Imagine trying to cut your teeth in motorsport in a country ravaged by war. Imagine trying to squeeze your nearly 7-foot tall physique into a racing car. Meet the man who faced both challenges head-on and is a multiple champion in karting, hill-climbing and touring cars: Dušan Borković.
Born in what was then known as Yugoslavia, Dušan wouldn’t go to sleep as a baby unless his parents took him for a ride in the family car. His father, a former racing driver, supported the young Dušan through the early years of karting. Before his eleventh birthday, he won his first national karting title. Over the following five years, he won the national championship every year.
His early racing exploits also occurred during the tumultuous inter-ethnic wars that triggered the eventual breakup of Yugoslavia, displaced over four million people and led to the deaths of at least 130,000 more. Motorsport was hardly a national pastime and finding the necessary funding proved to be a major challenge for many years.
On top of this, Dušan kept growing taller and taller. Today he stands at 208 centimetres – almost 6’10”! – making him the world’s tallest professional racing driver. His height made him better suited to disciplines like basketball or volleyball, but car racing was Dušan’s one and only passion.
With open-wheel racing out of the question, he moved into tin-tops before his eighteenth birthday and won four successive national championships. An unexpected switch to hill-climb racing saw him dominate the Serbian championship at his first attempt and two years later he won the European title.
The European Touring Car Cup followed in 2013 and despite a mid-season switch in machinery from a SEAT León to a Chevrolet Cruze, he finished an impressive third overall in his rookie season.
A call-up to the FIA World Touring Car Championship followed in 2014. It was the series’ first season of its TC1 regulations and the factory Citroëns thrashed the field. In an unfamiliar team and machinery and on many circuits he’d never visited, Borković acquitted himself well and peaked with a fine second place in his final outing at Suzuka.
A switch to Proteam Racing and its Honda Civic for 2015 promised far more than it delivered. Unable to fit in the car, he quit the team after just one round, but found solace in the ETCC where he romped to the title.
Two seasons in the TCR International Series underlined his frontrunner credentials against many drivers now racing in the this year’s inaugural FIA World Touring Car Cup. While he wasn’t able to secure a seat on that grid, Borković is leading the championship in its feeder category, the TCR Europe series, where he is hoping to break through to the international stage once more.
|Full Name||Dušan Borković|
|Born||16 September 1984, Pančevo (YUG)|
|1994-2000||Yugoslavian Karting Championship, 1st overall (1995-2000)|
|2002-2008||Serbian National-Championship, 1st overall (2005-2008)|
|2010||Serbian Hill Climb Championship, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, 1st overall|
|2011-2012||FIA European Hill Climb Championship, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo 9, 1st overall (2012)|
|2013||FIA ETCC, NIS Petrol Racing SEAT León TFSI / Chevrolet Cruze LT, 3rd overall|
|2014||FIA WTCC, Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1, 14th overall|
|2015||FIA WTCC, Proteam Racing Honda Civic WTCC, Not Classified
FIA ETCC, NIS Petrol Racing SEAT León Cup Racer, 1st overall
|2016||TCR International Series, B3 Racing SEAT León TCR, 7th overall|
|2017||TCR International Series, GE-Force Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR, 8th overall|
|2018||TCR Europe, Target Competition Hyundai i30 N TCR, 1st overall (season in progress)|
What was the support of your family during the formative years of your racing career?
My family played and keeps playing a major role in my career. My father was a champion of former Yugoslavia in motorcycle and truck races.
I spent my childhood on the race tracks and when I was old enough I begged by dad to buy me a kart. He was reluctant at first, but I was more persistent. At age 9 I started my professional career, and ever since I had my family and dad especially by my side supporting me.
Since 2011, my wife is by my side as my manager and the family affair continues.
Who were your first motorsport heroes? What was significant about their achievements or character that you admired?
I admire many motorsport greats, but Sébastien Loeb is my absolute favorite driver. His focus always fascinated me. To be a nine-time World Champion, in a row, in any championship is admirable.
I had the chance to drive against him in 2014 in WTCC, and I felt like my childhood dream came true.
You won the Yugoslav national karting championship six years in a row. What did these achievements in competitive karting mean to you?
They built my character. At the time Yugoslavian championship was very competitive. I had two big injuries during my karting career. First, I tumbled and broke both arms when I was 9 years old (pictured above).
Many kids that age would think twice before sitting in the karting to race again. I started to drive as soon as they cut the cast from full to half-arm.
