

There is something memorable in every race. We always discuss interesting moments and share our impressions after the competition. One of the most memorable was my first race as a co-driver of a battle rally car with an experienced pilot on board. It was a Kuyalnyk Rally that took place near Odesa. The heat was about +30-32°. As a rule, racing cars don’t have air conditioning. Moreover, it is even removed to reduce the weight and not take away power from the engine. After each ride on the track, I could literally squeeze my jumpsuit and dried a helmet in the sun. The most important thing was not to get a heat stroke. I couldn’t drink a lot either or it would be like an aquarium on the track. It was a grueling race. But such difficulties and hardships are one of the reasons why we come back to this sport again and again. 

What are the traits that help you achieve good results?

It’s a focus on the present moment and a clear understanding of what I’m doing and why. Motorsport is that kind of sport where carelessness and a lack of discipline can cost you much more than just a few lost seconds on the track. Also, it’s my strong desire to win, I suppose. On top of that, you should have nerves of steel. 

Who is your favorite racing driver and a role model for you? 

It won’t be a big surprise if I say that Michael Schumacher is the biggest motivator for me. He is not only a talented pilot but also a remarkable man with a strong character. As a German, he is accurate and meticulous on the track. But Michael isn’t the only role model to me. Ayrton Senna da Silva and Alessandro Zanardi are also on my list of the best drivers. Ayrton is well-known for driving in the rain like nobody else. He has got the nickname “Rain Man”. The way how accurately he did that was beyond imagination. His concentration was unbelievable. He conquered the race in Monaco like no other driver in history. As to Zanardi, I respect and admire him not as a pilot but as a man with iron willpower. Alessandro lost both his legs in a horrific accident on the track. He returned to motorsport anyway and participated in the Paralympics. These athletes left a powerful mark in the world of sports. They motivate me to be strong, confident, focused, and stout-hearted. 

What are your ambitious goals in motorsport? 

Any athlete has got them, I guess. Of course, I would like to participate in Formula 1, for example, but I’m already old for this. By modern standards, that’s true. The majority of Formula 1 pilots started at the age of 5 at karting and entered the royal races by 19-22. Well, it doesn’t hurt to dream, right? 

Also, I would like to take part in the Paris-Dakar rally. It’s a particular and tough competition, a challenge for a crew and a car. However, this dream can come true. There are Ukrainian teams that have already participated in the Paris-Dakar rally. It’s quite a pricey pleasure, though. 

How do you manage to combine your hobby with work?

Almost all competitions are held on weekends, so it’s not a big deal. Of course, there are exceptions when a race lasts for two days and takes place in another city. In such cases, I have to leave on Friday to get there on time, set up camp and go through all the checkups. Plus, I have to take a vacation. All of this could not be possible without work. Technically, there are no professional racers in Ukraine. I don’t mean their experience and the level of piloting. We have a lot of experienced pilots including world-class racers. I mean that we don’t have pilots who would have contracts and would be paid a salary for their participation in races. More than 90% of our pilots are people who participate in races at their own expense and invest their money in equipment. If you want to participate in championships, you need to travel to different cities. It means that transportation, food and accommodation costs, participation fees, and other expenses fall on the shoulders of the pilot and his crew. In this case, work is a way to make money on a hobby. A hobby is a way to take a break from work. That’s kind of a balance. 🙂 

Motorsport - Autograd Rally
The first Autograd Rally. Jeepers asked to replace a co-pilot. 3rd team place (2019)

What advice do you have for novice racers? 

First of all, don’t be afraid to try. Don’t worry that your first time on track will be nothing but failure. We all went through this. It takes time to achieve results. If you have a desire to try — try it or at least come and see. Who knows, you can be amazed and will never want to quit. There are some kinds of motorsport for beginners that don’t require huge investments. You can participate in some of them in your own car. The organizers always try to create comfortable conditions for beginners. The racing community is also here to help them master the fundamentals, explain some things, and give advice. The main thing is not to get upset when things don’t work out. Practice makes perfect. There was a time when the greatest racers were losers. And for motivation, I can say that participation even in amateur races significantly improves your driving skills. You will better understand the dimensions of the car and its behavior, which will be a benefit in extreme situations. The motor sportsmen have a much better reaction than ordinary drivers. Given the realities on the roads, it’s quite a good trait to have. Fair winds to you! 

Before you go, learn more about Daxxers at IRONMAN 70.3 Turkey 2020. Read an interview with Mykhailo Korzun and Dmytro Zhuzhniev here.

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