Turkish Delight in Karting
Kaan Önder is a 14-year karting talent from Istanbul. He finished seventh in the 2011 Rotax Euro Challenge and is now aiming to clinch the championship next year. With backing from BMW’s Turkish importer, Borusan Otomotiv, Önder is on his way to becoming a successful WTCC driver.
F1Weekly would like to thank Kaan Önder for taking the time to answer our questions. We wish him continued success.
Q. What got you interested in motorsports?
A. I started to get interested in motorsports back in 2006 when I went to the Turkish F1 Grand Prix at Istanbul Park. I was very impressed by the atmosphere of the meeting and I really enjoyed watching the race. After that weekend I decided to go to a small indoor kart track and I absolutely loved it. Since then my passion for motorsports has been getting bigger and bigger.
Q. How old were you at the time of your first kart race, and what was your impression?
A. I was 9 years old when I started driving professional karts and I really enjoyed the action and adrenaline of racing. From the first moment I got into a kart I knew that motorsports was the sport for me.
Q. Apart from Istanbul, what are other major karting centers in Turkey?
A. Sadly, currently there aren’t any karting tracks in Turkey which comply with international rules. This is one of the biggest problems Turkish motorsports face because karting is like the kindergarten of motorsports, and without good karting centers young kids can’t start karting which then makes it almost impossible to have successful Turkish drivers.
Q. In 2008, at the ripe old age of 11, you were Turkish ICA Junior Champion. Please tell us about this championship; how many races and how many entries?
A. 2008 was an important year for me because we knew that there was a lack of competition, race tracks and amount of drivers in Turkey so at the beginning of the year my dad and I decided that I had to start racing outside of Turkey to improve myself. After this decision my dad contacted a British and European championship winning team Protrain Racing and I started to race with them in the UK. I decided to race in the UK because I knew that the level of competition level there was very high and I instantly started improving by racing there. At the same time I continued racing in Turkey and I won the Turkish ICA Junior championship. There were 7 races in the championship and I managed to win 5 of them. Winning the championship was very important for me because this was my first title and was a milestone for my racing career.
Q. In 2009, you won the Turkish KF3 Championship. Was this more challenging to win in terms of depth of competition compared to ICA Junior?
A. In 2009, we started using new generation 125cc KF engines so I started racing in the KF3 championship. I managed to win the Turkish championship again and I added another important title to my CV. I also started racing in the CIK event SEEKZ (South East European Karting Championship) KF3 championship and I managed to finish 3rd overall which was another very important result because the competition in this international championship was a lot tougher than the Turkish Championship. I also continued racing in the UK with Protrain Racing and I continued improving myself.
Q. The 2010 season saw third championship for you in as many years, this time in the South East European KF3. What was your impression of international competition as compared to local Turkish scene?
A. At the beginning of 2010 after winning the Turkish Championship two years in a row we decided to stop racing in Turkey and only concentrate on international events. I kept on racing in the South East European Championship and I managed to win it after finishing every race on the podium. This was a really important step for me because it was a tough championship with many good drivers and because it was my first international title.
At the same time I started racing in one of the world’s toughest and most prestigious championships, the Rotax Euro Challenge. This championship is the European Championship and it has over 260 of the best drivers all over the world. Racing in this championship really helped me learn a lot and made me improve. I also continued racing in the UK which taught me a lot.
Q. Is there any financial sponsorship available to young talented Turkish kids from Turkish Motorsports Federation or Petrol Ofisi?
A. Currently there isn’t any support or financial sponsorship from the Turkish Motorsports Federation or Petrol Ofisi. Actually, back in 2007 Petrol Ofisi was organizing a special championship for young Turkish kids and this championship was how I started karting. They were also sponsoring the Turkish F1 Grand Prix and they had a GP2 team but since 2008 they have completely stopped supporting motorsports which is a great shame.
Even though there are very few supporters of Turkish motorsports, I have a very important sponsor “Borusan Otomotiv Motorsports”. Borusan Otomotiv is the official BMW importer of Turkey and their motorsports team is a touring car team which races in WTCC, ETCC and TPS (Turkish Touring Car Championship). They are the biggest motorsports team in Turkey and they have had a lot of success in the past couple of years.
They have been supporting and sponsoring me since the beginning of this year as their official karting driver. Having such a big team sponsoring me is a very important and exciting thing for me but it also requires a lot of responsibility and hard work.
Q. Who is guiding and managing your career?
A. Until the beginning of this year my dad had been managing my career and he had been doing a great job. But since the beginning of 2011 my sponsor Borusan Otomotiv Motorsports has been managing and guiding my career which is a very big positive for me since they are very knowledgeable.
Q. Do you have any racing heroes?
A. My racing heroes are Ayrton Senna, Jenson Button and Andy Priaulx. I look up to them because they are all great drivers and also great characters.
Q. Karting started from California. Have you ever raced in the United States?
A. I haven’t raced in the United States but I would love to race there in the future. I know that there are very prestigious championships organized there and I know a lot of very good drivers from there too.
Q. You have five impressive years in karting so far. What is your plan for single-seater racing?
A. I haven’t really decided about what I’m going to do when I move up from karting. I am planning to do a touring car test with my team before the end of this year. I want to become a touring car driver more than an F1 driver because I think that touring car championships such as WTCC (World Touring Car Championship) are much more competitive than F1.
I guess having a touring car team as my sponsor is one of the reasons why I prefer touring cars but I also think that the importance of the driver is much more important in touring cars than F1. I hope that I can win WTCC in the future.
Q. Please tell us about Kaan Önder, your interest in music, food and what other sports you enjoy watching apart from motorsports?
A. I really enjoy playing guitar. I play all sorts of music from metal to blues. I like to listen to music too because I think that listening to different types of music has a big impression on my guitar playing.
My favorite food is a Turkish dish called durum which is a kind of meat wrap. Other than motorsports I enjoy watching snooker and cycling. I also enjoy windsurfing in the summer.
For more information please visit www.kaanonder.com
— Nasir Hameed