Georgi Gvozdeykov: From rally I learned not to hesitate before important decisions, and from aviation - to manage risk

Interview of Minister Georgi Gvozdeykov for the newspaper. 24 Hours, the conversation was conducted by Mariana Boykova


Mr. Gvozdeykov, probably not everyone knows that you are a rally racer. What’s the fastest you’ve ever driven a car?

Many people confuse rally sport with Formula 1. With my car that I raced, the top speed was 165 km per hour. Rally sport is driving in rugged terrain, the course has a lot of turns, there is nowhere to pick up speed of 260 km. Realistically the cars that are rally cars don’t have a high top speed either. But driving a car at 150 km/h in a curve is very different from driving on the motorway at, say, 240 km/h.

What speed do you develop on the road, not on the rallies?

In my daily life I don’t like to drive fast. I’m going the speed limit on the highway - 140 km per hour. I’ve said many times that when you go 20 km slower, you get there in the same amount of time, but you don’t put yourself or the people around you at risk.

I am asking you these questions because in the last few days one of the most read news on our website is about a miss and influencer who brags in a video that she drives over 260 km per hour on Trakia.

This is very risky behavior and I do not tolerate it at all. I have once in my life lifted 220-230 km per hour on a straight stretch.

What does it feel like?

The car goes at a higher speed, that’s it. And nobody realizes in a risky situation what they have to do at that speed.

What should be done? What must this lady’s behavior have been in such a high speed situation? 

The most important thing for everyone to know is that your body position in the seat is the factor that enables you to drive the car in the safest way. The best sense of vehicle movement relative to the ground and trajectory is not visual, but with the rear of the body. With it, you can feel which direction the car is going the fastest.

How do you rate the drivers trained under the auspices of your ministry who are on the road? What needs to change and when?

In my opinion, you become a driver with practice and theory to put the basics of the rules of the road in my head. Each one should know at least 8 situations that would come up on the road. And when he/she has to act, he/she knows what to do.

Did you teach your daughters to drive? I read that the big one is a law student.

Yes, she chose this path herself and we fully support her. I got her in a car when she was 14-15 so she would have basic training when the time came to become a driver. I’ve taught it on the range, not on the road.

So we’re clarifying that you didn’t break the law, right? 

Yes, when you want to show someone the basics of driving, you do it in a secure facility. This way you help them to prepare and now the driver has basic habits, knows what it’s all about and can handle the stress on the road. Knowing the car from an earlier age is a serious advantage for me. 

The big one will become a lawyer, and the little one?

My little daughter is 14, has a talent for drawing and a highly developed spatial thinking. She is now studying Spanish and says she will take up painting when she finishes school and has to choose her profession.

What have your daughters taken from you? 

The little one has certainly picked up drawing from me. The big one chose the profession of lawyer. They are very different as personalities, but in the end each will choose what to do and how to pursue their career path. Discipline is important to me and they have it and that gives me confidence that we are on the right track.

Where did this interest in cars and rally sport come from?

From a very early age, I was 4 years old. My parents got me into motoring by taking me to races. Tvarditsa, where I was born, was a stage of the biggest rally in Bulgaria - ‘Albena - Golden Sands - Sliven’.  There were stages that were driven in the dark part of the day and I have stayed up all night so my parents could take me to the Balkan and watch the cars with lots of headlights, high speed and loud sound go through the Tvarditsa Pass. Thus my passion was awakened. I knew it was my dream and I had to do everything I could to achieve it. I became a car geek, I knew all the popular brands in Bulgaria and I collected car models.

Did your parents have anything to do with motorsports?  

Nothing, except that they are drivers, but without any enthusiasm and passion for motorsport. 

How many competitions have you participated in?

My parents weren’t very happy with me doing this sport because it’s dangerous and very expensive. They had a Lada 1600, there wasn’t much choice then. I learned to drive a car somewhere around the age of 14. My father would take me into the field to show me how to drive, how to start the car, and often got nervous when I couldn’t drive smoothly.

This clutch! For any beginner, it’s tough.

I was making it very difficult and he was getting nervous. He said I was still very young, but I insisted every day that we go again. So I acquired some serious habits even then and already had a plan in my mind how to achieve my goal.

What was it?

To become a car racer and nothing else interested me. First I painted cars, then I went to another level - I made models. I’ve done almost series production of various car models. Finally, I told myself it was time to become a racer. It was around 1996, I was 20 years old. I took my parents’ Lada, they already had another car. It was the first car that I made racing myself. That was the moment when they realised there was no fixing me and left me to do what I wanted.

Was it your first race with the Lada? 

Yes, I participated in the rally ‘Sliven’. It was a great euphoria, I fulfilled my dream to participate in a competition and from then on there was no end. My first competition as a professional driver was in Albena Rally in 2000. The same year in Sliven Rally I finished second in the class of my car. The following year I moved up a class and by 2003 I was racing a Peugeot 306 S16. It was my first western race car. With her I became champion of Bulgaria in 2003 in group N3.  After that I switched to a more professional car Renault Clio RS. In 2006, I got on a world-class race car Citroen C2 Super 1600, which participated in the World Rally Championship. We secured this car with the help of the great motorist Ilia Chubrikov.

