Text and photos by Cheryl Tay
One is a lecturer of mechatronics at Temasek Polytechnic and the other is an auditor at PwC. However, they share one thing in common – the love for RC cars and being team-mates for the first ever RaceWorks Elite Racing Series held at RaceWorks Hobbies, Bottle Tree Park.
Leonard Sim, 27, speaks candidly about how he spent a bomb getting into the sport and realising that more money doesn’t mean a faster car.
Influenced by his father, Nelson Lee, 37, hopes to inspire his two daughters into RC cars one day.
Read on for the interview about them as they get ready for the third round of the RaceWorks Elite Racing Series this Sunday…
Q: How did you get started in RC cars?
Nelson Lee (NL): My father, SL Lee, was one of the pioneers in RC cars in Singapore – he competed in his first world championship in 1979 and he was the one who set up the Radio Control Modelers Club. As soon as I could walk, I was taken along to his races because he had to babysit me. I only tried RC cars at the age of six and got serious much later.
Leonard Sim (LS): I saw my cousin’s instruction manual for his RC car and I was fascinated. At that time I was only 12 or 13 years old and I saved up to get my first RC car. I got him to bring me to a shop and I bought the Tamiya TL01 for $400.
Q: When did the hobby become more serious?
NL: It was some time after I completed NS that I decided to get more involved in RC cars as a way to get closer to my dad. I had a lot of other activities like basketball and I felt that I wasn’t spending enough time with my father. I was a mechanic to my father first (that was in 1995 or 1996) and then he suggested one day that I should give it a shot as a driver.
LS: I was bashing around in the car park and then I realised my car was very slow and I wanted more speed. I could hear that the transmission was quite rough too. After spending another $100 or so on bearings to improve my car, I met some guys who showed me a $50 car that could go way faster than my $400 car. From there I started to get more into it.
Q: When was your first race?
LS: It was a race held at the People’s Association grounds and that was the race that Alvin Koh finished first for B-Main. I didn’t do well because my car wasn’t racing properly. Out of vanity, I changed the body shell to a Subaru one so it would look good. However, it ended up compromising on performance and I kept landing in the grass. Eventually someone raced it for me and got third in the D-Main.
Q: What was your first major race?
LS: The Tamiya Asia Cup in 2005 held in Singapore which Alvin Koh won.
Q: Biggest achievement?
LS: Asia champion (M-Chassis/A-Main) for the Tamiya Asia Cup last year! I was very surprised actually, I think it’s the car. It was the perfect race from start to end; no one touched me in practice and qualifying and you can say it was a runaway lone race.
NL: The Singapore Open 2006 where I was champion of the GP 1/8 class. I only overtook Suran (a strong Thai favourite) at the last two corners to take the win.
Q: Any interesting anecdotes?
NL: I was in Adelaide for three years for studies and I went to the RC tracks there to play. I was the only Asian there and they were quite impressed when I finished in the top five.
Q: Why do you like RC cars?
LS: No money to get into karting! Haha! Well, boys in my time used to fix these small Tamiya cars and I like how I can build something I can control. I also like the adrenaline rush from racing.
NL: It’s the competition that drives me as I really enjoy racing and meeting talented people like Nicholas Lee (Team Tamiya SG) so I can learn from them. Competing with them is enjoyable and occasionally when you get in front of them for some reason, the feeling is great!
Q: How did Team ARC Singapore come about?
LS: After the Tamiya Asia Cup in Korea last year, which PY Tang (from Team Xray Singapore) and I scored wins, I was thinking of a new challenge. Coincidentally, the boss of ARC was looking for a driver so PY made the introduction. ARC is a Taiwanese brand and is less than year old, fairly new to the market.
NL: PY scouted me after seeing me handle the car at an electric RC car race held at the PA last December. Only a few people are capable of racing these cars well.
Q: What do you think of the RaceWorks Elite Racing Series?
LS: It’s very competitive and the first time I’m taking part in something so serious and intense, with the rest of the elite drivers.
NL: It takes competition to another level and keeps you on your toes. Competition aside, it is also good as a form of entertainment, like how Formula One is.
Q: Nelson, this is your first time racing in EP (electric-powered) RC cars. How has the transition been?
NL: Initially it was a bit challenging as I lack some knowledge, especially about the tyres. The driving techniques are also very different so I try to learn as fast as I can. I first tried an EP car last December (the one where PY saw me race) and I found that it was still manageable, just that I needed to learn more about the tyres. Hence I did not hesitate when I was offered the drive with Team ARC Singapore for the RaceWorks Elite Racing Series.
Q: Nelson, you said you got into RC cars more so you could get closer to your father. Did it help?
NL: Definitely. However, he is busy with his own things now and the last he saw me race was the Singapore Open in 2006.
Q: Nelson, I understand you have two daughters, are you intending to let them try RC cars?
NL: Yes, I’m intending to train them! They would make a good marketing strategy.
Q: What are your targets for the series?
LS: I think if we optimise the car we can be within top five, which is a good target. As for the team championship, finishing second is the best case scenario; otherwise third overall is a realistic goal.
NL: I target a podium finish for every race – getting into the top five is quite achievable.
Q: What do you think of the RC car scene in Singapore?
NL: It’s still a small community with only two tracks. Hopefully the sport can pick up and we can get more tracks.
LS: To be honest, with the talent we have here for the size of the community, we are up there with the other countries. The only thing that prevents us from improving is the weather. For example, it rains often and that takes away valuable time for us to practise and improve. In fact, the first two rounds of the series were rained out! A solution could probably be to have an indoor RC car track big enough for racing.
Q: Any motorsport interests?
LS: I like karting and I follow Formula One.
NL: I tried karting in Australia and I’ve been following Formula One since 1986, the days of Ayrton Senna and Keke Rosberg.
Team ARC Singapore currently lies in third place for the Team standings, while Nelson and Leonard are in third and seventh respectively for the Drivers’ standings.
With the first 2 rounds affected by rain, the teams are hoping for dry weather this weekend to allow the teams to go head-to-head without distractions. Come catch the exciting third round action from the RaceWorks Elite Racing Series this Sunday, 21 April 2013 at Bottle Tree Park in Yishun. The racing action starts at 10am with qualifying, while the finals be will flagged off from about 2pm.
For more information, visit www.raceworks.sg.