Interview March 25, 2021

Promising Young Man: Story of Ukrainian Who Won Formula 4 Race

If you are wondering what is happening in the world of Ukrainian motorsport, we have the answer: Ivan Peklin. He became the first Ukrainian to win a Formula 4 race in 2020. During that historically iconic race, the 18-year-old Ukrainian driver finished first and took first prize in the second race of the second stage on the famous circuit in Magny-Cours, France.

For karting drivers Formula 4 is often the first big test in single-seaters and Ivan's victory in Formula 4 is the result of a huge amount of work done and perseverance. At the age of 16, he became the youngest Ukrainian carting champion. He already has the title of Master of Sports and not going to stop. 

At the moment Ivan is in Ukraine. Last week he was in Italy for testing with the GT Open Championship «Team Lazarus» in a Bentley Continental GT3.

Last year, while Ivan was in France, we talked to him about the lockdown, work, training, simracing, and plans for the future. Read more in the interview below.

Photo credits: Ivan Peklins personal archive

GetInPro: How did it happen that you were in France during the lockdown?

Ivan Peklin: I am currently competing in the French F4 Championship and have been in France since 13 August. It is rather problematic to travel from Ukraine to France all the time. In order not to accidentally get stuck in Ukraine and not to miss several stages of the championship, I decided to stay here. Plus, it's very good that here I am completely immersed in a sports mode: a lot of training on the simulator and physical, well, constant competition. Usually, the season lasts for 6-7 months, and now it has been compressed into three months, so the races are much more frequent and I like it.

GP: Does Simracing help you or is it difficult to change to a regular car afterwards?

I.P.: There are professional sim-racers, and there are professional racers who use sim-racing to improve their skills on the track. Of course, I can't compete with professional sim-racers. Simracing is a very wide area, there are many different games of the F1 type. The physics and behavior of the machines there are very different, and, of course, if you train and play constantly, then later it will be more difficult to adapt to real machines. But there are some applications, and if you choose and adjust the steering wheel and pedals correctly, use high-quality equipment, it helps.

GP: High-quality equipment, programs... What do you train on?

I.P.: During the spring lockdown in Ukraine, I had to train somehow, so I started to assemble my simulator. For sim-racing and racing, the wheel and pedals are the most important. I bought hydraulic pedals. These are pedals from a racing car, to which contacts were screwed and connected to a computer. They are almost the same as in my real car. Plus, I bought a Fanatec Podium (a series of steering wheels and steering motors), a monitor, a computer, a seat with a Formula-like seating position — where the seating position is different from landing in a regular car or go-kart. I did all this at home and began to train.

GP: Do you have access to a simulator in France?

I.P.: Yes, when the simulator is not occupied by other pilots, I train. Since I compete in the French championship, they have it in the format of an academy with the support of the French Motorsport Federation. And, of course, the local simulator is much more professional than mine at home.

GP: How are your days going? How long does it take to train?

I.P.: I'll tell you about my routine at the academy at Le Mans. It’s a cool city, by the way. The atmosphere of racing is felt at every corner. In general, the routine is as follows: I get up in the morning, go to the academy, train there, depending on the simulator's employment, because there are many pilots, but there’s only one simulator . If the simulator is busy, then I go to the gym: cardio, cycling, running — I need to be not only strong, but also enduring, and have a minimum of fat — this is important in our sport. When the simulator is free, I train with my race engineer — this is about 6 sessions of 30 minutes each.

After each session, we open telemetry and check the graphs, which show all the speed indicators: how we accelerated, how we slowed down... The racing engineer and I analyse all this, looking for where we can accelerate. In the evening I go home. If I compete, then the routine changes.

In the French championship, for example, there were two stages: one in Belgium, the other one in Holland. We left in advance and spent a test day there. Depending on the track and the possibilities, we have a different number of training sessions. Then qualifications and three races begin.

GP: It's great that you're in such a sporty mode. Against the background of the mention of sim racing, I thought about the classic image of an esports player in a non-gaming environment…

I.P.: Incorrect posture, glasses, constantly sitting at the computer…

GP: Yes, yes, and it's really cool that over the past few years, since the moment esports was recognized as official in Ukraine, teenagers have begun to develop the correct image of an esports player. In your opinion, how important is it to spread these ideas? Especially to those people who can influence their peers and younger generations?

I.P.: I like my lifestyle and I promote it in a good way . But, of course, this is one’s personal choice. I like what I do, and when I communicate with my peers, older or younger people, they see that I live an interesting and full life. Healthy eating, normal regimen, a lot of things ... because racing is a whole world and it's very interesting. It's so cool when teenagers and young people don't drink beer in parks on a bench, but start doing something, and, most importantly, start taking care of themselves. This raises not only their standard of living but, in principle, the standard of living of the country. After all, when the authorities see that interest in sports begins to grow, then paths and playgrounds appear — this is all connected, and I believe that this is how it should be.

