12 Aug 09
Earlier this month Czech Republic driver Martin Prokop bagged the first big prize of the 2009 WRC season - securing the FIA Junior World Rally Championship title with one more round of the series still to go.
Prokop wrapped up the title after a dominant performance on the Nestle Oil Rally Finland, where he won the category in his Czech National Team Citroen C2 S1600.
Co-driven by Jan Tománek, Prokop led from start to finish (as he did earlier this year in Cyprus) to join an elite list of J-WRC champions which dates back to Sebastien Loeb in 2001 and includes the likes of Dani Sordo, Per-Gunnar Andersson and Sebastien Ogier - all of whom have gone on to drive factory World Rally Cars in the WRC.
Having made his J-WRC debut in 2005, victory in Finland was Prokop's 10th of his career. The 26-year old driver from Jihlava had previously finished 3rd in the last two J-WRC seasons and described winning the title at his fifth attempt as 'the biggest sporting moment of my life'.
For Prokop, however, the Junior championship is only part of the story. This year he's also squeezing in a six-round bid for the Production Car World Rally Championship in a Mitsubishi Lancer - and with two rounds to go, he remains one of only five drivers in with a shout of the title.
Back home in Prague after his Finnish triumph, Prokop talked to wrc.com about how it felt to be the first ever Czech World Champion and what he was planning for the rest of this year and beyond.
First of all many congratulations Martin. What sort of a welcome did you get when you returned home to the Czech Republic?
"It was fantastic. We had many celebrations over many evenings with my friends and family. I'm living in Prague and my workshop and my team is in another city so we had parties everywhere. It was quite a hard week because almost every day we were celebrating... Also, I never expected to get so much interest from the Czech media - the story was everywhere. It's strange, everywhere I go people have said 'congratulations' and its people who don't know anything about rally or motorsport - it's something totally new. A lot of people know that I am a driver, now they know I'm a champion."
You've come close to winning the J-WRC title before [third in 2007 and 2008] what did you do differently this year?
"For us there was no big difference. We did the same job but had less problems. Last year we were affected by too many technical problems, and even though we were very fast and felt we were ready to make the title, that's why we were third. This year we had some problems in Sardinia [a slipping clutch on the final day], but we still won it so I think the team was working very well, too. Also I felt very confident at the start of every rally, whether we were going to be driving strategically, or going flat-out, the good feeling was always good. The title was our only aim and we were going to do everything we could to get it."