Martin Spanhela former Czech professional ice hockey professional, played in the NHL for 10 regular seasons. He is credited with the first “Unofficial” goal in the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise history, during a preseason game. Spanhela is currently the Commissioner of the Columbus Adult Hockey League.
Martin has competed in multiple rally events in the Czech Republic.
Zuzana Lieskovcova, the Co-Driver, has a long history of 57 rally starts in multiple countries. Zuzana is a parts manager at Hyundai by day and regular Co-Driver for team Peugeot Slovakia!
SOFR caught up with Martin for a few questions:
- What is the most exciting thing about preparing for SOFR?
The exciting fact is that I will finally do Rally in US and specially in OHIO where I have been living year around for past 10 years and spending Summers since 2000. Me and my kids consider Columbus home, so it is my Home Rally and dream come true. I am a big Rally fan and Rally and Ice hockey are my most favorite Sports since growing up. My hometown in Europe, Czech Republic (Zlin) for Rallying is kind of like Charlotte for Nascar here. Everyone is following the Sport and it is very popular – same as Soccer and Ice Hockey. I have been missing it here and last year when I found out about SOFR it was too late to enter so I went to watch it and I drove some of the Saturday stages which I think are spectacular, the decision was easy for me. The roads are unbelievable, and I am thrilled to race them.
- Is this your first US rally?
It will be my first Gravel Rally and first time in US. So far I have done only Tarmac Rallies over in Europe which some of them had parts of the stages on Gravel, but we ran Tarmac set up with Tarmac tires and wheels.
- What is your favorite rally memory?
I think last two years, starting into the Friday night Super Special during Barum Czech Rally Zlín, which is part of the FIA European Rally Championship – coming down into the 3rd corner downtown in front of 10 000 people on the bleacher with Cameras Flashings – it is very cool. The Entire stage has around 40 000 fans. It is incredible, and people start parting during the day on the stage with cars (including Historic cars) starting in reverse order from 9pm to midnight following up with Fireworks during the last 5 cars on the road.
- Any other comment about SOFR or US rally?
As I said – I am very excited, but also definitely have a big respect from the Stages. I only drove last year’s Saturday stages and they are super hard and technical.
I am hoping to finish the entire Rally and gain as much as experience I can and benefit from it next year. It is very hard to say where our pace will be, but it will be a learning experience especially with our own Pace Notes where in Europe we do 2 Recce Runs and we will have to adjust only one pass here, so the Second Run will be at the Hotel in front of our Computer from Onboard Camera.
We will start very cautious on Friday and we are hoping to get better and more comfortable during Saturday, but those are just plans and we all know Rally is a tough sport and everything can change in a second.
I know that the local guys and all the drivers from Rally America will be very fast and they know the stages well from last year. We are not expecting that we could keep up in our class, but we will try our best and if there will be a positive progress in our driving and times then we will be happy with any result.