School of speed

We watch Marlon Stockinger, the only Asian awarded a scholarship for this year's Formula BMW Pacific Series, begin the long climb to F1

Being Champion of the 2007 Philippine Senior Rotax Max Challenge and finishing eighth in the Senior Rotax Max World Finals in Dubai last year must have given Marlon Stockinger an edge. Being a champion karter has its advantages, and he professes that he is, in fact, the "most successful Filipino in the Rotax Championship." He won it four times in the span of six years, and he currently stands as the number one Rotax karter in Asia--and ranked eighth in the world.

Are these achievements enough to push his career toward the pinnacle that is Formula One? Recently winning a scholarship for the Formula BMW Pacific may well give Marlon the boost that he needs.

Don't let his unkempt appearance fool you. Behind his fresh-out-of-bed look is a level of maturity that is rare among adolescents. "I was 10 years old when I first tried karting," he says. "I had no experience whatsoever, but after trying it out, I wanted to race from then on. I ran my first race a few months after that, but I wasn't winning right away. As we all know in sports, champions are made. They aren't born."

Out of 26 participants from all over the world, three were chosen for the scholarship, and Marlon was the only one from Asia. He was awarded 50,000 euros to finance the race season, plus media exposure and physical training. Mario Theissen--race director of the BMW Sauber F1 team--signed the contract.

It may seem like a big amount, but the championship entails plenty of responsibility, and even more money. "We have to fish for our own sponsors, but we have enough to finish the entire season, which costs 150,000 euros. A junior driver won't be fully paid."

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Marlon was raised in a very liberal environment. His parents were never strict, and his father let him make decisions on his own. "It is more important if something comes from me," he says. "At least, that way, my dad knows that I will do it right. Plus, I think I can handle myself pretty well. I deal with older people all the time, like my engineers and technicians."

Going professional involves sacrifices, of course. Thus, Marlon had to withdraw from school this year. Given the tight race schedules, it was a wise decision, but not a get-out-of-school pass. "I really want to finish school, no matter how long it takes," he reassures us. "That's the deal, and I promised my dad that I would finish school."

Marlon isn't the first Filipino to be awarded a Formula BMW scholarship. Other talented young drivers have made it to the preliminaries but dropped by the wayside. What sets Marlon apart?

"Some might have the passion in the beginning, but if they don't do well, they lose interest," he explains. "I'm not the type to look for immediate gratification. It is a long way to the top, and there are ups and downs to get there. You can't expect to win all the time. It has to be hard. If it's not hard, you aren't winning. The people at BMW say that I have to finish the entire series if I want to do the scholarship, so I have no intentions of dropping out. I don't want to be a quitter."

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