My second big injury was after the race in Hungary, I extended my arm to say congrats to my colleague and our kartings touched. My arm went under his tire and I almost lost my arm. All ligaments were torn to the bone. I was 14 and this happened during bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. My family barely made it back to Serbia where they had the best experts waiting for me to try to save my hand. Thankfully they succeeded and after little but more than 6 months I was slowly ready to get back to action.
Physical injuries when you are a kid can either make or break you. I would like to believe that I am stronger because of them, and I’m glad that I didn’t quit then. Six championships are testament to that.
Your early racing also occurred during the tumultuous inter-ethnic wars that triggered the eventual breakup of Yugoslavia. What impact, if any, did this have on your racing ambitions during your childhood?
It made a big difference and slowed me down in my career quite a bit.
Before all the unrest started to escalate, motorsport in Yugoslavia was very popular. Many invested in the development of it, including president’s son at the time who raced as well.
Once the war started and after it, racing in Yugoslavia went downhill. The economy of the country was hit badly, and sponsors pulled out of motorsport. At one point, I didn’t have a platform to race in my own country and because of economic situation it was thought to get good sponsors to race internationally.
All these challenges made me a tougher person, and more determined competitor.
By the latter stages of karting your height (and therefore weight) would surely become a greater challenge to compete. Today you remain among the tallest racing drivers in the world. How has your height been a factor in shaping your racing career to-date?
I am officially the tallest driver in the world, measuring 208cm. I was a very skinny kid, so that helped. But in my adolescence and by the end of my karting career it was clear that I couldn’t continue racing in the single-seaters due to my measurements.
I loved rally, hill climb and circuit/touring races. That is where I continued my career to date.
You switched from karting to Serbian National-Class racing and finished second overall in your rookie championship in 2002. From 2005-8 you claimed the championship title and then switched to Hillclimb racing. What are your favourite memories from this time?
Races back then were very exciting and competitive in Yugoslavia/Serbia. The country was changing, and it was taking a turn for the worst, but for few years there we had over 30 same spec cars on the track. I gathered a lot of experience among older competitors. The fondest memories are that my whole family and a lot of my friends were part of my team. We still tell anecdotes from that time.
How did you apply the lessons and experience from circuit racing to Hillclimbs, as outwardly the two disciplines would appear distinctly different?
One huge thing is that I had to learn while competing among over 30 competitors with same spec cars is precision. Everybody was so close, only a superior focus and driving on the very limit would take you to the top.
In hillclimbing, precision and driving on the limit makes all the difference. You don’t see where your competitors are, so you have to be your best self and pull the best out of your machine. I like driving on the limit!
You moved to the European Touring Car Cup (Super 2000 class) in 2013 and made an immediate impression. After contesting the first three meetings in a SEAT León TFSI you then switched to a Chevrolet Cruze LT and finished the season third overall. How do you reflect on the highlights of this rookie campaign?
It was a very challenging year. After winning FIA European Hill Climb Championship I decided to go back to circuit races. I had sponsors, but not much experience with front wheel sequential cars. My team at the time didn’t have any previous experience with these cars either, and the cars that we bought during the year were in a really bad shape.
Despite of that I believe I adjusted fast, and if it wasn’t for the big crash in Slovakiaring the season would have turned out even better.
You graduated to the FIA World Touring Car Championship in 2014. That season saw the mighty factory Citroëns thrash the field, while the remaining Honda, LADA and RML-built Chevrolets were squabbling for the minor points. You joined Campos Racing – a privateer outfit, albeit with lengthy experience in the WTCC. How challenging was this step up to a world championship category for you?
I made a decision with my team and sponsors to step up from ETCC to WTCC in 2014, even though I didn’t win ETCC the previous year.
I would like to say that it was a poor timing because of the big changes in rules [to TC1 regulations], and Citroën! My first race in Marrakech was nerve wrecking, but I went into Q3 and finished the race P5. As the year went on, Citroën’s domination was evident and growing.
Campos is an experienced crew, but the car was new for everybody and it needed some time to get a hold of everything.
Your final race of the season saw you finish on the podium at Suzuka. What were your emotions stepping on the podium that afternoon?
It was the greatest feeling of all. Standing on that podium with touring car one of the greatest drivers Gabriele Tarquini was a feeling that I will never forget. After a challenging year, it was a huge relief and a good boost for years to come.
You moved to the Italian-based Proteam Racing squad for the 2015 season. The team had fielded Mehdi Bennani last year and the prospects seemed positive for you. But there were problems fitting in the car and after racing (against doctor’s advice) at the season-opening Race of Argentina the relationship between you and the team completely broke down by the second round in Morocco. What happened?
