What’s life in the fast lane like for one of Singapore’s youngest professional racecar drivers? Andrew Tang was seven when his passion for racing was ignited after his dad brought him go-karting; eight when he won his first competition; 16 when he was picked up by McLaren and travelled and raced in Europe for three years; and 19 when he became the first non-Kiwi to win New Zealand’s Toyota Race Series.
His F1 dream came to a screeching halt when he had to serve National Service. “I thought my dream of reaching F1 had ended — I had to stop racing, I was dropped by McLaren, and [I thought I’d] be too old to continue after NS,” he opines.
But things took a U-turn for the better towards the end of Andrew’s NS stint, though, when he beat out over 100 applicants to land a Porsche scholarship which now funds and fuels his dream of being the first Singaporean to race in the F1.
8 DAYS: When did you know you wanted to get serious and make this your career?
ANDREW TANG: When I started winning races [at eight years old], we decided this could actually become a career. In primary school, I was doing some form of physical training every day. If not, I was either doing homework or at the track. I had no time for normal stuff that a kid would do, like friends or computer games. But it was paying off ’cos I was winning everything on the track.
At that time, the karting scene wasn’t too big here yet, so we started going to Malaysia. We’d drive up to KL every Saturday at 6am, practise, then leave at 7pm on Sunday and arrive home at 11pm. I’d always fall asleep on the ride back home and my dad had to carry me back up to my room. (Laughs)
You turned down offers to train in Europe when you were 11, but went ahead at 15. What made you change your mind?
Honestly, as an 11-year-old, it was too stressful. I told my dad [I didn’t want to go to Europe] ’cos I wanted to focus on school, but really, I was scared of having to live alone in Europe. He didn’t force me to continue, which was very nice, although now I wish he did. (Chuckles)
I stopped racing for four years, but I missed it so much I had to convince my dad to let me resume when I was 15. And we were happy with my results after I returned, but he said, “If you want to succeed, you got to go to Europe.”
I decided I love the sport enough, so I moved away from my family when I was 15, and stayed in Europe for three years. I was with a small team called Kartronix International — it was just my team manager and myself — and we travelled in a van which carried the karts too.
The worst trip was when we drove from Italy to Portugal — 3,000km in three days, driving for 10 hours at a time, in the summer with no air-con in the van. Thankfully, I had some good results and was picked up by the McLaren Young Driver programme. I also had the support of [Singaporean billionaire] Peter Lim, who had shares in McLaren, and seeing my results as a fellow Singaporean, he wanted to support me.
Just how expensive is the sport of racing?
Nowadays, it’s quite expensive. The money goes to mechanics, engine fees, engine rentals from suppliers in Europe, and the vehicle. You have to buy your own kart and it’s not cheap. When I was driving them, it was about $1,000. Nowadays, guys have two karts — one for dry [conditions], one for wet. I started getting sponsored with McLaren midway through when I was 16, so I’m thankful I didn’t have to put that financial strain on my family.
How much do you spend on your sport now?
I’m quite lucky that it’s covered by the Porsche scholarship now. But I do need to find a bit more money for tyres, flights and accommodation for when we travel, and I’ve managed to find it.
If someone had no sponsors, they’d easily need 400K euros (S$645K), which would cover team cost, tyres, and a car. You need to buy a car and it costs about 180K euros. Registration fees for the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia is US$88K (S$119K). We travel all around Asia so they have to move the cars around, and that money covers that.
It’s definitely not cheap. I wouldn’t be in racing if I had to pay for it myself. I can’t afford it — not many people can.
Where do racecar drivers get their income from?
I’ve had the luxury of not having to pay for anything, but a lot of drivers will have to pay. It’s quite difficult here in Singapore ’cos everyone thinks it’s easy, that there’s no work behind it, and that it’s a glamorous life. It’s not. I haven’t had any sponsors from Singapore yet, which is a bit sad considering it’s my country, but hopefully F1 can keep going and raise awareness so that people would be more open to sponsoring.
It’s always quite a challenge. I’m just lucky I had the opportunity to continue my racing career with Porsche. Otherwise, I’d be in university studying Economics or something business-related.
But where does your income come from?
From Porsche, but I don’t get an allowance. If I don’t work hard enough, I still have to fork out my own money. They only give me enough for half or three-quarters the season, which is 1mil RMB (S$207K). But as I’d mentioned, you need 400K euros to complete the series. With the [additional] sponsors I found, I don’t have to pay for anything, and I do get something back, but I rather not disclose any figures.
We also get paid for good results. If you come in first, second or third in a race, you get prize money. It’s not a massive amount — I think first place gets about US$3,500 — but it definitely helps. For those who are trying to find money to pay for the series, that’s where a good chunk can come from.
Sounds like you’re essentially a one-man company, from racing and training to budgeting and finding sponsors.
I struggled big time last year trying to manage both my finances and racing. When you’re driving and thinking about your finances, that’s a recipe for disaster. I’m definitely better at it this year.
I’d suggest having someone to manage you and help you, but that’s an additional expense. I’ve been doing everything myself. My parents run businesses — my dad has a rattan business and my mum used to own a hotel in Chinatown — but both of them are at the stage where they should be retiring soon. They did help me last year but we got into a big argument. So we decided I’m going to do everything myself.
I have all my spreadsheets, calendars, invoices, and every weekend, I need to do a report for Porsche. It’s basically a full-time job.
The 2017 Formula 1 Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix (www.singaporegp.sg) and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (http://www.carreracupasia.com) are on Sep 15 to 17.
Photo: Ealbert Ho