Earlier this month, Daim Hishammudin received ‘The Straits Times (ST) Star of Month’ award for October for his outstanding performance in motorsports. The 14-year-old Singaporean karter is the first from motorsports to receive the award and also the youngest recipient so far. Presented by F&N’s 100Plus, this award is an extension of the ST’s Athlete of the Year accolade that launched in 2008.
Currently based in Kuala Lumpur, Daim was born in Singapore but moved to Malaysia in 2004. Karting since the age of eight — first as a hobby — he started racing competitively in karts in 2008, winning the Yamaha SL Cup 2008 Cadet title and then the Rotax Max Challenge Asia 2009 Micromax title and the Yamaha SL Cup 2010 Cadet title in the next two years.
Last year, he made the transition from the Cadet category to the Junior category and came in overall second in the Rotax Max Challenge Asia 2011 Junior class. The 2012 season was a rather rocky one, full of ups and downs. Finally, Daim only won the Rotax Max Challenge Asia 2012 Junior title at the last round when he won the race and his closest contender finished at the back.
“When I first got out of the kart after the race at the last round, I was elated that I won the race but I didn’t know that I won the championship until my father told me afterward. I was super happy when I heard the news! At the start of the season I was aiming to win the championship but after some horrible incidents during the mid-season rounds that cost me valuable points, I knew my chances were slim but I just kept my head up and kept going,” said Daim about this year.
With a goal to reach Formula One by 2020, Daim is the only Singaporean associated to a Formula One team at the moment. The first to be selected for the AirAsia Caterham Driver Development Programme that was launched in 2010, Daim remains the first and only Singaporean development driver with the Malaysian-owned Caterham Formula One team.
His parents — Hishammudin Hasan and mum Suhailah Hashim — are supportive of their middle child’s Formula One dream but they hope that the motorsport industry in Singapore can get a lot more support — not just for Daim, but for all the race drivers locally.
“Let us recognise that whilst karting is a requirement for Formula One, let us not forget that it is a sport and discipline on its own. Every karter should be known for his or her achievements in karting itself. Daim has been successful so far in karting and that in itself deserves due recognition for his and his team’s consistent ability to win championships. So for the moment, we should celebrate that we have a Singaporean who is scaling heights and putting Singapore on the motorsports map through karting,” said his father Hishammudin.
He added, “Having said that, the target for Formula One is being charted by Team Caterham with heavy involvement from Alex Yoong, Tony Fernandes, Daim, his team and ourselves. Right now, the path is for him to focus on karting and nothing else. Then it would be formula cars in about two years and with God’s blessings, Formula One in six years.”
While Daim’s family and friends are happy that a motorsports athlete has been given due recognition with the award, it hasn’t been an easy journey so far. All of Daim’s sponsors — including AirAsia, BHPetrol, CIMB, ChemMate, Nestle Malaysia and The Hour Glass Malaysia — throughout his karting life are Malaysian organisations, some with a regional or global presence, were attained through Hishammudin’s persistence and of course, Daim’s results.
However, Hishammudin shared how not one Singapore company he approached has come forward to assist. This, despite Daim having a track record in karting and is the only Singapore driver in a recognised Formula One development programme.
He also revealed how he is “struggling to get involvement from the Singapore Sports Council, even though they have stated on record that they would be proactive in assisting Daim”.
Admitting that things might not have reached the stage that Daim is at now if he was based in Singapore, Hishammudin credits the infrastructures of Malaysia and Europe that Daim has been exposed to.
“Definitely, Daim being based in Malaysia has played a large part for his success so far. The infrastructure is here, the team is here. The network into Europe’s top teams is here, the support is here. All his sponsors so far are Malaysian companies, albeit, some with regional presence. Daim was even offered the use of the Malaysian Sports Council facilities such as trainers and nutritionists,” he added.
“As with all other sports, the main challenge is governmental support. That becomes the base of the pyramid. With governmental support, the Singapore Motor Sport Association and other stakeholders can then build from that. Then others will fall in line — media coverage, funding, infrastructure, nurturing local talent. It’s easy if we take the approach of ‘importing’ the talent. But at the end of the day, we need to ask ourselves, have we put in what is necessary to build the talent pool from within?”
In early 2011, Daim spent three months in Italy for intensive training in Descenzano Del Garda with the Kosmic Racing team and participated in some World Series Karting (WSK) Master Series races.
There is another hurdle that Daim has to encounter in his charted path to Formula One — National Service.
Personally wanting Daim to go through National Service, Hishammudin understands that “a balanced approach needs to be taken between serving the nation and at the same time, doing it proud in his sport”.
Intending to engage MINDEF, the Sports Ministry and any other units that have a stake, Hishammudin is “hopeful and confident that the relevant authorities in Singapore are now able to see a bigger picture when it comes to athletes, so that there can be a balanced approach”.
Otherwise, they will look at alternatives.
Meantime, Daim will focus on achieving more championship titles and also excelling in his studies; or else his racing karts will end up for sale on eBay!
*This was first published on Yahoo!