GP: Should the government somehow react and do something, given that esports is now an official sport? For example, if cyclists have lanes, what can they do to promote esports among younger generations in our country?

I.P.: It's hard for me to say, I'm still not a professional esportsman and I don't see all the subtleties, but definitely, for cycling, football, or swimming — you need to build paths, pools or football fields, and for esports — it is necessary to develop arenas, academies, and tournaments with coaches, where children could improve their game, and then represent our country in international competitions. I think we need to move in this direction. If we talk about auto racing, it would be nice to build more tracks both for go-karting and big motorsport so that Kyiv has something else other than Chaika.

GP: In the direction of motorsport, imagine that there are no restrictions and you could implement cool things to develop the industry. What would you do? Let there be Top-3 for maximum advancement and improvement — everything that should be available for young people who want to be in motorsport.

I.P.: The program for supporting young pilots is #1. For example, in Russia, there is such a program as SMPRacing, which supports young pilots directly from karting. They already have three drivers in F1 and F2. Plus, in 2021 there will be one more F1 driver, I think, and there will be two more pilots in F3. This program invests a lot of money in pilot development and support, because motorsport is not a cheap joke, and often the families of young pilots and, even talented guys, do not have the budget to climb up the world motorsport ladder. Therefore, the creation of such a program is very important. The second suggestion is the development of the tracks. These are karting tracks, and large ones of the F1 level. There is nowhere much to train now and this brings its difficulties. The third idea is to achieve the F1 Grand Prix held in Ukraine. As soon as F1 arrives, other equally well-known and very high-level series will catch up: Le Mans, the world GT series, F2 and F3. This is very economically beneficial because many fans come to such events.

GP: We touched on a financial issue. Tell us how much a season in karting and F4 costs?

I.P.: I don't know all the numbers. Generally speaking, the European level of karting and F4 depends on the number of days, training, championship, and other factors — it will be somewhere around €130-250 000 per season. If we talk about F1, then you need to be in the right place at the right time. Provided that the pilot shows phenomenal results, then there is nothing to pay, and the best teams will immediately pick him up. If the pilot is average, although there are no average pilots in F1 and they are still the best, nevertheless, if the pilot is a little worse than others, but he has a lot of money, he can get into the team by paying € 5-10-15 million — depending on the speed of the pilot, on the team, and sponsorship budgets.

Photo credits: Ivan Peklins personal archive

GP: How can you make money as a pilot? For those who want to connect the future with this, tell us about the most important moments and stages.

I.P.: It's difficult. For example, in football, you don’t have to play for the largest team to receive a salary of several thousand euros. Motorsport is more difficult. The investment pays off after many decades. If we look at the Formula ladder, then approximately until F1 is paid by sponsors, and of course, if you show good results, you can negotiate everything with sponsors and get a good salary from them. The «Formula» audience is probably the largest in the world and for sponsors, it is important and commercially interesting. For the fact that their logos are displayed on cars and pilots, sponsors receive much more profits than the amounts they invest. After a sponsor's salary, for example, in F1, this is a salary from the team, additional bonuses for good results, advertising contracts with various fashion and luxury brands. It can also be coaching. For example, I sometimes earn money this way. But it's more of a hobby when you have free time.

GP: Interesting. How is the process of training young pilots going?

I.P.: When I am in Ukraine, I combine business with this hobby of mine. But I do it anyway more because of what I like, not because of the money.

GP: Does the training take place in person?

I.P.: Yes, usually on karting.

GP: How about virtual training? Do you have such an experience?

I.P.: In the spring, the world stood on a brake-crane and everything turned into a virtual plane, especially into sim-racing. I have not seen the statistics, but I think that this area has skyrocketed at times, compared to the previous years. Real pilots came to sim-race during the quarantine and lockdown. When the audience began to increase, various companies and agencies that train pilots began to contact me. This usually happens on the tracks, but because of the quarantine, I was offered to train online with F3 and F4 drivers. I also taught one student in Ukraine on a simulator. According to the same scheme that I train here in France, but for the fact that I combined the position of a coach with a racing engineer. We drove the session, then analyzed the telemetry. So it is possible to train in online mode.

GP: What are the perspectives for the development of virtual motorsport?

I.P.: Even without a lockdown, it will develop very rapidly. Already developing. For example, F1 has entered the virtual space. Or, the virtual 24 Hours of Le Mans. Interestingly, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, each team had two professional pilots and two sim-racers. A lot of well-known eminent pilots performed in this format: F1 pilots, 24 Hours of Le Mans winners, FIAWEC winners (the world endurance championship of 8 races lasting at least 4 hours). IndyCar holds its races, NASCAR, GT, DTM. Besides, using the example of F1, we see that the sim-racers are signed by the Formula teams and they become brand ambassadors. And I'm sure they make good money.

GP: Are you talking about sim-racers, not professional racers?

