Community sits at the very heart of Walero. We love hearing the many stories of success from those who wear and champion Walero across the globe. In this series, we check in with our athletes in all corners of the world to find out what drives them to Get The Edge.
This month’s edition sees us catch up with Walero athlete Cristiana Oprea, who looks back on her earliest memories of rallying, a jam-packed 2022 season and her inspirational journey from PR to the driver’s seat!
You would be hard pressed to find a driver with a bigger smile than Cristiana Oprea, full of warmth and a genuine love for the sport in which she competes. Cristiana has steadily made a name for herself in European Rally Competitions across the continent and is often the only female driver in these events. However, her journey into rallying was a little different to some.
“It was actually quite an unexpected turn of events for me!” She recalls. “I had just graduated with a degree in Urban Planning and was looking to begin a career in architecture whilst doing some PR courses in between my studies.”
“My first job was for the Romanian Motorsport Federation working with their PR team on various motorsport related projects. My role soon involved promoting rallying events across the country, rallying is the biggest motorsport discipline in Romania and I had to go on a journey of understanding what rally really was as I had never been involved with motorsports before!”
“My first real experience in motorsport was being a guest co-driver at a local hillclimb event. I loved it because I wasn’t afraid and very curious about what the driver next to me was doing. It was fascinating! It had never crossed my mind that I could do this, especially as a girl.”
This experience soon planted the seed of curiosity as Cristiana continued her work with motorport related PR in her new role at the Romanian Motorsport Federation. She quickly became more involved with the Dacia Cup – one of the oldest motorsport series in Europe and the main pathway for rookies to compete in the Romanian National Championship.
“Alongside doing my PR work I got the opportunity to be a co-driver for one of the drivers who would later turn out to be my mentor! He was a former National Champion and highly experienced rally coach.”
“He had the patience and understanding to teach me how to drive a rally car and from that moment on I simply fell in love with rallying.”
“The first event I competed in as a driver was a hillclimb in 2015, it may have been in the slowest car in the Championship, a Dacia Logan, but it was a great starting point for me to fully explore the demanding and complex nature of what lay ahead.”
“It taught me how to carry the momentum, a crucial part of rallying, and how to correctly approach corners with the right braking and throttle application.”
From this moment on, Cristiana embarked on the journey to where she is today. In 2016 she competed in her first Dacia Cup rally with a co-driver alongside her and relished the time she spent behind the wheel, so much so that she made the massive step of buying her first rally car, a Dacia Sandero! Cristiana competed full time in the National Championship from the 2017 season onwards as she moved away from the hillclimb events and looked to pursue a career dedicated to the world of rallying.
“I loved the whole idea of rallying more than hillclimbing,” she explains. “It is more complex, all about teamwork with your co-driver and mechanics – a marathon, not a sprint.”
“I built up my confidence and the speed began to grow across each season we competed, I became comfortable with the car and the demanding nature of each individual stage. In 2018 I achieved my first overall good result with a fifth place at the end of the season out of thirteen crews overall!”
“The milestone that year was competing in Rally Silven, Bulgaria. Myself and my co-driver Diana Hațegan were the first all female rally crew to compete outside of Romania in over 50 years! An achievement I am still immensely proud of to this day.”
This incredible milestone inspired Cristiana to set up the Romanian Women in Motorsport Platform or ‘Femei in Motorsport.’ An FIA recognised project which looks to provide the basis for women across Romania to celebrate their achievements in the world of racing and beyond.
“The goal with Femei in Motorsport was to show to everyone that I am not the exception. All women should be able to pursue their dreams and goals in motorsport, the project provides the perfect opportunity to inspire and uses my media status as a platform to build on, a philosophy I still follow keenly to this day!”
2019 was the catalyst for Cristiana’s continued success, first taking a second place finish at Rally Agres, becoming the first female driver to set foot on the podium in the thirteen year history of the Dacia Cup Championship. This was followed up by an even greater achievement with Cristiana and Diana Hațegan once more writing another page in the record books by becoming the first all Romanian female crew to represent their home country at FIA ERC, Rally di Roma Capitale.
2022 has been Cristiana’s busiest and most complex season to date, competing across two vastly different championships, the FIA ERC and the newly formed Opel E Rally Cup, the first fully electric rally series in the world.
“Although 2022 has been incredibly challenging both from a logistical and financial standpoint, it has been a year of progress and learning for myself. I tried to compete in as many events as I could and manage my time effectively, we just about did it!”
“Competing in the Opel E Rally Cup was a welcome and interesting change from the demands of FIA ERC events, it is focused around your driving style, your braking and throttle application – the core skills of rallying that determine your success as a driver.”
“Although people may be reluctant to accept and become involved with these new forms of electric motorsport, I feel it is a great opportunity to bring new fans and new sponsors to the table, it appeals to the younger generation and offers the perfect place for new drivers to start as the car itself is very easy to understand and drive!”
This season also marked Cristiana’s debut at world renowned WRC events in Croatia and Spain respectively. However, her debut was a challenging one which she reflects on below.
“Being on the same demanding, technical stages as the WRC drivers was a challenge for sure! Back in April at WRC Croatia this year, I had my first ever high-speed crash which proved to be a valuable learning experience for myself as I was able to understand why I had made the mistake and how to ensure it didn’t happen again.”
“As a result of this we showed some good pace and understanding for the second ERC event which was in Spain, where I feel I overcame the fears that have haunted me in the past!”
“Right now I feel very confident that I can go all in for next season and tackle the challenges that we will face.”
Away from rallying, alongside the success of Femei in Motorsport, Cristiana uses her various platforms and media presence across Romania to share her experiences in the sport with the wider community. With her work with #DriveYourCourage, this platform has continued to prosper as she holds events from webinars to conferences.
“For me it is all about using my resilience and passion in the sport I love to inspire others. I have overcome so many challenges in my career so far and I look to guide others down that path to achieving their dreams, not only in Motorsport, but in their daily lives as well.”
For Cristiana one of her proudest accomplishments and the definition of her ethos this season has been the success of her new co-driver Alexia and the journey they have both embarked on in 2022.
“Alexia came to me with dreams of being a rally co-driver after winning a competition and our journey began in the midst of the pandemic. I first helped her to obtain her driving licence so she could compete alongside me and from there we began the process of training and development in a co-driving course for herself.”
“Our first rally together took place at the Covasna Winter Competition in January this year and it was a learning experience for both of us! I had never driven on snow before and she was getting to grips with the pace notes and learning the course, but she excelled and soon it became clear that we would compete together for the remainder of my events that season in the Opel E Rally Cup.”
“I am extremely proud of the journey we have been on together and the fact we have competed in two ERC events alongside the WRC in her debut season has been so inspiring. This combined with competing against fellow female competitors at ERC Czech Rally has really shown me how my platform can inspire people to realise their goals and no longer be the exception!”
With the success stories of 2022, Cristiana has her sights firmly set on an equally busy schedule for 2023 and beyond, as she aims to return once more to the ERC and Opel E Rally Cup respectively.
“With 2022 showing how far I can push myself alongside the improvements in my speed and consistency, my goal for 2023 is to compete in the same series and challenge for better results and fingers crossed some podiums!”
Cristiana’s journey has been one we have followed keenly at Walero, spreading messages of positivity and a ‘can do’ attitude is at the heart of the community and Cristiana is the definition of the Walero ethos. You can follow her journey across her Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Her website is also a great source of behind the scenes content with her rally journals and blogs, and we can’t wait to see what is in store for 2023 and beyond!