Did you do this sport for a living? 

I didn’t do sports for a living, but when I did, that’s all I did every day. The budgets that were needed to participate in the championship are in the range of EUR 100 000 - 150 000 per year, which is not much, but for our capabilities it is a lot. At every race I have had at least 15 new tyres. We had to start with new tyres on every second stage to be competitive and fast.

You created the first rally championship for young drivers with identical cars.

One day I decided that after my career as a rally driver I should leave something behind for the young. I created the first rally championship in Bulgaria for juniors together with Hyundai. We prepared 6 racing cars in Stara Zagora and created the championship for children from 16 years, we had participants from 5 countries - rally drivers from Italy, Poland, Sweden, Georgia, Turkey. Then I decided it was time and I had to make a plane.

And how did the professional rally racer combine with aviation?

When I was a student, I dreamed of doing high-speed technology - airplanes, cars, bolides. It was in my blood and I was constantly creating stuff on that topic, but cars seemed to be a priority. When I decided that I was going to do sports, I told myself that I would take time out of my life for my other passion - aviation. But my grandfather was a great master carpenter and I may have picked up some of his design talent. Because I’ve done other things besides aviation. I designed and built myself two houses with wooden construction in Tvarditsa in renaissance style from scratch, I started in 2009 and finished them in 2011. I applied for the rural programme, won a funding project and implemented an interesting project.

But after the end of the rallies you turned to aircraft engineering. Is that so?

This is because motorsports are also part of science, being directly related to mechanics in all its varieties, dynamics and aerodynamics.

You graduated from the Air Force Academy in Dolna Mitropolia.

Yes, I am an aeronautical engineer. I graduated in two engineering profiles - operation and maintenance of aviation equipment and technologies, and design of structures and industrial components. I am currently a PhD student and I am about to finalize my dissertation and defend it.

We have written that you started designing and building a small two-seater aircraft a long time ago. Will it fly?

Sooner or later the time for first flight will come, but these are projects that require a lot of time, resources and money.

I’ve seen a picture, it’s an interesting design, looks like a dolphin. 

More like a shark. This is an interesting project, but it requires serious funding. I’ve started it from scratch, from drawing, making the model, the dies and now it’s up to the prototype phase. My goal is to have it completed someday, but I am currently using everything from this pilot project for my PhD research goals and dissertation preparation.

I was just about to ask you why is that?

My whole dissertation is on this project, it is related to the optimization of the aerodynamic shape of the wing. The aim is to optimize the aerodynamic shape of the wing so that the aircraft can be adapted for electric propulsion.

Where will the batteries be?

In both semi-wings. And so I need to optimize their shape to make the batteries smaller, and to provide the ability to do longer range flight, and of course save power that way. In theory, I have achieved it. 

It’s not a hobby?

It was a hobby until it became a scientific pursuit. Things are connected, you have to be willing to do it and most of all have a big goal.

And when you do, what?

I will have fulfilled another dream. And from a practical point of view, you can set up production. There are different options, but they are a little further in the future.

How do your professional skills, experience, research interests help you in your role as Transport Minister?  

There are two main things - from aviation I have learned to always minimize the prerequisites for human error and to manage risk. And from motorsport - not to feel fear and hesitation when I have to make quick and important decisions. And yes, I know that as hard as it is, this is the solution, period, and you have to move on. There are many extreme situations in the ministry and it is important to keep your composure, not to get distracted.

Give examples.

The most recent example is the procurement of the new trains under the National Recovery and Resilience Plan. Some on the outside are watching and probably saying this is a failure. To me, until you’ve used every possible option to solve the problem, it’s not a failure. There are always at least three solutions to a problem, if you’ve only tried one and given up, then you haven’t tapped the full potential. Yes, these are risks, but you have to be able to manage each risk until you get a result. For me it’s not complicated, so I try to work, to use all the options to the end and achieve the result that is important for people.

You were in Italy, you saw how the first helicopter for Bulgaria was assembled.

Actually my wish is to see it in Bulgaria. Then I will be really happy. It is already ready and they are planning its flight to Bulgaria. Flying it is not like flying an airplane, it is a bit more complicated and good weather conditions are needed for safe flight. If the forecast is good, we expect it to be here by the end of January.

People talk of the assembly, the rotation of prime ministers, of ministers. How do you see yourself in this rotation?

I don’t focus on that issue. My goal is like in motorsport: when I have already started, how to get to the finish, and with the best result. And what will happen after that is irrelevant to me. The important thing is to have been useful to the people, to have done something for the country.

What does a good result mean?

It is clear to everyone that miracles cannot be done in 9 months. The implementation of the goals and objectives we have set in our management programme is progressing at a very good pace. As a ministry we have the most measures, about 68, other ministries have 25. It’s good that we were able to launch the air ambulance. In BDZ we have managed to make a concept for development, we have clear plans from now on, since autumn last year we have been working on the implementation of an important project that will bring huge benefits to the people. We are in negotiations with partners in Europe and if we can conclude two contracts for the delivery of trains by March, it will be a good achievement.