Motor racing: Local drivers ready to stick their necks out

Singaporean driver Sean Hudspeth, 23, will compete in this season's Porsche Supercup from the third round with Lechner Racing. There are 11 races in the series. He is hoping to finish in the top 10.
Singaporean driver Sean Hudspeth, 23, will compete in this season's Porsche Supercup from the third round with Lechner Racing. There are 11 races in the series. He is hoping to finish in the top 10.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Thriving in motor racing world is tough and costly but S'pore trio are up for the challenge

It might not be obvious at first glance, but the main physical attribute that gives Sean Hudspeth away as a race car driver is his 43cm-diameter neck.

After all, strong support is a must in this business. Formula One drivers are subjected to forces of up to 5.5G - enough pressure to cause an average person to pass out.

Away from the tracks, shopping can be a hassle. Unlike most of his peers, he cannot buy a ready-to-wear shirt off the shelves.

"If I buy a shirt that fits my body, it won't fit my collar. If I buy a shirt that fits my collar, it'd be 10 times too big," said the 23-year-old, who started kart racing nine years ago.

Despite his late introduction - three-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton began karting when he was eight - the Singaporean caught on quickly.

He will compete in this season's Porsche Supercup, which begins this month, from the third round with one of the top teams, Lechner Racing.

A WHEEL CHALLENGE

No other sport combines physical fitness, mental focus and technical skill in the same way that racing does.

SEAN HUDSPETH , Lechner Racing driver, on the demands of motor racing.

"No other sport combines physical fitness, mental focus and technical skill in the same way that racing does," said Hudspeth, a second-year mechanical engineering undergraduate at the University of Warwick. "There's so much to motor racing that you don't see with the naked eye."

And perhaps that is the reason why the average Singaporean tends to harbour misconceptions about the sport, he added.

Far from the glitz and glamour that is usually associated with F1, Hudspeth is part of a small group of up-and-coming local drivers who often find themselves having to make tough sacrifices in pursuit of their dreams.

This includes Andrew Tang, who is third in the standings of the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia after last month's opener in Shanghai. He finished fourth last year and had two wins. The 22-year-old began karting in 2001, a time when there were no karting circuits in Singapore.

"Every weekend, my dad and I had to drive up to Kuala Lumpur to do some practice racing. All my weekends were burnt, I had no friends," said Tang, who will also compete in this year's China GT Championship.

"I think a lot of people would call it crazy, even myself sometimes."

By 11, he had won at least 10 regional go-karting races including the Macau International Kart Grand Prix (cadet category), but was burnt out and stopped racing.

He returned to the sport four years later in 2009. In 2011, he won the Asian Karting Open Championship title.

He then made the jump to single-seater cars, making his Toyota Race Series debut in 2013, and winning the title the following year.

Both he and Hudspeth, who partnered compatriot Denis Lian and finished second in the amateur class at the 2014 Sepang round of the Asian Le Mans Series, acknowledge that the financial burden on their families has been huge.

Neither wanted to reveal how much has been spent but competing in the sport can easily cost six-figures annually. Despite the odds, they are hoping to make their mark on the international stage.

Another up-and-comer is Danial Nielsen-Frost, 14. The Singaporean is competing in the Formula Masters China Series, one of the region's junior entry-level championships.

One encouraging sign is the growing karting scene which has seen at least two circuits open in Singapore in recent years, noted Tang.

Across the globe, karting circuits are hotbeds for discovering young talents in motor racing, as was the case for Hamilton.

In spite of their passion, there are many roadblocks for aspiring homegrown drivers.

Few local corporations are willing to financially back them, said 45-year-old Lian, one of Singapore's most accomplished drivers.

He added: "It boils down straight to the question: Will they ever get to the point where they will be financially successful in Singapore? The answer is no."

With limited opportunities, it is imperative for drivers like Tang and Hudspeth to impress when they compete in overseas races.

Hudspeth is aiming for a top 10 finish in this season's Porsche Supercup.

He said: "The time is now. And anything less than a 100 per cent isn't going to be enough."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 08, 2017, with the headline 'Local drivers ready to stick their necks out'. Print Edition | Subscribe