Croatian driver Žarko Knego performed really well last year, but technical issues stopped him on the way for podium finishes. All parts of his Cupra Leon Competitión were disassembled, checked and assembled again. Knego and his team Auto Klub Dubrovnik is preparing for the new and better season in TCR Eastern Europe.
Žarko, you will continue in TCR Eastern Europe this year. How do you feel about it?
Yes, I will and I am always excited to be a part of this championship and looking forward for the new season. My opinion is that TCR EE is very serious championship with plenty of good and competitive drivers. I like the tracks, where we are racing and I can see that promoter Mr. Krenek is making big efforts to attract more good drivers. Having a „strong“ grid with good drivers makes the championship even more attractive. Hope that more good drivers will join the championship in order to have competition as strong as possible. That is the only way to push other drivers, including myself to improve and move limits of our performance.
You will continue in TCR EE even though your home track Grobnik is no longer in the calendar. Were you considering another option, or was TCR EE your main focus all the time?
I was hoping that Grobnik will remain the calendar for season 2023, but obviously this is not the case. I would prefer to have Grobnik in the calendar, because it is my home track and I am performing there quite good. Last year I had to retire from second place due technical failure. I confirmed my good pace from Red bull Ring and I was hoping to achieve first podium, maybe even a win. Anyway Grobnik will not be a part of this season, I do hope that this will change in the future, but this year we have to focus on the current calendar and try to make best possible result. TCR EE was my only option for this year due to tracks, which are not too far from Croatia, budget which is acceptable and level of competition between the drivers.
In case I wasn´t able to put the budget together, I would compete in Croatian circuit championship, which has become quite good in the past few years. We have five to six TCR cars, constantly racing in our national championship. I understand it is not the level of TCR EE, but still good enough to race and compete. So will be there for some races, which will not collide with TCR calendar.
Was it difficult to find support and sponsorship for this season?
In Croatia this is one of the most difficult tasks. Finding sponsors, especially for motorsport is very difficult and I am still working and negotiating with several companies, who are considering supporting our „project“. Unfortunately, our national oil company is not supporting motorsport enough and they are focusing on other more „commercial“ sports such as football, basketball, handball etc.
Our sport has the ability to take only „sponsorship leftovers“. Budgets which are available for us are not enough to cover ¼ of our costs, therefore we are trying to find other source of financing. If you look at the logos on my car, it is mostly my company and brands of boats/yachts that I am working with.
Are you going to race again with your last year´s Cupra? How did you and your team prepare it for the 2023 season?
I will be racing with my Cupra, which was purchased last year. I am satisfied with the car although I had some technical issues last season, it should be solved now. The car has been disassembled during the winter in order to check all parts and repair/exchange parts, which might be faulty. Just now our team is assembling the car and we expect to have it back on track within next 10 days. Plan is to start testing on Grobnik and try to prepare myself and the car as much as possible for first race and start of the season. We are aiming to perform five to six days of testing on Grobnik before season starts on Oschersleben.
Were there any changes in your team (like more mechanics, better equipment…) during the winter break?
We are constantly working on education of our team members and trying to expand number of available mechanics. Last year we had total of eight different mechanics, who were with us on at least one race. As all of them are working, there might be a race, where they are not able to join us, so we must have enough available people to form a team with at least 3 mechanics. It is nice to see a few young mechanics interested in being a part of our team in the future. We also invested in some new equipment and we purchased a brand-new closed trailer for the car – this was our biggest investment for this season.
You had some bad luck last season and fourteen place in the drivers’ standings don´t really reflect the speed you had. So what are your goals for upcoming season?
When I am asked about last season, I always provide same answer: 2022 was my best year in terms of racing and qualifying pace, but the worst year in terms of final result. I had really bad luck in Red Bull Ring (retirement due to fuel pump failure and crash with Steibel in second race), even worse was in Grobnik where I had to retire from second place again due to fuel pump failure. Second day of Grobnik was cancelled due to death of one of the stewards. In Poland I had gearbox issues, which limited my performance. All in all 2022 was a season full of technical failures, which affected final standings a lot. I hope for more luck this year and final result will be in accordance to my racing pace, I would be happy to end the season in TOP5. In order to achieve my goal, I need to give the best and also have more luck.
What do you think about Oschersleben? Have you ever started there?
I have never raced in Oschersleben, this will be my first time. I am driving this track on simulator and already I can see that there are some parts of the track which can take much of your lap time after small mistake. But also you can gain a lot, if you go through this corner well. I am planning to attend one track day on in March to try to feel it before first training in April. Unfortunately it would be too expensive for me to bring my car on track day in March so I will rent a similar car just to get approximate feeling of the track. I do hope that my simulator will help me to prepare and at least to learn the track in order not loose time when we arrive for the racing weekend.