Czech national rally champion many times over, European champion, and winner of numerous famous world championship races. What kind of driver is Jan Kopecký in real life? What kind of relationship does he have to cars?
He was winning go-kart races when he was still at school. By the time he started winning regular car races, he still didn’t have a driving licence. And he wasn’t even 20 when he won his first big championship – the popular ŠKODA OCTAVIA Cup in 2001. When he wasn’t racing, his car of choice – just like hundreds of thousands of other Czechs at the time – was a plain old FELICIA. When you meet Jan Kopecký, you can tell straight away that he comes from a big-hearted car-racing family.
Car for sale – one careful race car driver
Jan Kopecký has been racing in ŠKODA cars for nearly 20 years, and for the last 11 of them he has been a rally driver for the ŠKODA Motorsport factory team. It’s no surprise, then, that he’s faithful to ŠKODA in his personal life as well. He currently drives an OCTAVIA RS 245, and when he finally decides to sell it, it’ll prove a surprisingly good deal for the new owner. Seeing “previous owner: race car driver” in an ad would definitely put off most people, who are looking for a car owned by “one careful old lady”, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a car that has received better care.
“I really love cars, and I like to take care of them too. I even clean and wash them myself. I’d never take my own car to the car wash – I’d worry about scratching the paint. I really pamper my cars – I have a personal relationship with them and don’t just think of them as a way of getting around,” explains Kopecký. The same also applies to his rally car, currently a FABIA R5.
While it’s true that he is quite prepared to give the car a hammering at the races, he knows it will still get the royal treatment from ŠKODA Motorsport’s mechanics afterwards. As Kopecký himself says, the car has to be cleaned perfectly after every race, no matter how much mud and gravel it has picked up. This is the only way to detect any wear before it becomes a problem.
Losing his driving licence? Game over
Any thoughts we might have that a rally driver would be a speed demon on the road are misplaced. If you happen to encounter Jan Kopecký on the road, you can relax, and for two reasons. The first is that he’s always completely focused on driving. Have you ever wondered if race drivers feel like they’re driving in slow motion when they’re on a normal road? In truth, they do.
“In all modesty, the difference between me and an untrained driver is enormous. The speed that we race at really gives us a shifted sense of perception. We’re able to keep track of so many things and see details that a normal person would never notice,” Kopecký says, describing the advantages of being a rally driver.
The second reason is that he simply doesn’t want to take the risk. “The OCTAVIA RS 245 is the fastest ŠKODA I’ve ever owned. It’s great to have the power when you need to accelerate in order to overtake someone safely, and the RS can take off like a rocket. But I don’t use this car to drive 200 km/h down a regular road. First off, it’s not allowed. Secondly, I can’t afford to lose my driving licence, because it means I would automatically have to quit racing,” says Kopecký.
Czechs lack politeness
Kopecký’s list of sporting achievements is impressively long. Driving for ŠKODA Motorsport, he became the European Rally champion in 2013, he won the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship in 2014 the Czech Rally Championship in 2004, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and this year – in his FABIA R5 – he has already squeezed in World Championship victories at the famous Monte-Carlo Rally and the Corsica Linea – Tour de Corse. If anyone can drive fast, then, it’s Kopecký. Yet he remains modest and takes it easy on the roads.
“On Czech roads, I’m mostly missing a sense of fluency and politeness. I’d say that we Czechs are too arrogant behind the wheel sometimes,” says Kopecký. As for himself, he respects the Highway Code and always tries to keep abreast of what’s going on around him. “I don’t like being stuck in a long line of moving traffic, where your vision is limited and you don’t have much chance of responding to an unexpected situation. I’d rather overtake. My grandfather used to tell me that a million different situations can happen on the road at any moment. And he was right. That’s why I’m always trying to keep one step ahead.
10 Questions for Jan Kopecký
1. How did work go yesterday?
There’s always a lot going on. When the rallies are happening, I have to deal with the speed tests as well as the reconnaissance laps and the official starts. I prepare by viewing the onboard recording, comparing the track to previous years, things like that. In addition to the actual races, I also take part in a number of tests with the ŠKODA Motorsport team, where I help to tune and develop the FABIA R5. This, plus hard work, is something I really enjoy. And it’s really important for me to keep in shape, so I’ve always got something to do.
2. What got you started in motor sports?
My family. My grandfather raced motorcycles, and he was into motocross and endurance racing. He was involved when the first go-karts arrived in Czechoslovakia. My father carried on the tradition, adding uphill races to go-karts, and in 1994 he became the first Czech European champion. When I was growing up, I tried all kinds of sports, but when I was 11 years old I went to my dad and told him that I’d like to try go-karts too. He himself was all for me to get into racing, of course, but he never forced me – I’m really grateful to him for this.
3. What do you enjoy most about your work?
Mostly the adrenaline. And then, of course, there are the successes and the victories, just like in any sport. It takes a lot of work – motor sports take a mental, physical, and financial toll. So when it all works out and you can see the results, it’s really satisfying.
4. And, conversely, what makes you angry?
Motor sports, like any professional sport, take up a great deal of time. There are no free weekends or holidays. You just have to keep going. It can get pretty exhausting.
5. What was it like when you first drove a car?
The very first time, I was maybe five or six when I sat on my dad’s lap and drove an Avia truck. But that’s just what I’ve heard from them telling me. My first car was a FELICIA 1.6, and I still remember how I couldn’t wait to pass my driving test.
6. What would you do if there were no cars?
In motor sports, we say that there’s no such thing as “what if”. So I thank my lucky stars that cars exist. I’m sure that I’d find some other hobby, and I guess it would be another sport.
7. How do you think cars will look in 20 years?
I don’t really think too much about it. I like cars as they are.
8. What did you like to play with as a kid?
My favourite toy was definitely a bike. I grew up in a village, so I was always outside, flying around on my bike.
9. Got any good unusual stories about you and a car?
Almost everything that I experience is unusual and involves a car, so it’s hard to choose. But I remember how my friends and I used to go to the disco. I always drove them there, let them out, and while they were on the dance floor I would head out for a drive in the woods. Then I’d pick them up after a few hours and we would drive home. You’d be surprised at how much I learned behind the wheel at discos.
10. If you could take a drive anywhere in the world, where would you go?
My dreams have already come true in this sense, as I’ve traveled all over the world doing motor sports. My favourite country is Australia, followed by Japan. I’d head out there again any time.