23-year-old Tio Ellinas will join Strakka Racing for the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 season, partnering Swede Gustav Malja at the Silverstone-based outift. In his first interview since joining Renault's top tier competition, the Cypriot spoke exclusively to Crash.net about his decision to switch from GP2, his aspirations and preparing for the 2015 season.
Crash.net: Tio, you first drove with Strakka in the Young Driver tests. Was it that run that convinced you to sign with Strakka Racing?

Tio Ellinas: Exactly. Since then it's all been about getting this deal. The first time out with Strakka I was P4 and later in the test I was P1, both in the wet and dry. It just got better and better through the test and all I was thinking of after I got out of the car was we have to race together next season!

Crash.net: What was it about the team that impressed you?

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Tio Ellinas: What I really liked was the way the team worked together. They knew exactly what they had to do. Everyone was just getting on with what they had to do. Stuff like getting set up changes done quickly and I could see they were really working like a true team. It felt good and I know with a great atmosphere, you can deliver a better performance for sure.

Crash.net: You had a few outings in GP2 last year. How is it to switch to FR3.5?

Tio Ellinas: Last year I really had no organised plan and what I really like is that with the Strakka Management deal, we now have a structure for the season that covers everything. I only got three races last year; they were last minute deals which isn't the best way to progress my career. Strakka is now taking care of the bigger picture and longer term plan. It's a big change.

Crash.net: How are preparations going for the season?

Tio Ellinas: It's going well. I am set to move to the UK next month so I can be close to the factory and can spend time with the engineers and get plenty of time on the team's sim. I know a lot of the tracks but the sim time is so valuable to get to know new venues such as Le Mans as well as to acclimatise faster to the places I do know. It's ideal for familiarisation of braking points, that kind of thing.

Crash.net: Cyprus isn't known as a country with a big motorsport following. How easy was it to become a driver in a country where it's not so widely known?

Tio Ellinas: It's certainly tougher than coming from England or France where circuit racing has a real heritage. We do have some motorsport; karting is coming along and there is rallying. Not many people know that my Grandfather was a successful rally driver, winning the first Cyprus rally in a Fiat 125! My dad also drove karts so we have some racing heritage in the family but it is true, most young kids in Cyprus still just want to play football. There is a good side though; as I'm the only Cypriot driver competing at this level, I'm really fortunate to have a good profile back home that helps to raise support and backing. It's also showing some of the younger kids there is a way to go racing and I'm helping in this area where I can.

Crash.net: What are your aspirations for 2015?

Tio Ellinas: Anything less than top three in the championship will be a disappointment and why shouldn't we aim for the title? I believe that FR3.5 is a great way to prepare and find a way into F1. Look at who has reached Formula One via this route; Alonso, Vettel, etc. The calibre of the drivers this year is immense so winning will offer kudos; people like Dean Stoneman, Oliver Rowland and Nyck de Vries. It's going to be a good season!