While the most stressful thing for the average 11-year-old is probably having to do well in his school final examinations, James Pull has a different type of stress from his peers. The 11-year-old Singapore-based English karter races in Europe and in Asia, dealing with high speeds, long hours travelling across the world and the pressure of giving a good performance each and every time.
Born in Singapore, Pull moved to Hong Kong with his family in 2000 before returning in July 2008. It was here in Singapore that Pull tried karting and like all other racers, fell in love with the sport, gradually taking it to higher levels.
Within a few months Pull progressed to competitive karting and participated in his first kart race in March 2009 in the Rotax Max Challenge Malaysia. In his debut year, he won the 2009 KKS AAM Malaysian Karting Championship (Formula C).
Last year, Pull started the Yamaha SL Cup Malaysia Series with tremendous success when he scored a double win in both races of Round 1. Eventually, he finished overall second for both the Yamaha SL Cup Malaysia and Asian Karting Open Championship 2010 series. He also headed to Italy at the end of the summer as part of his development programme and participated in a World Series Karting (WSK) Master Series race, where he had the opportunity to rub shoulders with Formula 1 two-time World Champion Mika Hakkinen.
The 2011 season kicked off brilliantly for Pull with a win at the opening round of the Rotax Asia Zone Challenge and Rotax Malaysia Challenge championships, which he is still leading after four rounds.
Driving for Dash Racing in Asia for 2011, Pull is under the tutelage of 2005 CIK-FIA Karting World Champion Oliver Oakes, who coaches him when he travels to Italy and the United Kingdom to race. His first European appearance of the year was at Round 1 of the Italian CSAI Karting Championship in Naples, Italy in early April.
Cheryl Tay sat down with Pull the night before he flew off to Italy for another race…
Q: How did you get into karting?
A: When we moved back to Singapore, there wasn’t much to do so during the school holidays, my dad heard of this karting place called Kart World (now defunct) and took me there. I was only eight years old then. I was playing football too but I wasn’t really good enough.
Q: Did you know right away that you wanted to go racing?
A: Not really. I liked karting immediately and kept coming back for more, but I didn’t know there was racing until I saw some people doing it at the track.
Q: How do you balance studies and racing?
A: My time has to be managed properly. I usually train at night after school and I go up to Malaysia on weekends. Last year I took part in my first European race and this year I’m taking part in more races in Italy and England, so I’ve been missing a bit of school. I bring my homework along when I travel overseas and my school – Tanglin Trust School – has been very supportive of my racing. The teachers sometimes even arrange for me to take my tests later, sometimes during break time. I am very grateful to the school for all their support; without their help I would not be able to go racing.
Q: What other sacrifices do you make?
A: I do feel stressed having to catch up with work after each race, but as long as I’m disciplined everything’s alright. I’m doing work as my friends are having fun and playing as they are done with theirs, but like I said, it is part of the discipline. Schoolwork aside, I also miss a lot of my friends’ birthday parties and even family outings as I travel quite often. When I go to Europe to race, most of the time it’s only my uncle Jon and me, while the rest of the family is here. My dad would love to be there but he has to work.
Q: How do you feel about making these sacrifices?
A: It’s part and parcel of racing and I have no issues with it. Right now I’m focused on gaining as much experience as I can from racing in Europe. Racing in Asia is part of the preparation to make me stronger when I go to Europe and is still important because I want to do well at all races.
Q: How do you feel before each race?
A: I feel nervous, but even professionals like the Formula 1 drivers get nervous. They may not be as nervous as us newbies but there must be some form of anxiety I suppose.
Q: What would you say to someone who wants to try karting?
A: I would encourage anyone to try karting at the recreational level. If they want to progress to racing, I would say it might be nerve-wrecking initially as you’ll have to get used to going so fast. But I have to say, once you like it you won’t stop liking it. The adrenalin and thrills from racing is just so addictive. Of course there’s a lot more than just driving. There’s a lot of commitment, dedication, discipline, patience and respect required from the driver. You have to be mentally strong and also keep working out to build fitness.
Q: Have you been involved in crashes?
A: Yes, crashes are inevitable in racing. As long as you are careful and you gear up properly and remain alert on the track so you can avert trouble in time, you should be fine. I’ve been involved in collisions on the tracks and lost places during the race, but it’s normal. You just have to put up with it and keep pushing.
Q: Anything you want to tell our readers?
A: I still have a long way to go in terms of learning and developing both as a person and a driver. I understand my life is different to my friends and I am very grateful to my family for their support. It’s tough being away from home, having to catch up with work and not spending much time with my friends. But I don’t mind at all as I’m doing this for what I love.
Q: Something we might not know about you?
A: I can speak, read and write in Mandarin!
Name: James William Christopher Pull Wei Jian
DOB: 5 October 1999
School: Tanglin Trust School, Singapore
Interests: Playing drums and guitar, science, computers
Favourite F1 drivers: Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button
Favourite F1 team: McLaren
Favourite TV show: Top Gear
*This was first published in Autosport Asia.