Friday, 18 September 2015

Ekaterina Stratieva


Ekaterina at the 2014 Acropolis Rally

Ekaterina Stratieva is a Bulgarian driver who competes in the European Rally Championship (ERC). She has won two European Ladies’ Championships.

Her family were motorsport fans, and she was a spectator at the circuits from a young age. When she was 21, she took her first steps towards a competition career of her own, starting with hillclimbs and club circuit racing in a Suzuki Swift. She began rallying in 2006, at the age of 24, driving a Citroen Saxo in Bulgarian events. This was a brave step, and Ekaterina claims herself that being “Bulgarian and blonde” is not an ideal start to an international rally career. Not one to shy away from a challenge, one of her first rallies was the Rally of Bulgaria itself, then a European championship round. She was 25th, and third in class. Her best result came from the Rally Victory Sofia, in which she was 22nd, fifth in class. As well as rallies, she spent some time competing in hillclimbs in Bulgaria, winning a class championship. She used her rally car.

Her second year of rally competition, 2007, was spent in the Bulgarian championship. The Saxo was run all year by Astra Racing. Ekaterina steadily improved her rally performances, and had five top-twenty finishes. The best of these was thirteenth in the YU Rally, which was part of the Bulgarian championship, despite being held in Serbia. In the Rally Bulgaria, she was the winner of class N2, and was 24th. Her first rally outside the Bulgarian championship, the Saturnus Rally in Slovenia, ended in a retirement on the first stage. She was 21st in the Bulgarian championship. Away from rallying, she won another class championship in the Saxo, in the Bulgarian hillclimb championship.

In 2008, she drove a Citroen C2 R2 in rallies the Bulgarian championship. This year, she did not finish as many rallies as previously, but her final positions kept improving. She scored the first top-ten of her career, a sixth place in the Victory Rally Sofia, then followed it up with a tenth place in the Rally Tvardica, at the end of the season. Her performances were enough to get her a Pirelli Star award, which gained her entry to the ERC rounds in Italy, Croatia and Bulgaria for 2009.

She ran quite well in her three Pirelli Star rallies: she was 45th in the Mille Miglia in Italy, 19th in Croatia (with a class second) and 20th in the Rally of Bulgaria itself. Her year was more international than ever before, with an entry into the Barum Czech Rally as well as the Bulgarian championship. She was 52nd in the Czech Rally. The Bulgarian championship was a happier hunting ground; she was tenth in the Serbia Rally, and won class A6 in the Trayanovi Vrata and Vida rallies. Her finishing positions were twelfth and thirteenth respectively. She was second in class in the Bulgarian championship, and was never out of the top twenty.

Despite her partnership with her long-term co-driver, Rumen Manolov, ending after the 2009 season, Ekaterina continued to improve in 2010. She began the year with two gravel rallies in Greece, the Halkidiki Rallysprint and the Rally Thermaikou, finishing a competent thirteenth and 19th. A rare mechanical fault put her and the Citroen out of the Serbia Rally, then she was excluded from the Rally of Bulgaria, for a technical infringement. A somewhat disappointing Czech Rally and another retirement, from the Rally Sliven, then gave way to two top-ten finishes. She was eighth in the Rally Tvardica, and then fourth in the Hebros Rally, with a class win. This was enough to score her a second in class for the championship.

2011 was very international in nature for Ekaterina. She spent quite a lot of time competing in Romania. Her best finishes were two 22nd places, in the Clujului and Iaşului rallies. Elsewhere, she managed a class win in the Croatia Rally, finishing 18th overall, and a sixth in the Rally Tvardica. Her 19th place in the Yalta Rally in the Ukraine, an IRC event, gave her a class second. At the end of the year, she was second in class in the Romanian championship, and was also named their female driver of the year. She also gained a new navigator, Carmen Poenaru, who is also Romanian. Their first rally together was the Rallye du Var in France, in which they were 91st, in the Citroen.

In 2012, her season was split between the Eastern European and western European rallies, in the C2. She entered five rounds of the IRC, in the Canary Islands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Ukraine. Her best finish was eighth, in the Yalta Rally. She was also eleventh in the Rally Sliven, the Bulgarian round. Rally Bulgaria itself, an ERC round this year, gave her a ninth place, second in class. She was tenth in the Sredna Gora Rally, and won her class. That year, she also rallied in Romania and Switzerland, although she did not finish the Rallye du Valais. She was third in the Bulgarian championship, third in the 2WD class of the ERC (sixth overall), and won their unofficial Coupe des Dames. Her performances in international rallies earned her the Richard Burns Award.

2013 was a mixed year. She entered rallies across Europe, with two eighteenth positions, in the Hebros Rally and the Açores City Rally Show, her best finishes. She was also 21st in the Tour de Corse, part of that year’s ERC. A couple of accidents, in the SATA Rallye Açores and the Sibiu Rally Romania, may have knocked her confidence. She was not quite on form, and lost her European Ladies’ crown to the Australian, Molly Taylor.

Her 2014 schedule was similar, taking in the European Rally Trophy, including the Açores, Ypres and Czech Barum Rallies. Her best result was 22nd, in the Acropolis Rally. She was 38th in the ERC Production Cup. Of interest this year were two drives in a Subaru Impreza, in the Acropolis Rally and the Rally Liepāja, in Latvia. She finished the Acropolis Rally in 22nd, but the engine failed in Latvia. She spent the rest of the season in her trusty Citroen C2. One consolation was her first official ERC Ladies’ Trophy.

Her 2015 season continued in the same vein. She had a shorter schedule, and was committed to ERC rallies. Her co-driver this year was Julianna Nyírfás, from Hungary, a highly-experienced ERC navigator. Her best finish was 27th, in the Circuit of Ireland, and she was also 28th in the Brasov Rally in Romania. As before, she mainly stuck with the C2, but experimented with bigger cars. She drove the Impreza again in the Bosphorus Rally, but did not finish. A drive in a Mitsubishi Lancer Evo IX in the Barum Czech Rally gave her a 48th place, which was not spectacular, but enough to net her another Coupe des Dames. She ended the season as the Ladies’ champion once more.

In 2016, she did not defend her ERC Ladies' title. She competed less than before, around Europe, although she did pick up an ERC Coupe des Dames in the Barum Rally, in a C2. She was 57th overall. 

(Image from http://2014.acropolisrally.gr/)

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