18 May 09
Some of them understand what I'm doing and take an interest and some of them are not interested at all. I don't mind. I'm just grateful for the opportunity from Pirelli and the FIA." Grateful he is, but he's probably the only one in his gang who is now regularly featured on Czech television, probably couched as the nation's rallying answer to Lewis Hamilton.
"I don't mind the publicity," adds Semerad, "it's good for the sport and it's good for me. We need people to find out about the World Rally Championship." While he doesn't mind the publicity, he certainly doesn't go courting it. He hasn't even told his teachers what he's up to. "I didn't want to walk into school and say, 'Hello, I'm Martin, I'm a WRC driver'. I'm not interested in showing off. I just want to drive. That's all I've ever wanted to do."
The rigors of full-time education and an eight-round WRC programme are taking their toll on him, though. "Sometimes," he says, "I'm really tired when I come in from school and finish all of my work. I'm sometimes too tired to go to the gym. This is something which I have to change. I know I have to work on my fitness and I'm doing that right now. I'm good at not letting the two things get in the way of each other, though. When I'm at school, I'm totally into my studies and when I'm on a rally I'm completely focused on driving."
By his own admission, he wasn't completely focused on the road ahead on the Rally de Portugal, his first event as a Star Driver. Having tasted the highs of being fastest of the five on the Algarve Stadium super special, he then suffered the low of being the first of the five to put their shiny new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X off the road. "I was not happy about that," he says. "It was a mistake and I was really angry with myself. I had a small gearbox problem with the car, we had no fifth gear. I didn't hear the pace note from my co-driver and we went over a crest too fast. We went off the road."
Hardly the ideal start, but it could have been worse - he admits he was lucky not to be the first driver to roll one of the Pirelli-liveried, Ralliart Italy-tuned machines. He recovered and, courtesy of the SupeRally re-entry regulations, clinched a point in the PWRC come the end of the event. Points are what Semerad is all about for the rest of the year now.
"My start to the season has not been good enough," he says, "and it can't continue this way. I have made mistakes and I can't do that anymore. I have to score points; I have to get the car to the finish."
The one rally where a conservative approach could be taking a back seat is Neste Oil Rally Finland. Semerad has been desperate to get to Jyvaskyla for as long as he can remember. "Finland is legendary," he says. "Racing drivers have Le Mans and we have Finland. That's the one I'm looking forward to the most this year. I just love fast stages, big jumps and the chance to spend a long time sideways."
Given that Finland comes in the middle of the school's summer break, Semerad's certain to be spending huge chunks of his vacation on opposite lock. And there are not many of his student friends who can say that.