This time, Ekaterina Stratieva tells her motorsport story – from her childhood dream to her achievements today. She reveals who shaped her career and what this sport – and her experience racing in Bulgaria – have taught her.
WHEEL SISTERS: Ekaterina, please introduce yourself.
Ekaterina: I am Ekaterina Stratieva from Bulgaria – I was born on 5th October 1982 in Sofia, where I also live now. I started my career in 2005 with the national championship for hillclimb races. It was organised by Bulgaria’s motorsport federation. I didn’t have my team at the time and worked with another one.
WHEEL SISTERS: Ekaterina, you started your racing career at the age of 21 with club and hillclimb races. How did you get introduced to motorsport? Can you tell us your career path?
Ekaterina: I was raised on the rally stages in Bulgaria. It was my childhood dream to one day become like them – the pilots. I remember a big international rally in Bulgaria – Rally Albena, where I saw a women’s crew with a car painted with hats and I said to myself that one day I would be like them. And so, gradually, the years passed and the moment came when I got in my first car – a Suzuki Swift in 2005. My father and I prepared it ourselves. We bought everything we needed from Austria from Jansen Competition and, 2 weeks later, I was at my first start in a hillclimb race. We decided to start with this championship and then see whether I would continue with motorsports. That year I did several track starts and, at the end of the year, I said that I would drive a rally in 2006.
We found several cars in Italy and so, at Christmas, I found a very nice Citroen Saxo under the Christmas tree with which I became a champion in my class in mountain climbing two years in a row. My father said that if I repeat the title, we would buy the new generation from Citroen – a C2 R2.
WHEEL SISTERS: In 2006 you participated in a rally event for the first time. How did you prepare?
Ekaterina: As I said, I started with an Italian Saxo and, one sunny day, I responded to Citroen Sport, where we ordered my C2R2max, which still did not have homologation. My car was number 5 in the production order. It was a very special moment in my career.
Many difficult years followed because this car was very different from the previous one. No one was using this car and there was no one to gain experience from. The car was brought to Bulgaria and presented by the champion in ERC Simon Jean Joseph. He gave me a lot of guidance, but I was still young and not ready for all of this advice.
In 2009, I took part in Pirelli Star Drivers – I started with the Rally 1000 Miglia and, after Croatia Delta Rally, I took part in Barum…
In 2010, I went to Romania with Marko Tempestini’s team. He helped me a great deal in participating in more international races. In Romania I met my Romanian co-driver Carmen Poenaru. Together we built the history of “The Blond and the Curly”. This year was one of the best and strongest of my career. We drove together with some very strong ladies. We fought with Molly from Australia, Inessa from Ukraine, Danhelova from the Czech Republic, a Serbian, a Slovenian and a Belgium girl as well as a few others. I enjoyed it a lot and we grew up very fast.
WHEEL SISTERS: A few years later you are the proud owner of three ERC woman trophies. But apart from your prizes: What are you most proud of?
Ekaterina: It’s only now that I’ve realised what a story I’ve written. How many countries I have started in. I have over 65 international starts in more than 20 different countries.
I am proud to be the first woman to receive the Richard Burns Award for Young Drivers.
I am proud that my dream to have 10 consecutive starts in the Barum Rally has come true. At the end of the 10th, the mayor declared me a citizen of the city of Zlin and handed me the key to the city.
I am also proud of the fact that, despite the difficult years I went through due to serious health problems in 2019, I returned and combined experience, knowledge and strategy to win the women’s title again.
WHEEL SISTERS: How difficult is it to be a female race car driver from Bulgaria? Which prejudices do you have to deal with?
Ekaterina: It is not easy. The Bulgarian mentality is strange – instead of people supporting you and being happy about what you achieve, they try to hinder you… but despite the situation I managed to continue. Thank you all for making me stronger and helping me to grow up. I would describe my country as poor and it is very difficult to find sponsors. It makes me hurt when I think about how difficult everything is.
The other difficulty here is that when I beat my colleagues – boys – they get angry with me because I damaged their male ego, while in Europe men come and shake your hand, greet you and say that it was a pleasure to be in a rally with you.
