Kalin Benchev is one of the most experienced rally drivers from neighbouring Bulgaria

“Whenever I hear the word Sibiu, I think about Trasfăgărăşan”.
On how one of the best Bulgarian drivers that participates at Sibiu Rally sees Sibiu

At 30, Kalin Benchev is one of the most experienced rally drivers from neighbouring Bulgaria. With a record that boasts with stages and titles won in the Bulgarian National Championship, he is now preparing to rev up his engine for the Sibiu Rally on April 15 and 16, because this year Sibiu Rally is for the first time the first stage of the Bulgarian National Championship. The Bulgarian driver, who will be steering a Subaru Impreza, agreed to do a short interview for Turnul Sfatului where he tells about how he first entered the world of motorsport, how he sees Romania and what Sibiu fascinates him with.

Reporter: Describe yourself in a few words, so that people from Romania get to know you. Who is driver Kalin Benchev?
Kalin Benchev: I am 30 years old and have been involved in the world of motorsport for more than 12 years. For eight years I channelled all my resources and efforts on making Subaru cars. At that time I had already created the company STI.bg, specialized in preparing Subaru cars for city and races. That was only out of sheer passion.

Rep.: How did you get in contact with the world of motorsport? What’s your story? Where did this passion for speed come from?
K. B.: I started my career when I was 15 years old, participating in karting competitions. By the time I was 18, my passion for cars fascinated and carried me, so I decided to prepare my first car with frame rails – with that car I passed my very first test. After that I started carefully preparing my second car, aiming to participate in the Bulgarian Time Attack Championship, with an Opel Kadett. That was a car I used for three years. But in 2008 we bought our first Subaru and really started to have a race car there. And then we participated in many events from Bulgaria and Greece.
“In 2012 we won the X/4 title”
In 2011, I first participated in the Bulgarian Hill Climb Championship – where I made a rookie mistake and was forced to abandon race, but I ended the championship first in my class. In 2012, I had a new team, with one of the most experienced drivers from Bulgaria, Rumen Dunev, who helped me in many ways. We participated in all stages of the Bulgaria Championship and won the X/4 title. In 2013, I was beside the team leader, Rumen Dunev, when he was unrightfully sanctioned, so we decided together with the team not to participate anymore and only focus on training. Just like every winter, we had been riding thousands of kilometres on snowy roads for training and when 2014 approached, the Federation announced a speed on snow rally, so we decided to compete again. We managed to do a good race and finished on the third position.
“We were the first champions in the history of Rally Sprint Championship”
After that, myself and my co-driver, Alex Spirov, have won the Rally Sprint Championship 2014 and became the first champions in the history of this competition. We had a pretty limited run last year in the Bulgaria National Championship because our car was not ready 100%. Rally Bulgaria was one of the examples – we had the third best time, but immediately after encountering a technical problem, we compromised our race. This year we are close to having a collaboration with one of the biggest companies in Romania that prepare Subaru race cars – Dog Tuning. Together we will prepare our race car for this season.

Rep.: Related to Sibiu Rally, in 2012 and 2013 it was a stage in the IRC and ERC. What does it mean for you to compete in the land where famous French driver Francois Delecour also steered his car?
K. B.: Sibiu… Sibiu will be an entirely new experience for us. Of course we knew it had been an ERC and IRC stage and I am very proud to be able to steer in the places where renowned drivers from the entire world have been present. Whenever someone says the word Sibiu, the first thing that comes into my mind is the Transfăgărăşan… one of the most beautiful roads in the world. It is fascinating!

Rep.: Transfăgărăşan was replaced with Transalpina this year for the Sibiu Rally…
K. B.: I have heard, that’s a pitty… I was a bit upset when I found out that the stage did not comprise this jewel of a road. Anyway, I do expect it to be a difficult rally, with many crews and with a fierce battle where hundreds of participants will try to give their best in order to win.

Rep.: Are there other things you know about Sibiu, besides the Transfăgărăşan?
K. B.: I only know it has one of the most beautiful rallies. For us it is an entirely new place, but I hope to learn more things about Sibiu when we get there. I think it will be wonderful!

Rep.: What’s your take on a Romanian city organizing a stage from the Bulgarian National Championship? It is the second time a Romanian city organizes a stage from another country. Five years ago, Arad was organizing a stage in the Hungarian National Championship.
K. B.: I think that this collaboration between the Romanian and Bulgarian Federations is something excellent, which makes propaganda for this sport and that we must encourage. In the past, stages from Bulgaria were also organized in Serbia. Now I am very proud and content with Romanian Rally being this year a stage in our national championship.

Rep.: When you think about Romania, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?
K. B.: When I hear about Romania, what pops into my mind is the fact that we are only separated by a river (he smiles). Both countries still have a lot to work in order to truly become European States and a part of what is wanted in Europe.

Rep.: There has always been a sort or rivalry between Romanians and Bulgarians. How do you find drivers in our country?
K. B.: I hope you mean the motorsport rivalry (he laughs). I know many very gifted Romanian drivers who participated in rallies in Bulgaria. You have many very good drivers!

Rep.: In the end, I want to ask you something that is not related to motorsport. I have a curiosity. Did you hear the famous line about Romania – „Mamalicki go home” – stated by the greatest Bulgarian football player in the history, Hristo Stoichkov, immediately after Romania has won against Bulgaria in 2006?
K. B.: (he smiles) I don’t follow football all that much, but I do know that Stoichkov is the best Bulgarian football player of all times. I cannot comment what he said because I don’t remember this event. But I believe that those words were said in the heat of the moment, in a context where he was upset. That is only an assumption.

Rep.: Thank you very much. And best of luck in Sibiu Rally!
K. B.: Thank you. So be it!

photo: personal Facebook page
sourse: Turnul Sfatului