I’ve known of the Red Bull Rookies team since it started in 2007 and I remember I wanted to be part of it but it was only open to Malaysians. The all-female team raced in the 2008 Merdeka Millenium Endurance Race and then in the Sepang 1000km Race in 2009 and 2010.
Last year the search was expanded to Brunei and to Singapore this year, timed with the launch of Red Bull Singapore’s Choice – a localised variant that contains 20 per cent less sugar. (Just FYI – this Red Bull is the Classic gold can and not the blue and silver one. I will be posting about the history of Red Bull soon so you can understand the differences.)
Hence, the team is now a multinational one with two Malaysians, one Bruneian and one Singaporean. There has also been one more change this year, where there is a male addition for the first time as the team has always been an all-female one.
Flying up on Sunday afternoon, I was there on Monday morning for the final time trial for the two remaining seats that three Bruneians and two Singaporeans had to fight for. It was between Emmiline Ang and Melissa Huang for that sole Singaporean seat.
I woke up to heavy showers and the first thing I thought to myself was, “Oh oh, did these girls have any training in the wet?” By the time we got to Sepang International Circuit the rain had ceased and the skies were starting to clear, thank goodness!
Pentagon Racing of Malaysia was there with their FD2Rs to give joyrides to the girls as well as to us media. Kenvin Low, chief trainer of Asia Advanced Driving Academy also took me around in his track DC2.
While waiting for the shootouts to start, I amused myself with the classic Red Bull Minis, which I would have loved to try on the track!
Finally the girls were ready for their challenge – the two Singaporeans Emmiline Ang and Melissa Huang were up first. Emmiline is a 23-year-old research officer at A*STAR while Melissa, 27, is a nurse at the National Heart Centre.
Both of them don’t seem like the typical girlracer wannabe and I was right about my intuitive feeling after I spoke to them. Fair-skinned, a little shy and somewhat timid, Melissa seemed to be the more outgoing of the two.
Although they have become good friends through the whole Red Bull Rookies process since February, Emmiline and Melissa were still nervous at the start line. Driving the manual Proton Satria Neo, it was their first time driving in the wet as I expected. Hmmm.
They were only given three laps – one out lap, one hot lap and one in lap – so it was a test of their ability to perform under pressure too.
Emmiline told me that she oversteered at Turn 6 (actually, shouldn’t it be understeered?) and found herself in the gravel, causing the session to be red-flagged as she needed help to get the car back out on the track. They drove the cars back in and Emmiline’s car had to be jacked up so the gravel and debris could be removed.
The shootout was then restarted so wasn’t it fortunate for Emmiline to have a second chance!
Their timings were not revealed but Kenvin clarified that it wasn’t the fastest driver that would win. It was a combination of factors such as driving ability, teamwork capabilities and compatibility of persona to the brand and what it represents.
Prior to this Emmiline and Melissa have gone through defensive and advanced driving courses and had a selection round at Sepang too. But they have probably not driven much on Sepang before as they are not your typical motorsports enthusiasts.
Neither of them has interest in motorsports, at least not until they made it this far for the Red Bull Rookies search, and they only watch Formula 1 once in a while. Both of them hold a manual driving licence and they drive their parents’ manual cars, but they mostly drive on weekends only.
The purpose of setting up this team was not to create a winning quartet but to offer opportunity to people who would otherwise not participate in racing. Both Emmiline and Melissa revealed that this is the most extreme thing they have ever done in their lives. Their respective boyfriends are very supportive of this despite not being car enthusiasts either, but the same can’t be said of their parents.
Emmiline’s father was initially angry when she told him about this racing driver search that she was participating in. But after watching her progress, he was less harsh and just told her to be careful. On Melissa’s end, her mother kept nagging at her from day one to quit.
Insider sources tipped Emmiline as the favourite to win so it was no surprise to me when her name was announced for the Singapore slot. From the Brunei side, it was Fauziah Binti Hj Haziz (Ogy for short) who was selected.
Emmiline and Ogy will join Malaysians Siti Shahkirah Shaharul and Mark Darwin to compete in the Sepang 1000km Race in December. As a pre-requisite to driving in the Sepang 1000km Race, all drivers have to take part in the Malaysian Super Series too.
Btw, Siti Shahkirah Shaharul and Mark Darwin are students. Siti is only 17 years old and is still the process of taking her driving licence – how’s that for racing before driving man!
Emmiline has come far – from 528 interested applicants who signed up at the roadshow in Bugis in February, to 24 who went for a go-karting race and then to 12 before the remaining 6 and then the final 2.