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The fast and the famous

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New reality show Celebrity Car Wars pits contestants against each other in a series of driving challenges. We talk to three of the celebs in the series

She's racing to break stereotypes

Professional racecar driver Gaby Dela Merced is more than familiar with stereotypes about women behind the wheel.

The 34-year-oldtold The New Paper on the phone last month from Makati, in the Philippines: "As a female, there was already a pre-judgment that I wouldn't be as fast or I wouldn't be as good (when I first started racing)...

"The whole stigma that women cannot drive was still rampant in the Philippines, so there was double the pressure and effort on my part to prove that I belonged."

Dela Merced has been racing professionally since she was 18 and is the only person from the Philippines to have competed in the full season of the Asian Formula 3 circuit series.

She was the first runner-up in the 2006 Philippines National Formula 3 Championship.

And now, she shares her skills as one of two coaches on new reality TV series Celebrity Car Wars, which premieres today on History Asia (StarHub TV Ch 401) at 10pm.

She is tasked with instructing six celebrity contestants from around the region, such as actor-host Allan Wu (Singapore), former Miss Malaysia Universe and actress-host Andrea Fonseka (Malaysia) and model-host Joey Mead King (Philippines), as they face off in a series of driving challenges designed to test their skills and patience behind the wheel.

Celebrity Car Wars is hosted by Bobby Tonelli. (See other)


On her decision to join the show, Dela Merced, who is also a model and a TV personality, said: "Anything to do with speed, I'm in."

She added: "I'm more than happy... to share my expertise. It's a great honour."

This expertise stems from a lifelong love affair with cars.

She "grew up with cars" as she helped to clean the vehicles at her father's second-hand dealership when she was a child.

She also had three older brothers who loved video games and introduced her to the racing video game Moto Roader.

"I fell in love with (racing) when I was a kid because of that game," Dela Merced recalled. "(In) my first year of high school, I told my family that as soon as I hit 18, I'm going to race."

Dela Merced received "an old, beat-up" 1980's Toyota Starlet on her 18th birthday and became set on a career in motorsports.

Initially, her family was not supportive because of the danger and competitiveness of racing, but her father allowed her to participate in his place at the Porsche World Roadshow, one of the very first professional driving events she was exposed to.

"It was supposed to be a one-time affair, but they saw potential in the way that I drove," she said.

Although the desire to break gender stereotypes was not the reason she joined Celebrity Car Wars, she hopes her and fellow Filipino racecar driver Michele Bumgarner's involvement as coaches will inspire girls with an interest in motorsports.

"I'm sure that they are a lot more females around the globe who want to be racecar drivers, and when they see (Celebrity Car Wars), I hope they realise that they can," she said.

"It would be great to hear and see, months later, (women) actually doing it."

The whole stigma that women cannot drive was still rampant in the Philippines, so there was double the pressure and effort on my part to prove that I belonged.

- Professional racecar driver Gaby Dela Merced