From Karts To Formula Cars, 17-Year-Old Bianca Bustamante Is Racing Her Way To The Top

History maker at just 17 years old.

As the first Filipina to compete in the W Series, Bianca Bustamante is helping pave the way for women and Filipinos to succeed in the sport of high speed car racing.

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Out of all the sports that a young kid could try, race car driving, or kart driving to be exact, isn’t top of the list for many. And when it comes to competing in the sport, the country isn’t known to be a hotbed for racers in the global scene. Aside from the fact that it’s not the easiest sport to get into, it’s also not the most accessible to many Filipinos. But as proven in the past couple of years, Filipinos can and do succeed in sports that aren’t as well known or popular as say basketball or boxing. However, recently in professional race car driving, the Philippines has a young athlete to root for. And it comes in an unlikely form, a 17-year-old girl by the name of Bianca Bustamante.

In case you aren’t familiar with her, Bianca is a driving prodigy who has been killing it in the sport since she was six years old. As a young woman, she has done well in the sport that is often perceived to be only for men. Bianca is such a talented driver that this year, she made history as the first ever Filipino to compete in the W Series, considered as the pinnacle of professional car racing for women. All this and more has led her to become a successful outlier who is helping pave the way not just for Filipinos in the sport, but for women as well.

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GETTING INTO THE SPORT WITH THE HELP OF HER DAD

Like with any A-tier athlete, Bianca was enveloped in the world of racing motorsport since she was a young girl. She credits her dad, a karter himself, for introducing her to the sport. “I remember as young girl, he would bring me to the racetrack, and I would watch him race and I got a taste of it. And ever since then I was so addicted to it. When I was three years old, that was the first ever time he bought me a baby kart. And that’s when I started driving. Then I just couldn’t stop doing it,” she tells NYLON Manila in a one-on-one interview. By the time she was six years old, which is the minimum legal age to compete in racing, she began her career and hasn’t looked back.  

Speaking of Bianca’s father, it’s little surprise to know that their bond remains strong. “We sort of have this connection that I don’t have with anyone else. He understands my situation as a racing driver, and he understands how I feel.” But despite their similar backgrounds in racing and the competitive nature they inhabit, he still treats her like his daughter. “He still prioritizes me as his daughter and not as a racer. So, that’s definitely something I love about him. He would always tell me that on track, you’re a racer, but off track, you’re my daughter, and I love you regardless of your wins or whenever you lose, or if you don’t perform well.”

LOVE OF THE SPORT

For any driver who likes going from 0 to 60 in 3.5, they know that the thrill of it all can feel like the best part. When Bianca is behind the wheel, it’s the adrenaline above all that excites her about racing. “The feeling of driving and going so fast, it’s something different. For me, whenever I go fast, I feel so free. It’s like you’ve got your adrenaline so high. And there’s sort of that life or death factor that just moves everything up. Because when you’re driving, there is a lot of risk of crashing or injuries. But for me, when I have that helmet on, I just I feel so fearless. You know, I don’t fear to crashing, I don’t fear even death.”

Depending on who you ask, driving can be a tense experience or a breeze. When Bianca hits the racing track, she is a seasoned pro. But behind that professional attitude is a lot of training to prepare for the gauntlet of competitive racing. As she shares, it’s not a walk in the park. “Racing is very physical. A lot of people say that it’s so easy driving, and that it’s only turning the wheel or pressing the gas, but it’s not. Compared to the normal cars you drive in the street; the Formula car has no power steering. So, we drive it as how heavy it is. And we have to withstand a lot of g force going so fast, which is like around 260 kilometer per hour. So, going that fast and turning, it will take a lot of back strength.”

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Her training then consists of a lot of back and neck exercises, as well as building up muscle. But aside from that, she also trains mentally because racing is also a mind game. “You need to be really quick on your feet and quick in your head and your hands and hand and eye coordination. It’s all of those things that are very crucial when it comes to racing.”

MAKING HISTORY IN THE W SERIES

Over the past decade, Bianca Bustamante has collected herself a trophy case worth of championship wins and accolades both locally and abroad. Even though she is just 17 years old, she’s had a career that can compete with some of the older pros. But despite her first place wins and history making feats, Bianca admits that she feels like an underdog at times, mainly due to the fact that she is quite young compared to her competitors.

“Being one of the youngest drivers in racing, I always see that I have so much more to learn, and so much more progress. At first, it can get really tough because I don’t have that sort of experience to back me up and boost my confidence. But on the other hand, I feel grateful because the only way I can go up from here is up. So, I see everything as a big learning opportunity for me.”

Clearly, Bianca has been taking her notes. Earlier this year, Bianca arguably reached her biggest feat of her career so far when she was included in the 2022 W Series. Aside from the prestige of being able to compete in series, she also holds the title of being the first Filipino racer to compete in the competition. As one of the youngest drivers of the new series, Bianca is currently based in Indianapolis, Indiana as she prepares for the start of the 2022 series on May 6 in Miami.

“I was definitely over the moon. I felt like I was in a different planet. Being in a global series has always been a goal of mine. It’s one of my biggest goals. But it was all hard work. I worked really hard just to get that seat. We went over and beyond. And I give so much effort, so much time and so much focus on it. That’s why I got the seat, I was willing to do anything for my dream,” she enthusiastically shares.

DEALING WITH THE PRESSURE

With the achievement also comes the pressure, not just to perform well, but to represent for the country as a whole. This is something Bianca is acutely aware of. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure that comes with racing. I think that’s one of the first things that I had to learn at the age of six was just how to deal with the pressure and how to deal with all of that sort of the people watching you. Being the first ever Filipino woman to make it to W Series definitely comes with a lot of pressure as it comes with a lot of joy.”

