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Ciprian Lupu overcoming challenges to chase his motorsport dreams


Ciprian Lupu refuses to allow disability prevent him from pursuing his motorsport dreams. Ciprian is the first wheelchair user in his country to have a race car license issued by the Sports Automobile Romanian Federation (FRAS) and to officially participate in motorsport competitions. In 2021, the 38-year-old Romanian became the first wheelchair user with tetraplegia to win a National Rally Championship. Next month, together with co-driver Andrei Pintilii, he will compete in Rally Roma Capitale, part of the FIA European Rally Championship calendar. When he is not competing, Ciprian is the regional manager for Motivation Romania – an organization which provides wheelchairs and independent living training to change for the better the lives of people with disabilities in Romania.

In this Q&A with, he reveals the challenges he has overcome – and offers motivation to fellow disabled competitors.

Photo credit: Mihai Stetcu

Q: Can you please explain the nature of your disability?

A:  In the summer of 2002 at age 19,  I was on vacation with my friends at the Black Sea and after a dive in the water I suffered a spinal cord injury at C5-C6 which fully changed my life. So I became a tetraplegic and a wheelchair user which means my mobility and sensitivity are affected both in my upper and lower limbs, as well as in the trunk.

Q: Tell us about your motorsport career to date?

A: In 2018 I started competing in the National Hill Climb Championship in Romania. After competing for three years in Hill Climb events, I wanted something more challenging. Rallying was my ultimate dream. So in 2021 I made my debut in the Romanian Rally Championship with Andrei Pintilii as my co-driver as  part of team Napoca Rally Academy, the most iconic rally team in Romania. We competed in an adapted Citroen C2 in eight of the 10 stages. Even though it was quite a challenge to drive using hand controls while also changing gears, I believe nothing is impossible when you have the motivation to become a champion.

It was the first time I raced on gravel and this made me push my limits. However, it turned out to be better than I expected. After the 5th stage of the championship, me and my co-driver, Andrei achieved first place in the general ranking for the rookies’ category. We managed to maintain our position until the end of the championship and become Rookie Champions. 

We started the season without great expectations and finished as National Rally Champions in the debutants category. We won the team championship. This year is my second year competing in rally events and I want to grow and drive faster. This year we are driving a VW Golf 6 GTI with 280 hp.

Q: What challenges have you had to overcome in life and in motorsport?

A: After the spinal cord injury I needed to do a lot of physical and mental work to become independent and try to adjust to my new life. After I found some stability and things started to go well, I faced losing my father in 2007 and then my mother in 2018. And then I decided to follow my dream and compete in motorsport events. Honestly, motorsport has helped me get over the problems I face more easily.

Being the first wheelchair user in Romania who was competing, I needed convince people to trust my abilities. There was nothing to judge myself against because no one had been in this situation before. I am proud that I have been able to progress and I hope that soon other wheelchair users will follow my way. 

Q: How have you adapted to driving the car with your disability?

A: When I drive I feel normal and its relaxing, even if I drive more than 40,000 km per year. But in my rally car I have special adaptations which help me to have a better control of the car and I have to co-ordinate my manoeuvres as well.

Q: What are you ambitions in motorsport?

A: The fourth event of the Romanian Rally Championship on the 17-18 June, was the last time driving the Golf because it’s time to make the next big step in my career and I will be driving a new Renault Clio Rally5 car. And with this car I will be making my international debut at the Rally Roma Capitale on July 22. This is a big step as we reach the FIA European Rally Championship. 

Q: Who has supported and inspired your motorsport career to date?

A: I am very grateful to my team mates from Napoca Rally Academy who trusted me and supported me from the beginning. The person who inspired me to do all the right steps is my friend and mentor Simone Tempestini, a fellow Romanian rally driver who won the 2016 Junior World Rally Championship. Also all of this would not be possible without the support of my sponsors and from the Sports Automobile Romanian Federation (FRAS) and the Automobile Club of Romania (ACR), as well as with my colleagues at Motivation Romania Foundation. 

Q: What advice would you give to other aspiring competitors with disability?

A: First of all, I am very proud of the fact that, through my performance and my unique journey in motorsport, I have contributed to a shift of perception in Romania, when it comes to people with disabilities. I think that what I do helps people give up on negative attitudes and stereotypes, and value more the abilities of each individual. My advice for fellow competitors with disabilities would be to follow their dreams, their passions and never say ‘’I can’t’’, because I am driven by my passion.