Me And My Car

Race track mum

Ms Daphne Tan (with husband James Lee, son Maximus and daughter Melody) ferries her children to school in a BMW 1M.
Ms Daphne Tan (with husband James Lee, son Maximus and daughter Melody) ferries her children to school in a BMW 1M. PHOTO: ANDRE LAM
Ms Daphne Tan (with husband James Lee, son Maximus and daughter Melody) ferries her children to school in a BMW 1M.
What's in the boot? •Two blankets in case the children are cold •First-aid kit •Emergency tool kit PHOTO: ANDRE LAM

Daphne Tan went from not knowing anything about cars to clocking hot laps around Sepang

When Ms Daphne Tan first met her husband James Lee in 2001, she was a carefree 24-year-old driving a Suzuki Vitara.

She knew next to nothing about cars, except that some looked nicer than others. But she became a hardcore petrolhead "after James came into my life".

He was driving a hot Honda Integra Type R when they met. One day in 2003, he took her out on a "track day date" - to Johor's Pasir Gudang race circuit.

That date got Ms Tan hooked on cars, racing and her beau. They tied the knot later that year.

The couple continued to go on "track dates". She once clocked 2 minutes 38 seconds in a Honda Accord Euro R in Sepang. To prove that it was no fluke, she took a Civic Type R and clocked 2 minutes 36 seconds. That is not too shoddy, considering that the Honda Racing Team clocked 2 minutes 27 seconds in a Mugen Civic at the 2014 Merdeka 12-hour Endurance race.

Ms Tan's fastest time was 2 minutes 30 seconds, set in 2013 with a 480bhp Nissan GT-R she upgraded to produce 600bhp. (Her husband's best timing was 2 minutes 27 seconds, also clocked in the GT-R.)

As fast and exciting as the GT-R was, Ms Tan says she needed something a little more practical which she could use to ferry the children with. Her son Maximus is 11 and daughter Melody is nine.

In 2011, Ms Tan bought an orange BMW 1M, a car which she says she has had the most fun with.

"I like this unique wide body car, especially the rear," she adds.

But she was not satisfied with the 1M's 340bhp twin-turbo engine and tuned it up to produce 400bhp.

She kept to the standard issue tyres but put in a Dinan coilover kit to lower and firm up the suspension. Still, she complains that the manual gearbox is set up for long-distance driving and not particularly suited for the track.

"It can only do a 2 minute 36 second lap on standard tyres," she says.

She and her husband decided to mix pleasure with business 11 years ago by starting a car modification workshop. Maximus Racing (named after their then newborn son) initially operated out of a tiny 600 sq ft shopfloor shared with another company.

Last year, they bought a 13,000 sq ft rooftop unit in a five-storey industrial building in Jurong.

It houses six hoists, one alignment bay and a dynamometer. It even has a showroom displaying limited-edition cars.

Ms Tan says she has not been to a track day since last June because of the growing business.

And like other working mothers, she juggles business and family commitments.

When asked if the children are interested in cars, she says: "I don't think they like cars at this moment. They seem more interested in computer games."

She makes it a priority to drive the children to school instead of putting them in a school bus. It gives them extra bonding time.

She has not abandoned her love of speed, though and hopes to get back on the race circuit soon.

Her dream car for the outing?

"A 911 GT3 RS," she says without hesitation.

•The writer is a regular contributor to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2016, with the headline 'Race track mum'. Print Edition | Subscribe