Ivan Peklin: Racing in a warzone

Ivan Peklin: Racing in a warzone


Ivan Peklin still remembers the day his 2022 season was due to begin.

As calendars turned from February to March, he was set to begin preseason testing on a crisp and sunny spring morning in the forests of southwest Germany.

But Peklin doesn’t remember what the weather was like in the Rhine Valley on March 1, or unleashing the grunt and intensity of a GT4 on Hockenheim.

It shouldn’t be something easily forgotten - the day was meant to provide a swift reintroduction to racing after the 20-year-old had spent most of his 2021 campaign sitting frustrated on the sidelines, despite a winning start to the International GT Open.

This test was set to provide a stepping stone to Peklin’s first full season of GT racing, but showed instead how quickly his situation had changed.

Because that Tuesday Ivan Peklin didn’t wake up in Germany but in besieged Kyiv, after another sleepless night in the bomb shelter.

Instead of firing up a track sportscar and letting it loose on the pristine Tarmac of the historic circuit, he ignited the diesel engine in his dad’s van and loaded it up with bulletproof vests, before weaving through pockmarked streets to deliver them to a nearby military base.

That’s because five days before that test was scheduled, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Peklin’s native Ukraine, reached the outskirts of Kyiv and turned Europe’s sixth-biggest capital into a battleground.

Exactly six months later, Peklin remembers that day too. 

“My mum woke me up at 6 AM and told me that Russia had invaded. I ran to shower and my heartrate was 170, I didn't know what to expect.

“I remember hearing an explosion,15km from my house is a military base and the Russians were bombing them.

“You watched the skyline and see smoke 10 or 15km away and you realise that’s the frontline, every night you go to sleep and hear the rockets, 'whoosh', and then the explosion.

“Waking up at 3am, running into the bomb shelter on the ground floor, trying to sit there but it was very scary and during the day, me and my dad were driving to the shops and the picture was like in the apocalypse movies - empty roads, destroyed blocks, burned cars.”

When we speak, half a year’s passed and Peklin’s no longer in Kyiv. This summer he was given permission to move to Germany and continue racing, and studying for his sports management degree.

Despite helping early in the war, he explains he felt he could give more to the war effort:

“I've been racing since 2008 so more than half my life and I know how to race better than I know how to shoot and how to be a soldier.

“Every victory of Ukrainians in anything, like [Oleksandr] Usyk, like Eurovision, it's huge motivation for the whole country and also for the effort.

“So I think I can bring a lot more useful things for Ukraine by being a racing driver and raising the Ukrainian flag on the podium and telling the people around the world what's really happening in Ukraine and how the Russians act.

“Because they're not human, it's impossible to imagine the stuff they're doing to civilians and Ukrainian soldiers they're not normal, they're acting like an animal, even worse.”

One way he’s done that is to highlight the impact of the invasion on civilian infrastructure like race tracks.

In the opening minute of our conversation, Peklin mentions that a Russian aircraft was shot down and landed on the country’s only racetrack, and adds the karting circuit there was targeted by Russian bombing.

“I was shocked,” he says. “I was very angry because of this is a war, it's not normal but the lies of the Russians, that they're shooting only military objects, it's completely not true.”

But while Peklin’s out of immediate danger, the memories are harder to leave behind.

“There's no war in Germany but when I hear the thunderstorm or airplanes flying for a couple of seconds I'm worried,” he admits.

“It's impossible to describe the war, how it feels when you're scared for your life and 3km away from your home a rocket exploded and destroyed ten buildings.”

Peklin’s family are still in Ukraine, and he speaks to them daily if possible. To him, it’s been harder to let them be since he left, as he wants to check on them after every news report.

“I’m worrying and they're going 'ok, ok stop calling us every day everything's ok don't worry', I'm worrying more than I was.”

But he’s also keen to focus on his racing rather than just his experience of the war as a Ukrainian, and we spoke more about that in part two of this interview, coming out on Monday.