Korean adoptee dreams of F1 debut
Choi Myung-gil, 25, is at ease now in Seoul.
He has not always been comfortable in this crowded city; adopted as an infant by a Dutch family, Choi in fact says he often finds it difficult to live here.
“People expect me to be 100 percent Korean, but I grew up in a different country and I think differently,” says Choi.
He grew up as Recardo Bruins in the small village of Zwartemeer in the Netherlands and did not know anything about Korea before he came here three years ago.
“When I first came here, I really had a difficult time because I didn’t know anybody and couldn’t speak Korean at all,” he says with a small shake of his head.
“But I’m beginning to understand Korean as well as how people think.”
His name will not be familiar to many here, but the Dutch-based driver is a star among motor sports fans in Europe.
He first drove a racing kart at age 5, and soon made it into the national competition for children aged from 8-12. After moving to the junior level, he started to race on the international circuits. With his continuing success in karting, he then switched to the big stage ― formula racing ― in 2004. And at the Dutch Formula Renault 2.0 series, Choi proved his talent by scoring a pole position and finishing third in the overall ranking at the end of the season. This led him further into the much faster and more dangerous German Formula Three championships in 2006. Living up to his billing as one of the most promising drivers, Choi, in 2007, became the first Korean-born driver in history to win the F3 title.
Korea-born Dutch racing driver Choi Myung-gil is now an honorary ambassador of the 2011 Korean Grand Prix. (Indigo Racing Team)
Now driving at the local racing team Indigo since 2009, Choi was recently appointed as an honorary ambassador of this year’s Korean Formula One Grand Prix.
“I’m very happy to be chosen, and I feel right about this position,” he says, pounding on his chest.
Korea held its first ever Formula One Grand Prix in October 2010, but the world’s fastest sport is still not understood by many here, according to the driver.
“I went there and stayed three hours standing at the stand to watch the race. With all the rain and the slippery road, it was one of the most dangerous races I had ever seen, but it was very exciting.”
Choi, however, says that he also saw so much that needed to be improved.
“Last year, not many people knew about the F1 Korean Grand Prix. This year more people should get more information about it. And I believe I can help with that.”
His advice is that the local F1 organization should not focus too much only on selling tickets but should make everybody curious about F1 racing. And the fastest way is to find a F1 driver here.
“Korean Grand Prix is very nice but can you imagine watching TV for figure skating without Kim Yu-na? No body would watch it. You have to have Korean F1 driver.“ But who can be the one?
“I was already closed to becoming an F1 driver,” he says. While speaking over coffee in central Seoul, his voice becomes more intense as he explains further it.
“After F3, I was able to go to GP2, which is regarded as a training ground for F1. I did a test in France with one of the best teams there. And they wanted to make me a driver for them the following season,” he says with a little sigh. But one phone call changed his mind and made him decide to move here.
“I was in Holland for Christmas holiday when I got a phone call from the KAVO, and they said, ‘You have to come down to Malaysia, we’re going to do F1 driver test,’ so I went there.”
In early 2010, Choi was selected by the KAVO, the operating body of F1 Korean GP, for the F1 driver development program.
So with a promise of a job in the bag, Choi came here and was ready to seize his golden opportunity. But the 25-year-old’s dream of becoming the first Korea-born F1 driver is now in tatters after Chung Young-cho, the former CEO of KAVO, was forced to leave his post due to allegations of lax management. The organization also saw a big shift in their management team recently.
That has left the driver confused and lonely as he still has not heard anything about the driver development project.
“I haven’t heard anything about it from the KAVO. I think the program is finished. That’s too bad,” he says with a big sigh this time.
He claims that his only dream at the moment is to become the first Korean F1 driver. But in order to do that he needs to go back to Europe.
“I need to race at the higher level, but with Korean support it would be the best way to promoting Korean Grand Prix.”
“As long as Korean GP is developing I want stay here. For me, it’s a new possibility and my dream But it’ll all depend on what happens in the next two or three weeks.”
By Oh Kyu-wook (firstname.lastname@example.org