In the preseason, all seemed fine. Bennani drove for them [in 2014] and they offered a good deal. When we started to test, some issues started to come to light.
The team didn’t want to change the seat size or adjust seating position despite my manager’s initiation to do so, that we would pay for it etc. Also, the car was not up to date. I hoped that they will fix all the issues and honor the contract by the first race, which they didn’t. After the first race in Argentina, we gave them the last deadline to fix everything by the next race weekend in Morocco, which they didn’t do.
When I arrived in Morocco and saw that the situation was unchanged and that my life was in danger because of their unprofessionalism, my team and I decided to stop with that nonsense.
The bottom line is that Proteam didn’t adjust the car for my size, nor did they do all the necessary updates to the car that were supposed to be done per contract; hence they broke the contract. It was an unfortunate situation, very unprofessional.
You returned to the ETCC and found solace, winning the title with five wins and nine podiums.
After Proteam, who almost destroyed my career, I switched from WTCC to ETCC to save my season. I won the title!
It was a year full of mixed feelings. First, Proteam happened, then my father passed away suddenly. I switched to ETCC and that gave me a lot of happy moments because I was dominating, but it was all clouded by my father’s passing and the Proteam problem.
After a successful maiden campaign, the TCR International Series was proving an attractive and lower-cost touring car championship. You joined the championship in 2016 with B3 Racing Team Hungary piloting a SEAT León TCR. You finished seventh overall, claiming 6 podiums. How much of a confidence lift was this for you?
I won FIA ETCC 2015 with B3 racing, and we both agreed that we wanted to stay together for 2015 and step up to TCR International Series. It was a good year with ups and downs. I qualified great but wasn’t too lucky at the races. Overall I can’t complain, but wished that my speed translated better on the scoreboard that year.
The following year saw you switch teams and join Romeo Ferraris’ GE-Force operation, driving an Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Your main highlights were two victories; how did the Alfa Romeo compare with the SEAT you were racing before?
The SEAT was a more reliable car, and easier to driver. The Alfa Romeo had a lot of power on high revs. I had good results with both cars.
But with the SEAT I had 6 podiums and 3 with Alfa on the international level.
The TCR International Series and WTCC merged to create the FIA WTCR. Were you targeting a full-time drive in the new championship when its formation was announced?
When it was announced, yes. After I gathered all the info, I decided that a smarter move for my career is to be in a good team with the best car and TCR Europe allowed that.
We never know what the future brings, WTCR for this year was not meant to be.
You have a full-time drive in the TCR Europe series with Target Competition, driving a Hyundai i30N TCR. On the basis of the team’s previous successes in TCR and the Hyundai i30N appearing to be the car to beat in the WTCR, what targets are you setting for yourself in 2018?
The highest, of course. The competition will be tough, since we will have about 30 cars on the grid. Yes, I will drive Hyundai i30 N, but so will approximately nine more drivers. There are a lot of fast drivers in Hondas, SEATs and others. I wouldn’t be so quick to point anybody out as a favorite at this moment. I’m excited and looking forward to this challenge.
You have also found yourself in the field of politics as an aligned independent member of Serbia’s parliament. Has a career in politics always interested you, and on reflection what do you find more difficult between the disciplines of racing and politics?
I am more comfortable racing, of course. That is my natural surrounding, I’ve been racing for 24 years.
Social media is an important way to build a fan base. How do you approach your interaction with fans?
I race for myself of course, but for my fans as well. I have over 200,000 fans on social media, and now I have a team helping me with social media and PR. We dedicate a lot of time to give my fans all the info about racing, all my other engagements and my life. I am big on road safety, so we use social media platform to educate young people especially about driving safely. Also, I like to have giveaways for my fans, that is one of the ways I like to give them back for their support.
What is your most favourite circuit at which you have raced so far, and why? What circuits are on your ‘bucket list’ to race on?
My most favorite circuit is Suzuka. It has a great tradition; overall the feel on the track is amazing. The people, facilities, and the track itself all breathes old school racing. Also, this is a track where I first climbed on the podium on the world level in WTCC.
The Nürburgring Nordschleife is the only track on my bucket list.
What are your future career goals?
For now, it would be great to take the title in TCR Europe this or in the years to come. And to go back to an international level of touring car racing. I like other disciplines as well; we will see what the future brings.
How can fans and corporate sponsors get behind you and provide further support for your career?
My team and I are open to new partnerships. I plan to stay in this sport for many more years, and without sponsors there is no way I can do that.
My wife is my manager, and it’s not typical for a husband to say that but you are free to contact her!
Images provided and reproduced with permission from Dušan Borković