What is “Interviews with Lei”?
Interviews with Lei is a new series where I feature individuals who inspire me. These individuals are all influential figures in their respective fields and we can definitely learn a thing or two from them! You will get an exclusive interview where they share their story and passion, providing tips in hopes to inspire those who may be lost.
I am very honoured to be able to interview the best Macanese Formula 3 racing driver – Charles Leong
At the age of 15, Charles has already won the Championship title from Asian Formula Renault and Chinese FIA Formula 4.
Never be afraid to ask questions. I firmly believe that is what contributed to my success today.Charles Leong
This interview will focus on 3 main themes; the importance of hard work, sacrifices and the concept of attaining one’s dream. Charles is currently an F3 racer at 19.
How did Charles get into karting?
Charles: The first time I encountered racing was when I played the game “Initial D,” (a popular Japanese racing game) in an underground arcade, and I became addicted.
I first learned karting when I was 8 and started to participate in competitions a year later. To my surprise, I started beating many racers who were way more experienced than I was. Soon after, I won my two titles of FIA F4 Championship and Asian Formula Renault at 15. At 17, I competed in the Macau Grand Prix in Formula 3 and was placed in the top 20. I’m competing in the 2020 Macau Grand Prix next week, please come support!
S: It’s crazy how “Initial D” sparked your interest in racing and contributed to what you have today. If you didn’t go into racing, how different would your life be today?
Charles: I would be a completely different person, my personality would drastically change. When I first started karting, I did not have an official trainer. Therefore I was always eager to ask advice from anyone who had more experience than me. I was never afraid to approach them or ask “stupid” questions. This is a crucial value that allowed me to learn tricks here and there, shaping my racing style today.
S: I’m surprised every time I’m reminded that you started off without a coach for such a technical sport, yet you are still able to achieve so much today. Racing is notorious for being dangerous, were your family supportive throughout your journey? Was there one family member who played the most significant role?
Charles: Racing is indeed an extreme sport, but the safety qualifications are strictly monitored and tested. I am confident in the safety regulations imposed on the race tracks, and that is what gives me the confidence to push myself.
My family was supportive since day 1. They know that my dream is to race in the Macau Grand Prix. My dad definitely, played a vital role in supporting me emotionally and financially. He sent me to a boarding school to study in Macau at a young age, and I had to be responsible for my racing down to the details. Also, he was the one who paid for the enormous fees that come with racing and training, we even had to take out loans to pay for my races.
S: I know that racing in the Macau Grand Prix is most formula drivers’ dream. It’s crazy how you achieved your dream at such a young age. How do you see yourself progressing into the future now that you have already achieved your dream? What’s your next big thing you want to accomplish?
Charles: Just like any other sport, knowing that my racing career can be halted at any time, I make sure to invest in other fields and give back to the community.
My dream since I was a kid, was to become a professional racing driver. However, in reality, racing overseas in Formula 3, I realize the massive skill gap between the “professionals” and I. These professionals are usually students of a racing team where they each have an individual trainer guiding them from a young age. In addition, companies like Mercedes or Redbull Racing have the budget to craft Formula 3 cars so drivers can practice with it on the track. (other racers who can’t afford it only come in contact with their cars on the day of the race). These incredibly successful racing drivers also usually come from a wealthy family, which eliminates the problem of sponsorships, something I lacked. As I became older, my goals shifted.
For the next 3 years, I will be studying Sports Science at the University of Brunel in London. After, I hope to utilize my education from university and nurture another group of teenagers who can inherit my racing skills. I want to expand the racing resources in Macau as its resources are still at its preliminary stage.
S: That’s exactly how I feel about financial/ personal development education in Macau, hence why I started Leinvests. So you’re saying that an exceptionally talented individual that lack the financial supporting would not likely be recruited to companies such as Mercedes or Redbull Racing?
Charles: Honestly, it is quite unlikely that any team will recruit a driver who doesn’t come from a wealthy background. That’s a big problem within this profession. A lot of drivers stop competing because of a lack of money. That’s the reality of it.
S: Out of curiosity, talk me through how a typical training day would be like for a racing driver?
Charles: During middle school, I went to a boarding school, I left on weekends to China for trainings. A typical training day would start around 8-9 am and end around 4-5 pm.
For outdoor training, trainings are in 50 mins sessions where we practice overtaking moves, cornering and steering skills. We repeat this many times a day.
For indoor trainings, I would practice driving on simulators, this is essential as I don’t have access to actual F3/F4 cars until the day of the race. If I’m lucky, I’m able to use the same vehicle for the entire season, then I won’t need to get used to a new car. I would say that these simulators are 80% similar to reality. The main difference would be the absence of G-force and wind.
S: At such a young age, you’ve already found your passion and achieved your dream. What do you think sets you apart from your peers?
Charles: I feel that I am more mature than my peers. Most of them haven’t found such a strong passion yet so they aren’t as motivated/future-oriented. Whenever I lie in bed, thoughts of how my future would come flooding in.
S: Do you ever feel like you have to miss out on the typical teen life (partying), as you would have training every weekend?
Charles: Of course, but unfortunately, that is the payoff to chasing my dream. Being the best racer I can be is always in my mind, and it is something I have always wanted. So, I wouldn’t have given up on that for a night out.
S: “Sacrifice” is a big theme I want to discuss and share with our audience. Can you tell me the sacrifices you had to make to achieve this level of success?
Charles: With the rigorous training and competitions, its bound that I miss out on many school days and events. It was especially tough on me last year, juggling as a senior in high school and as a racing driver. I guess the silver lining of the outbreak of Covid-19 is that it bought me enough time to catch up with my studies, and that’s how I made it into the University of Brunel.
S: What is one piece of advice you have for someone who is struggling to find their passion?”
Charles: If a friend were to approach me and ask me the same question, I would advise him to be open to try new things. I am not only a racing driver. I am also an owner of a coffee shop and an eSport center in Macau. When I am not racing, I am open to finding new passions, new dreams, and a stronger purpose. I would advise him to try all the activities or sports out there, and I am confident that he or she will find their passion.
There are a lot of fun facts I learned from Charles.
DID YOU KNOW?
Formula car racers sit in tighter spot than you imagine and they place both feet on the pedals at all time?
Charles is driving a Formula 3 vehicle, but he doesn’t have a driving license (yet)!
Charles received 2 million Macau Patacas, equivalent to 251,000 USD, sponsorship from the Macau Government, but it only covers a small fraction of the annual season cost.
Racing in the Formula 3 or Formula 4 can cost an individual up to 20 million Macau Patacas, equivalent to 2,510,000 USD per season.
Racing drivers have to pay for the damage of its formula racing car if there is an accident, insurance covers less than 50% of it. Someone like Lewis Hamilton pays about $6 million dollars of insurance premium per year!