But representing the Philippines in her races is not something new for Bianca, which is why more than pressure, she’s happy to figuratively wave the country’s flag. “To have all of the Filipino people there with me supporting me backing me up will be such a boost for me. I try not to let the pressure gets me and I’ll do my best to learn and hopefully make everyone proud.”

Now that Bianca is racing in the big leagues, it brings with it a whole new shift of pressures and priorities. Notably for Bianca, she didn’t climb up the ranks like most rookie racers would and instead made a big leap from karting to Formula cars. “I made such a huge leap that even I surprise myself. Sometimes I wonder if I’m strong enough for this, or if I’m good enough. But yeah, it’s a big change to big difference. Now, it’s like, my whole life is at stake. And you know, if I don’t make it now, then I’ll never make it. So, this is sort of my make it or break it moment.”

Pressure is something that Bianca has dealt with ever since she was six. Whether it be to meet her parents’ expectations to do well or else lose her seat, pressure from the competition, or how others may perceive her, it’s always been there for her. She opens up that even over a decade in the scene, things can still get draining. “It’s still an amazing journey, even though there’s a lot of downsides of it. It’s not going to be always rainbows and butterflies. There were moments that I felt like, I wanted to quit. But now I’m almost gonna make it. I’m making it in my dream. So, I guess it’s all worth it.”

SUCCEDING AS A WOMAN IN RACE CAR DRIVING

Cars, driving, racing, and car culture in general are things people usually associate with men. While there are female car enthusiasts and Pinay race car drivers, Michele Bumgarner comes into mind, society has usually depicted car culture as male dominated. The stereotype usually goes that women play with makeup and clothes while men talk about cars. To this day, there are still people who assume that when they come across a slow car, it’s a woman behind the vehicle. As a young female professional race car driver, Bianca is very much used to the sexist way of thinking. Despite the fact that she can race laps around her male counterparts, there are those who still look down upon her just because she is a woman.

“I’ve been told pretty much my whole life that I wasn’t meant for this sport because of my gender. And now I still get those comments a lot. In people’s eyes, they think that men are still more competitive than women, and thus, the reason why there’s no women in F1. And so today, people still think lowly of us because we’re trying to make it in a male dominated sport.”

But Bianca isn’t letting those criticisms get to her. What’s important to her is that she continues to win as she hustles and grinds towards her dreams. “I’m working hard to reach my dreams and I don’t see it as an impossibility. And other might say that I’m dreaming way too high, that if I dream lower, maybe I would make it. But I’m still gonna continue doing it no matter what negative thing they say to me. Because I owe it to myself to continue on believing on my dream.”

And she slyly adds, “I guess as a girl, I just feel so empowered whenever I drive. And I love the feeling of it. And aside from that, there’s also the competition, driving against boys, beating them passing them. It feels so great.”

OTHER GOALS IN LIFE

When she’s not burning rubber at hundreds of kilometers per hour, Bianca is still a 17-year-old girl. And just like with most girls her age, Bianca is a student as she’s currently in year 11 at UST. She’s taking up the STEM strand and hopes to become and engineer or architect when she grows up. She enjoys drawing and believe it or not, she’s actually been drafting and reading floor plans ever since I was 12. To that end, she hopes to get into UST for college. But considering that she’s currently in the US, she says she might attend university there instead, probably at UC Berkely in California.

As Bianca continues to achieve her dreams and make a name her herself in competitive racing, she hopes that her success will open the doors for the sport to be more widely played in the country. “I want to continue paving the way in Philippine motorsport and women in motorsport. I want to bring the flag in top pinnacle of motorsport. The Philippines isn’t known for having a lot of racing drivers. So, I want to sort of make an exception and show that racing is something that we can also excel aside from basketball, volleyball, or football. I want to empower women and hopefully inspire the next female Formula driver from the Philippines in case I don’t make it.”

THE FUTURE OF PHILIPPINE RACING

While competing in the 2022 W Series is a dream come true, she has her eyes set on the top goal of being part of Formula One and hopefully make history as one of the first females to compete in the global competition. “I’ve worked my whole life for it. And now I’m closer to it than I’ve ever been. So, I don’t see anything as an impossibility.” With drive, ambition, and talent behind her, Bianca Bustamante is no doubt a rising star in motorsport racing. Not only has she been winning at such a young age, but she’s also proving that Filipinos can do well in many other sports.

“It definitely brings me a lot of joy when people call me a rising star. I want to continue excelling in this. I want to continue doing it for the rest of my life. And I want to build, a community here in the Philippines that is focused on racing.”

As for those looking to get into the sport, Bianca suggests you visit the different local tracks around the country that can accommodate karting like the Clark International Speedway and Carmona Racing Circuit. Try out the sport and if you like it, you could compete in races and even get a license. There’s also the Petron Motorsports Karting Academy which trains young racers to be the next champions in the sport and hopefully become the next F1 driver.

At the end of the day, she just wants people to know that race car driving is an amazing sport. “It gives you so much thrill. even just watching it to be honest, whenever you watch F1 Rally, it gives you an adrenaline just being a watcher and supporter. I do hope that I get to inspire more people and inspire young woman or anyone to hopefully get interested in motorsport and try out. I want to share my story and hopefully help other people find their passion and go for their dreams and go for their goals no matter how unachievable it may seem to others.”

All photos courtesy of CBR Media.

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