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Racers “share the experience we have” with Armed Forces of Ukraine for off-road emergency driving

3 Mins read
Credit: DniproTV

Although unable to compete domestically for obvious reasons, Ukrainian racers have still found applications for their driving abilities elsewhere. Thanks to a partnership between the Automobile Federation of Ukraine and the Ministry of Defence, drivers are now leading classes for military personnel in how to drive safely in off-road environments during emergencies, such as heading to and from the frontline.

As part of a feature aired Monday, DniproTV joined the Khartia Brigade, a unit in the National Guard of Ukraine, at a course in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast taught by Andriy Yaromeko. Yaromeko leads the PILOT Safe Driving Centre, a Cherkasy-based driving school that, with the help of the FAU, has expanded to include satellites in Poltava and Dnipro.

In 2022, he represented Ukraine at the FIA Motorsport Games in France, competing in Auto Slalom with Tatyana Kaduchenko as his team-mate. The duo ranked fourteenth in the preliminaries to be among the sixteen teams advancing to the knockout stage, where they were defeated by Latvia in the opening round and placed thirteenth of twenty-five overall.

Lessons go beyond simply driving fast and smart on dirt roads. Before going to the test track, Yaromenko puts soldiers-slash-students in the classroom where he teaches them concepts that might seem trivial but go a long way in practice such as hand placement on the steering wheel and how to mitigate back pain from sitting for too long.

The course duration varies but typically lasts four sessions. All troops may attend for free, while costs are covered by sponsors and the FAU.

“We have to teach someone, retrain someone, and train someone to perform the tasks set by the leadership,” commented Yaromenko. “That is, to drive 100% safely to where they’re going to perform their tasks then head back.”

While PILOT had already been running such classes for months, the FAU began formally encouraging racing drivers to become instructors in early February, which they enshrined with a new clause in their constitution that states one of their goals is to “promote the defence capability of the state, ensure the sustainable development of motorsport, strengthen the safety and quality of motorsport competitions, and development of mass motorsport disciplines under martial law.” Anybody can sign up for the programme, though the FAU takes particular interest in series champions, former military, or those from disciplines with applicable skillsets like autocross and rally. Once martial law is lifted at war’s end and racing can safely resume, the FAU hopes the courses will encourage soldiers to pursue the sport.

The federation also reorganised the Commission for Emergency Training of Drivers into the Commission for Safe Driving and Emergency Training, which aims to “establish systemic interaction” with the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

“It is important to share the experience we have,” began FAU boss Oleksandr Feldman. “Guys come in with a lot of experience in driving cars, but the experience in civilian life and that of the military are different. The weight of the car and right-hand drive, as well as volunteers used to left-hand drive all differ.”

Over a thousand Ukrainian troops have received specialised driving training since Russia began its full-scale invasion in 2022.

In the wake of the invasion, the FAU’s competition and road divisions were quickly eager to lend a hand to the AFU. For example, the driving tips picked up in Yaromenko’s classes could come in handy for those piloting the SKARLAT 1000, a UTV intended to transport supplies and medevack wounded personnel; SKARLAT brand ambassador Vadim Pritulyak raced one at the Rallye TT Cuenca in October with wounded soldier Sergey Romanovsky as his co-driver thanks to a collaboration with the FAU’s Spanish counterpart RFEDA. In early March, Williams Driver Academy member and WSK Champions Cup winner Oleksandr Bondarev supported a fundraiser to help buy an Elf reconnaissance drone for the 2nd International Legion. The FAU has also coordinated seminars on wartime safety with military units and a part of the federation’s 2024 annual budget is set aside for racers serving in the military.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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