Tio Ellinas heads into his rookie season of Formula Renault 3.5 with Strakka Racing in 2015, and arrives with confidence after a strong pre-season with the team.
The Cypriot driver, once a test driver for the Marussia Formula 1 team, spoke to The Checkered Flag ahead of this weekend’s season opener at Motorland Aragon, and revealed that success early in his career opened the door into motorsport, and that the chance he had to test a Formula 1 car is something he will always remember.
“I started racing back when I was seven years old,” said Ellinas. “I came up through the traditional karting ranks, and once I turned eleven I really started to hit my stride.
“I won ten karting championships in my home country Cyprus and then the ROK Cup International Final in 2005. My success at that level really kicked off my career, allowing me to break out into the higher ranks of single seater formula.
“It’s been quite a journey, but one that’s been so successful, more than I could have imagined as a kid. In my first year competing in the MSA British Formula Ford Championship, I managed to finish fourth overall.
“That sort of result gets you noticed, and in my case, I ended up signing for Marussia Manor Racing just a couple of years later which gave me the chance to test in F1.
“Any chance you get to drive at the pinnacle of Motorsport is something you’ve got to take. It was a feeling which is almost impossible to describe.”
Ellinas revealed it was the test with Strakka Racing at the Young Driver Test at Jerez at the end of 2014 that started the ball rolling, and ultimately saw the Cypriot sign for the 2015 season. He feels happy with his decision, especially after successful tests with the team over the off-season.
“I was with Strakka Racing at the Young Driver Test at the end of last season, and it just moved really quickly from there,” insisted Ellinas. “Both the team and I were equally impressed with each other, as I managed to eventually go P1 in the test and in mixed conditions too. I knew when I got out of the car that I wanted to drive for the team in 2015.
“They just have the perfect blend of professionalism and the feeling of being part of a family. Everyone’s so friendly and knowledgeable; they really know how to get the best out of the car. The fact that I was able to just jump straight in last year with them at the Young Driver Test and set competitive times says it all really.
”I’ll be doing a lot of simulator work with Strakka Racing at their workshop at Silverstone. It’ll be a good chance to continue working with my engineers away from the track and build more chemistry with the team.”
Looking back at his disrupted season in 2014, when he only raced four events in the GP2 Series (three with MP Motorsport and then one more with Rapax), the Cypriot driver admitted it was difficult, but knows 2015 will be different with his season’s plans all resolved.
“Last year was tough, but ultimately it just came down to the fact that I didn’t have a full-season commitment to the series like in the past,” said Ellinas. “It’s always hard changing teams during the year, you lose your rhythm and never really reach your full potential.
“That’s changed now though, I’m not worried about failing to be competitive going forward.”
Looking ahead to 2015, Ellinas is looking forward to in particular the second half of the season where he feels his best form will come, and is hoping to be fighting for the championship in his maiden Formula Renault 3.5 season, and wants to follow last year’s Strakka driver Will Stevens into Formula 1, and thus become the first Cypriot driver to race in the pinnacle of motorsport.
“I’m looking forward to the second half of the season, and hopefully competing for the overall title towards the end of the year,” revealed Ellinas. “I’m with a team that knows how to win, so I hope I’ll be on the podium consistently and challenging for victory every weekend.
“I’m expecting to finish in the top three in the standings, anything else I feel would be a disappointment to be honest. I plan to follow in the footsteps of drivers like Will Stevens who drove for the team last year before graduating into Formula One, and I’m only going to be able to do that by being in the running for the championship.
“This is arguably the most important year of my career so far. I’ve got a chance to bounce back after last season and on such a big stage. World Series by Renault has become a key step on the motorsport ladder, so a good season in 2015 could therefore be crucial for my career going forward.”