I’ve never tried to make use of the fact that I’m a woman. The moment I put my helmet on at the start, we are all the same – participants in a race.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who are the people around you? Who gives you support?
Ekaterina: I get the most support from my family. So much has happened over the years – there has been so much stress, happiness, so many disappointments, and they have always been with me and behind me.
I received a lot of support from several teams I was part of and here I want to thank Marco Tempestini, Vlad Cosma, Pluto and Vincent Ducher from Sainteloc. I have support from my partners, and of course from my boyfriend, who in recent years has become my co-driver. And there are also organisers who have touched me in some way over the years and who have helped me to be a part of their competitions.
WHEEL SISTERS: You have driven with female and male codrivers. Are there differences in your work with them?
Ekaterina: I can’t say exactly. Everyone is different. I have had six female navigators and each one was different. The important thing is that we are always looking for balance. My strongest years were definitely with Carmen and the most balanced and funny years were with Yuliana. Maybe because we are both Libras. Men sometimes give you strength and peace of mind that whatever happens will work, but they are much more nervous and like to give more intelligence and interfere in what I’m doing.
WHEEL SISTERS: What does motorsport give you personally? How does it make you feel? What aspects of it do you love the most?
Ekaterina: This sport taught me responsibility, fighting, balance and to believe and fight for my dreams. It has given me a lot, but at the same time it also took a lot – a lot of my health, but I want to keep going so I’m fighting to stay on top of it. Despite everything, I wouldn’t change the path I’ve taken. I see this sport as a sport for the intelligent. It’s not just sitting down, pushing pedals and turning the steering wheel. You also need thought, strategy and balance here.
WHEEL SISTERS: Which rally do you love the most and why?
Ekaterina: I love the Barum Rally – it was one of my first international races. There is so much atmosphere, the stages are unique and both tactics and riding style are hugely important. It’s gladiatorial, and as I said, it helped me make my dream come true.
I also like the Azores, it’s so beautiful there and the stages are amazing – and the food is so tasty :) I like the Canaries, Ypres, as well as Ukraine with its Yalta Rally – a very difficult and large-scale race, again with very diverse and specific routes. And of course, there’s Switzerland, which helps you grow in sports. Each one is great in its own way.
WHEEL SISTERS: Who’s your motorsport hero or role model?
Ekaterina: There is a lot to learn from everyone, but somehow, I really like Simon Jean Joseph. I feel connected to him and when I watched him on the tracks, I thought he was flying. He has an interesting history in sports and is basically my idol. He was the person I met at Citroen sport and I also worked with him in 2013/14, which were my strongest years. Thank you, Simon.
WHEEL SISTERS: In general: What is your education and your job?
Ekaterina: I graduated from the National Academy of Arts as a graphic and interior designer, and then from the National Sports Academy as a motor sports coach. I am currently working in graphic design.
WHEEL SISTERS: What is important for girls who want to become a race car driver? What tips do you have for beginners?
Ekaterina: I think it is important for them to be strong and combative. To accept that there are other men and women at the start, and they are all competitors. To follow their dreams, but also to keep their health because they are now girls but, at some point, they have to become mothers.
WHEEL SISTERS: What are your sporting goals in the upcoming months or years?
Ekaterina: It’s hard to say – at the beginning of 2020 I was fully prepared for a strong season. Before the Azores, I was in top shape and there was nothing to stop me. I had a well-organised plan and budget to be able to fight for the top 5 in ERC 3, but in March, when covid came, everything turned upside down. Difficult times came; everything was constantly changing. It was an unhappy year for me, starting in June with a nasty accident that was followed by thousands of other problems.
I don’t know, I’m tired of making plans and organising when everything keeps changing. Now I’m trying to find money and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the world to get better so that we can get back to normal life. After that, we’ll be able to make plans again and follow them through.
At the moment the most important thing is to be healthy!
WHEEL SISTERS: What else would you like to tell us?
Ekaterina: I also want to thank you – WHEEL SISTERS, for showing that we exist :) and thank you for being interested in my motorsport story.