Sacrifices paying off for Singapore's 12-year-old racer Christian Ho
World top-10 junior, 12, lives and studies away from parents in Milan
Singaporean junior racer Christian Ho is only 12, but is already leading a life in the fast lane.
At an age where most of his peers are adapting to secondary school life, he has been learning to live without his parents in Europe, where he competes in races on 28 weekends a year, while balancing his studies.
These commitments may be daunting, but Christian and his parents believe that their choice is worth it.
Two weeks ago, he became the first Asian to win a race in the Deutsche Kart Meisterschaft (DKM) German Karting Championship series, whose former champions include Formula 1 greats Michael Schumacher and Sebastian Vettel.
In the Belgium leg in Genk, Christian clocked 13 min 51.042sec and 13:50.398 in the final races to win the first prize, after also topping the qualification round and heats.
"I felt really proud after winning the race," said Christian, who represents Ricky Flynn Motorsport karting team, in an interview yesterday.
"From the practice run until the end, I was really proud of myself and how I've performed throughout this year."
His big win resulted from a series of sacrifices made in the past 18 months, with the biggest being living without his parents in Italy.
Initially, Christian stayed with his mother, Nicole Lee Ho Jung, after both moved to Milan in April last year.
Christian's father, Lowell Ho, would fly from Singapore and join them every other week.
But Lee moved back to Singapore in February to prepare for the birth of their second child, a daughter who is now four months old.
Since then, Christian's manager Imran Shaharom, 31, who moved to Milan in January, has stayed with him and helps with house chores. He ensures that Christian is up by 7am for school, heads to the gym after that and completes his homework before dinner.
During competitions, he also drives and travels with Christian while coaching and preparing him for races.
Another challenge for Christian is having to cope with his studies amid his busy schedule.
"Usually at the start of the year, every single week I would have a race. So, it was really hard to balance then," said the seventh-grade student at the International School Brescia.
"But now, once I'm back, there's hardly any more races, so it's the easiest time to balance."
He has to miss as much as three weeks of lessons at a go, but he doesn't fall behind in his curriculum as his school is supportive of athletes.
All his lessons and homework are made available online and his teacher is able to pay close attention to his progress, as there are only two other students in his class.
He conceded that the arrangement is not easy, but "it's now starting to pay off" for his racing career.
His mother said: "It's been hard especially when I had to be away for three full months (because) he grows up so fast. It's sad but, fortunately, he's mature enough to understand.
"It's not easy having the family separated like this, but soon we will be reunited. Once the baby's a little bit bigger, we'll bring her over so that we can be together."
Christian will leave for his next race today, the Sept 5-8 International Automobile Federation (FIA) Karting World Championships in Alaharma, Finland. There, he hopes to finish in the top six in the junior category.
Manager Imran believes that the youngster is capable of achieving his target if he starts strong, defends his lead and maintains composure.
The Malaysian, who has worked closely with Christian for three years, also made a sacrifice when moving to Milan.
He said: "Previously, I didn't (press) fully on him because I had my job; a business in Malaysia. When his father offered me to be with Christian, I agreed and started (instilling) a lifestyle change in him.
"I wanted him to have the mindset of going to races to win. We're not just here to race and have fun. We're racing in Europe and we have to achieve our goals every week.
"That was the main difference in Christian doing better each time. Now, he's a regular top-10 junior in the world already."
Last year, Christian qualified only for the three final races out of about 20 competitions.
But he has improved by leaps and bounds in just the first half of this year.
In February, he was the first Singaporean to win a heat at the World Series Karting Super Masters Series in Adria, Italy, and finished as the highest-ranked Asian driver.
In April, he became the first Asian to secure a podium-finish in the Italian leg of the DKM, after coming in second and third out of 198 drivers in the two final races.
And earlier this month, he won the series' Belgium leg.
Imran said: "Soon, he will be one of the guys to beat. The future looks very promising."