I.P.: Yes, exactly. About those that were originally sim-racers, and at the same time could never even drive a real car. We generally have a limitation for pilots who have professional racing licenses. Last year there were world car games in which the Ukrainian took gold in the drift category. There were only six categories: GT, F4, Drift, Touring, Karting, and Esports. And in esports, it is clearly stated that a pilot does not need to have a racing license. For example, I will not be able to represent Ukraine in esports.

GP: So do you have an advantage by being a pro?

I.P.: Yes. If we consider simulators as close to reality as possible, then I have some advantage, because I know how a car behaves in real life. But even on these simulators, I will not be able to catch up with the guys who practise this game for 8-10 hours every day.

GP: Do you think that even as a professional pilot, you can lose to a sim-racer, who has never been behind the wheel of a real car, but are constantly training?

I.P.: Yes. I will lose half a second or a second at most. But if we sit in a real car, then the difference can be 25-30 seconds of the circle. To my advantage.

GP: What about the sim-racers that have switched to real cars?

I.P.: I am not familiar with such guys, but on the Internet I saw that sim-racers tried themselves in motorsport, and it was not bad. But there is a nuance: the sim-racer drives a lot, fearlessly, with a lot of tries and attacks, and if he crashes the car, then nothing will happen. But on a real track, this is a rather chilling factor, because when you drive 230-260 km/h, near the walls, and you understand that a car can cost € 500 000 or even €1 million, this can create psychological pressure and prevent real racers from reaching such a speed like sim-racers in virtual races.

GP: So a career in virtual motorsport is available to anyone who doesn't have the opportunity to do it in real life, isn’t it?

I.P.: Yes, of course. And showing good results, you can represent the country in GT under the auspices of the International Motorsport Federation on the same days and the same tracks, as the stages of the real world championships. World championships are held there, where pilots from different countries can get into the F1 esports series, even meet with Formula drivers, because this is all one concern. They promote all teams, including esports.

GP: Did you drive in this format: with pilots or was it a mixed-race?

I.P: Last summer I went to iracing — 24 hours Spa-Francorchamps. We drove with the whole team of riders: I'm from Formula, and the other guys from the rally, the go-kart, and the time attack. But they could not catch up with the real sim-racers, they were still faster.

GP: Have you had any experience of streaming on Twitch?

I.P.: I was planning, even looking for a good camera. The problem was that I was assembling my simulator for a long time and waited for the pedal, for about 4 months. Then I saw that my season was starting soon and I need to prepare for the races. But I like this idea and I think I will somehow implement it. By the way, when we went to the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps, everyone was connected to the cameras, so in fact, I was in the stream. But I didn't have time to create my channel and start streaming myself.

GP: There is a trend towards electric motors in the civil car industry. Do you think this will happen in auto racing and will there be a moment when the classic Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren on gasoline engines will remain only in sim racing?

I.P.: Honestly, deep down, I don't want that. I respect electric cars, but I love gasoline engines and their sound. I grew up driving these vehicles , and they are like family to me. I understand that everything is moving forward, and maybe in 30-40 years, people will give up the internal combustion engine and everything will be powered by electricity. However, we do have Formula E. It's like F1, only with electric motors. All the leading brands compete there: BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Porsche, Nissan, but the problem is that the cars go on very narrow and small tracks. They have great dynamics, they go fast, but if you take them to a large track for 5-7 km, where the distances are straight, then the charge will be enough for only 5-7 laps. 

Photo credits: Ivan Peklins personal archive

They drive along the narrow streets in the city so that there are no long accelerations. In an «accelerate-decelerate-accelerate-decelerate» format, the batteries are constantly recharged and can travel longer. But at the same time, it is interesting to go into the boxes and see huge diesel engines that charge these batteries. That is, now it is not at such a high level to replace F1 and all races in the world. But in the future, when refueling an electric car will be the same as for a gasoline car — I plugged it in for 15 seconds and that's it, then yes, all this will 100% replace internal combustion engines.

GP: And the last thing: How about plans for the near future and the feeling of being here and now?

I.P.: I'll start by feeling the moment of here and now. If it speaks about what I have achieved so far, then, on the one hand, the level of F4 racing may seem like something frivolous, because this is only the first step to Formulas, but on the other hand, it is a very high level of competition. All the guys are young and «hungry» and want to get into F1. It's hard to compete with them, especially those who are a little younger than me. I am already 19 years old, and some are 16 years old. Often they don't think ahead and just drive, so accidents and collisions happen, and the race ends for both of us.  

Auto racing is a lot of stress and tension. Those 25 minutes of racing are just the tip of the iceberg, and everything below is a tremendous amount of everyday work. 

I constantly notice that I am growing psychologically and as a pilot, I become stronger and better, I quickly adapt to cars and tracks. I pay a lot of attention to analysis, studying in detail every victory and defeat, always looking for what can be improved. When you are the winner, you need to move on, because if you stop, then tomorrow someone else will be in your place. 

Season 2021 is about to start and I’m very excited to announce my plans soon...

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