Despite first stepping into a go kart aged eleven, it was the success of Formula 1 world champion, Lewis Hamilton, who forced Dan to consider racing, his chosen career. Shortly after, the twenty-one-year-old quit his job at the Supermarket chain, Waitrose. Not funded by his family, Dan now looks to sponsors to keep his racing hopes alive. In 2013, competing in Japanese F3 with KCMG will be his main goal, a decision that will cost him £200,000.
“Hong Kong never sleeps” he confesses; it was late when I interviewed him. Dan has spent his day creating and meeting contacts using his, now prominent, presence on social media sites to build up much needed partnership and sponsorship opportunities. From Twitter alone, Dan gained £10,000 in sponsorship last year. It is clear to see how he gained the title ‘the first Twitter powered racing driver’.
“I can often overwork myself here, especially whenever I suffer setbacks, but I have a very good support network, from my physical training, to my business partners, sponsors and from a media point of view too” he continues.
Dan shared with me the first piece of racing advice he received. It was Race Driver Coach, Enzo Mucci, who correctly advised him, ‘if you want to be a race driver just to race cars, don’t do it. 99.9% of your time will be out of the car’. Dan assures me that this is absolutely true.
I was intrigued by his decision to move so far from the European norm to race in Japanese F3. He explained that it is a “highly respected series on the pathway to Formula One.” British exports in the Far East are rare, giving Dan an opportunity to prove himself in a location that is becoming more and more Motorsport literate. Cost too is a factor. A return to Europe, on his current telemetry, “would not be feasible” he adds.
His life in Hong Kong as a racing driver is a long way from stacking shelves in Waitrose, where Dan worked only a year ago. This is something his family initially found difficult to contemplate. “It did take about two months to persuade my dad to allow me to start because I was right in the middle of my A Levels”. The promise of high grades were met, “I missed the A in Spanish by one mark; thankfully he let me off that one!”
Unlike his peers, Dan’s family have not belonged to the racing community; working seven days a week they were unable to take him to karting events. I was curious about how this affected his early racing years.
Dan told about me about the time he had just completed his first race and had taken the fastest lap as a novice in a field of 24 drivers. Whilst working on his kart, bought with his earnings from Waitrose, he asked a mechanic what a spark plug was. “He told me, ‘you are the fastest driver I’ve ever seen who hasn’t known what a spark plug is!'”, Dan recalled with amusement.
Without connections from his family and with them unable to provide financial support, Dan relies on making his own contacts to compete in Japanese F3. I asked Dan whether financial worries ever leave his mind. “I always have to create new business opportunities, however, on a race weekend that all disappears and I concentrate on the job in the hand”.
When knowing a driver’s talent, it can be difficult to ask about their setbacks. Dan explained that even when he is not able to drive, he can still practice at the Sideways Driving Club simulators in Hong Kong. “This is very important to keep my brain in a racing mode after such long periods of time out of the car!” It seemed, much to my relief, I was forgiven for mentioning the hardships he occasionally faces.
Dan will soon be back in the car as he will drive a Formula Renault around Zhuhai in China. He hopes that this, along with his season in Japanese F3, will help him build on his three wins in Formula Pilota in China last year.
Indeed, 2013 has started well for Dan, just days after I spoke to him, he has two new sponsors – Rula Bula and Dundons Solicitors have agreed to help fund the youngster for this year. It is clear that the burgeoning market place in Hong Kong is helping Dan to make more and more viable racing contacts.
With this sponsorship, Dan hopes to prove to the racing community that he has what it takes to one day become Formula 1 World Champion. He tells me how he hopes to emulate the success of some of his racing idols; “Mark Webber for his dogged determination against all odds, Jenson Button for his smooth driving, Lewis Hamilton for his overtaking, and Sebastian Vettel for his mental ability”.
I feel his tone change as the focus of our interview leaves the ever looming cloud of sponsorship to the topic of racing. “Even though I’m an underfunded driver, I always tell people I am the luckiest guy in the world”. It is clear to me that Dan is racing for all the right reasons. Fame and fortune become of little importance compared to the thrill of driving itself.
That led me to ask another question, one I thought would create a complex answer – has he ever worried about the dangers of the racing. His answer was simple. “No”. For Dan, racing, and the spirit of competing, is second to none. I can’t help but think how much his life has changed since he last stacked shelves in Waitrose.
“The feeling I get from racing is unbeatable and I’ve got a huge passion for it which I’ve not experienced with anything else I’ve done”.
As our interview ends I can really feel his love for racing and the respect he has for the industry he has joined. Whilst he may be at his happiest in the cockpit, donning his racing helmet, it is sadly Dan’s time out of the car that will shape much of his future.