AT an age where most young Malaysians are fresh out of school and contemplating their futures, Rahul Mayer, 17, is already blazing a trail in the world of racing.
Mayer has signed up for the prestigious McLaren Performance Academy young driver programme, allowing him to be trained like a Formula 1 driver.
The programme picks young drivers with great potential and puts them through a three-day bootcamp, featuring intense training and assessments, followed by support and workshop programmes throughout the year. An invaluable bonus is the expert advice trainees receive from the professionals of the McLaren Mercedes Formula 1 team.
The teenager began his racing career at the tender age of eight, when he was spotted by a local team owner while fun-karting with his family. Almost a decade later, Mayer has made a name for himself as an F4 racer. After his successful first season in 2013, he has become the first driver to confirm his place on the 2014 BRDC F4 grid, a multi-event motor racing championship for open-wheel, single-seat formula racing cars which is held across Britain.
He has come a long way since his humble beginnings with a small local team. “I didn’t get a lot of training, just a lot of seat time in the racing kart,” reminisced Mayer.
Soon after, he joined retired racer Imran Shaharom’s team. “I owe a lot of my current skills to him,” said Mayer, adding that he was off the grid for six to seven months due to his intensive training and also, to save money. “There’s no point racing if you’re going to be at the back.”
During his last race, prior to joining Shaharom’s team, Mayer finished 16th, his best result ever. When he returned to the grid after his training, he finished third.
The determined racer has gone from strength to strength – since starting off with the Rotax Max kart races, Mayer has moved upwards at breakneck speed. Before joining the Hillspeed team, he was blazing his way through the Middle East-based Formula Gulf 1000 Championship ranks, achieving no less than eight podium finishes out of 12 race starts, out of which, two were victories.
Having had a taste of victory, Mayer is now playing a whole new ball game on the BRDC F4 grid. “It’s quicker, heavier and more expensive,” said Mayer, adding, “The drivers are much more experienced, so, it’s a new learning game for me.”
Mayer is not only focused on racing, but is also juggling his studies at the same time.
He is currently enrolled at the Canadian pre-u programme at Taylor’s College, where he is taking mainly business-based courses. His aim is to eventually get a degree in business, and a masters, too, if he can.
“A lot of young racing drivers try to juggle their education with their work,” shared Mayer. “But if they cannot handle it, they will pick one and pull back on the other. At a certain level, you will know if you are able to make it in racing.”
The teen racer added that at his level, even those who’ve dropped out would be able to go into car racing. “People will still take you because you have a lot of experience.”
However, the ambitious Mayer seems to be handling work and studies quite well, due in part to the flexibility of his course. All his examinations are done online, as is his course work, so, he is still able to stay on top of his studies even while he travels for races and training.
Cost-wise, Mayer’s passion is clearly a pricey one. His parents fork out about RM1mil annually to fund his dream, and at this point in his career, winning doesn’t result in a cheque, “Only trophies and an ego boost,” he said with a laugh, citing Lewis Hamilton as his inspiration. Mayer is currently on the lookout for a sponsor, failing which, this season could be his last.
He is still optimistic, though. “Whenever you get knocked down, pick yourself up and keep trying. Always improve.”