Ben Grimes makes a living in the fast lane
Falling short of a podium finish usually qualifies as a heartbreak. But racer Benjamin “Ben” Grimes thinks losses are all part of his long-term bid to make history in Philippine sports.
Not that Grimes has been far off the mark. Although there had been disappointments, the rising Filipino-British driver topped two races and made the podium seven times in the 2017 Formula Masters Asian Series, the competition tagged as Asia’s premier Formula car championship.
Those initial wins, the Formula car rookie hopes, will eventually lead to his ultimate dream of becoming the first Filipino to race in Formula One, the highest class of single-seat auto racing.
“But it’s not an easy road to get there,” the 19-year-old Grimes admitted.
So far, Marlon Stockinger had come the closest when the Filipino-Swiss sensation joined the Lotus F1 junior team in 2013. As much as Grimes wants to surpass that, he knows it will take a combination of talent, luck and loads of financial support to reach the pinnacle of motorsports.
“Most aspiring drivers dream of going Formula One and Formula car is the route to getting there,” said Grimes. “This year, in particular, has been a highlight because there are a lot of good drivers I competed against. So to come on the podium when the field was one of the strongest there had ever been, and considering it’s my first year in Formula cars, it’s something I’m pretty proud of.”
After graduating from Brent International School last year, Grimes had put his university plans on hold to focus on racing. But he intends to go back to school if his racing ambitions don’t pan out as hoped in the coming years.
“While Formula 1 remains as an ultimate dream for me, I’ve also set out more realistic paths,” said Grimes. “I’ve identified a few options to pursue given how statistically hard it is to get to Formula One. If you think about it, there are 20 F1 drivers in the grid and there are thousands of Formula drivers all over the world.”
Grimes’ parents, though, have been fully supportive. His mother Marissa, who’s from Bicol, thinks he’s certainly born to race. “From the moment he came out, he was in a hurry,” she shared, recalling how the eldest of her four children was born two weeks premature. “I just had my regular check-up and then they told me I had to be wheeled to the operating room. I guess Ben was already racing to get out.”
His father Peter, the chief executive officer of a life insurance company, also remembers how his son has always loved riding cars: “When Ben was a baby, the only way we could put him to sleep was to throw him in the back of the car and drive around the block.”
But the younger Grimes thinks he may have gotten that thrill for speed from his paternal grandfather, Frederick. “My grandfather raced Ducatis,” he said. “So I guess if there was a so-called driving gene in the family, I would have gotten it from my grandfather.”
Grimes started racing at 11 years old and picked up podium finishes in the Thailand National Karting Championship, Asia Rota Max Challenge and Thailand Rotax Junior Championship. He also saw action in the 2013 Rotax Grand Finals in New Orleans and finished as vice-champion in the Thailand Rotax Senior Championship.
The 6-foot-2 teen driver also tried saloon car racing in the Toyota Vios Cup before shifting to Formula racing.
“I wouldn’t say the transition to Formula cars was incredibly difficult, but it wasn’t that easy either,” he said. “The traditional route is from go-kart to Formula cars, so it’s similar in a sense that it’s open wheel, open cockpit. But in my case, it was also quite difficult because I didn’t have the budget to do much testing in the preseason.”
“It’s very costly,” added Grimes, noting that his father shoulders the bulk of his expenses. “The figures are quite intimidating. It’s definitely not the cheapest of sports that you can choose from.”
Grimes, though, hopes to stick to to the sport as long as he can. “I guess I’m an adrenaline junkie,” he said. “Just the feeling when the lights go out and there are a lot of cars around you, I love that feeling. You can’t really replicate it. Once you race cars for the first time and you’re really into the sport you’ll understand why this feeling is addictive to racing drivers.”
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