Žarko Knego had an unlucky 2021 season. He missed a couple of events due to a crash and a limited budget. But during the off-season, he acquired a new Cupra León and now he hopes for a better season – as much as a gentleman driver like himself can.
You participated in selected events last season; what are your plans for this year? Are you going to race at all of the events?
As every year, the plan is to participate in as many events as possible. Due to a big crash in Slovakia last year, I was not able to participate in the last event in Brno. I also skipped Poznan due to the limited budget of my team. However, my plan is to participate in all races in the 2022 season. It is very difficult to find sponsors in Croatia, and that is the main reason why I am not able to guarantee my attendance in all of the races. The number of races also depends on the car’s condition after each race. Last year at Grobnik, I was hit by another competitor and the car was quite damaged. Repairing the car ate up my budget for one event. The situation with sponsors has improved a bit this year, and I hope that I will be able to attend all of the races.
You introduced your new car in February. It’s a Cupra again, but I assume it’s a newer one, isn’t it?
I started searching for another car after the crash in Slovakia last August. I was trying to find a suitable brand which could offer me support in logistics before and during the race. From the experience that I’ve gained competing in TCR Eastern Europe since the beginning of the championship, I’ve learned that the VW group has the best support on track by having a truck full of spare parts immediately available. For my team, which is extremely small, it is important to have such support because we are not able to carry a large stock of parts for two reasons: finances and logistics. I decided to purchase a Cupra León Competición TCR from Zengő Motorsport. This car was driven by Jordi Gené last season in WTCR. The car was in great shape and, with the help of Zengő Motorsport, there was almost no work to be done after the car was handed over to our team.
What kind of preparation did the car go through after you received it?
As I mentioned earlier, Zengő Motorsport prepared the car very well before handover and there were only some small adjustments to be made before testing the car on the track. Once we received the car, my engineer and I agreed on a base setup and we took it to the track for the first time last weekend. Grobnik is my home track, “only” 700 km away from my home town Dubrovnik, and we had the opportunity to test the car there. I did around 50 laps in order to get to know the car and to adapt to the new evolution of Cupra. The car is significantly better than the previous model, but it takes time to adjust to the style of driving and the setup in order to be competitive. Our feeling is that we must make at least two more tests of 60 -70 laps in order to achieve the desired setup and for me to adapt to the new model myself.
How big is the Auto Klub Dubrovnik Racing team for which you’ll be driving? How many members does it have?
Auto Klub Dubrovnik is quite big in Croatian terms. We are one of the oldest clubs in Croatia and we are definitely the most successful club in our country. The tradition of autosport in Dubrovnik is quite long – more than 40 years – and we have had great drivers in the past, such as Niko Pulić and Dubravko Čikor and, in the last 15 years, there have been a few other successful drivers, like Maro Franic, Djivo Franic, and myself. As a car racing club, we have won most championships in Croatia, mostly in circuit and hill climb racing. Apart from team championships, there are numerous individual titles in all car racing disciplines.
At the moment, I am part of the TCR department of AK Dubrovnik Racing, and we are competing in the Croatian circuit championship and TCR EE. This part of the club consists of team manager and main racing engineer Miroslav Rastovic, main technician Zeljko Posavec, technician Tomislav Srbljinovic, and technician Maroje Batina. Dubrovnik Racing is a large community of racing drivers, technicians, stewards, and enthusiasts who are gathering around motorsport in Dubrovnik. Our president is Mr. Juraj Popovic, who is a well-known FIA technician. Last year, he was part of the technical team at WRC in Zagreb and at Formula 1 in Austria, where he was dedicated to supervising the team of competitor #44 – Lewis Hamilton.
It must be difficult for a gentleman driver to fight with professional drivers, most of whom have up-to-date cars. What kind of results would make you happy – during race weekends and also in the overall standings?
Yes, it is not easy to match professional drivers and their standards. It is important to know that, unfortunately, racing is not my job. I run a family company that employs 40 people and that is spread throughout the entire country of Croatia. This takes up most of my time and I don’t have much left to focus on racing. I try to use most of my free time on racing and preparation, but taking into consideration that I live in Dubrovnik, which is 700 km away from the closest race track in Grobnik, in these circumstances, it is not so easy to combine private business and racing.
Due to the aforementioned, my goal for the 2022 season is to be around 5th place with the option of “grabbing” a podium, if possible. I am quite realistic, and it is not easy to expect that I will be able to match professional drivers, but I would be very happy to be around 5th-8th overall at the end of the season.
There is a new addition in the TCR Eastern Europe calendar – the Red Bull Ring. Do you welcome the return of this Austrian circuit?
Yes, this is a nice track with quite a simple configuration if you compare it to, for example, Slovakia Ring. The infrastructure is great and, due to the fact that F1 is driven on this track and that Red Bull is one of the biggest sponsors in motorsport, we are honoured to race there. I look forward to returning to the Red Bull Ring after two years and hope to score a good result.
You scored your best results at Slovakia Ring last season. Does that track suit you? Or do you have a different favourite circuit?
Slovakia is one of my favourite tracks. I like it because it has a fast and technical part. In order to achieve a good result, you need to be able to adapt to completely different configuration within one lap. If you make 2/3 of the lap perfect and a small mistake in middle technical part it would affect your lap time a lot. That is why I consider this track one of the best that I have raced on. As it is quite new, all infrastructure is great and you don’ t need to leave the circuit for entire weekend.