Friday, October 14, 2005

Ottawa teen driving to be the best

PUBLICATION: The Ottawa Citizen
DATE: 2005.10.14
EDITION: Final
SECTION: Driving
PAGE: C11
COLUMN: Auto-Biography
BYLINE: Shannon Lee Mannion
SOURCE: The Ottawa Citizen
ILLUSTRATION: Photo: Shannon Lee Mannion, The Ottawa Citizen / (PhilipMajor) drove the Dow Honda/Kart Depot Predators car last season. However, he just signed on as primary driver with Atlantic Racing Team's new Formula BMW FB2 for 2006 and 2007 and will drive a car similar to the one below.; Photo: Philip Major drove the (Dow Honda/Kart Depot Predators car) last season. However, he just signed on as primary driver with Atlantic Racing Team's new Formula BMW FB2 for 2006 and 2007 and will drive a car similar to the one below.; Photo: Philip Major drove the Dow Honda/Kart Depot Predators car last season. However, he just signed on as primary driver with (Atlantic Racing Team's new Formula BMW FB2) for 2006 and 2007 and will drive a car similar to the one below.

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Ottawa teen driving to be the best

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Philip Major is a 16-year-old Ashbury College student who plays a good hand of tennis, likes to run cross-country and thrills to downhill skiing.

On summer weekends, however, you'll find him at the track. He's passionate about car racing, something he's pretty good at since starting in karting a few years ago.

And like so many aspiring drivers, the glow in his eyes is for Formula One. He looks at this year's winning driver, Fernando Alonzo, 24, of Spain, the youngest champion in F1 history, and he wants to be younger when he gets on that podium. He's got less than eight years to beat this record, as he turns 17 in December. Let's bet he makes it.

Philip's got that magic bullet thing happening. After successfully racing karts in 2003 and 2004 on Ottawa-area tracks and in the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship, he seamlessly made the transition to the Honda/Michelin Challenge Series, forming the Dow Honda-sponsored Kart Depot Predators with Tyler Givogue, a 20-year-old from Embrun.

Dow Honda's general manager, Andy Bearss, racing for The Capital's Driving Force, rounded out entries from the Ottawa area.

Tyler and Phil finished the 2005 season as rookies of the year, first and second, a triumph for Kart Depot Predators and crew chief Steve Morris. Phil finished 11th overall, an excellent showing for someone who's just been driving with a G1 licence for the past year and who is a featherweight in comparison to other drivers. His father Norman says up to 80 pounds of weights had to be added to Phil's Honda Civic DX Coupe.

Phil was the youngest in the series. The majority of drivers are veterans from the 19 years the Honda/Michelin Challenge has been running.

At our interview a week ago, the Rockcliffe Park teen wasn't sure if he'd stay in the Honda/

Michelin series or make a whirlwind jump to an open-wheeled class. He and his father hemmed and hawed, knowing something was in the making. "We're dying to tell you," they both insisted, looking back and forth, "but we can't, pending signing the contract."

The call came just a day after the interview. Philip Major signed on as primary driver with Atlantic Racing Team's new Formula BMW FB2 for 2006 and 2007.

His experience racing in Formula BMW USA and Germany events will be the precursor to seat-time in another formula vehicle, the 300-h.p, 2.3-litre SWIFT 016.a Champ Car that Atlantic Racing Team has on order.

Maybe race that car in 2007 and then in a year or two, when he's 20 and much younger than Alonzo, over to Europe and, well, it's hard to envision a boy from Ottawa, someone we might have sat beside on an OC Transpo bus, with his hands grasping the wheel of a FI car.

Norman Major hasn't considered what having a son in Formula One could be like. Then his face lights up and he grins. "I'd get good seats! Uh, son, can I have an apartment in Monaco?"

The kibitzing continues with Phil looking pleased. "Sure, Dad. Anything you want."

Phil, a young man of few words, fielded a couple of questions in the Carling Avenue showroom of Dow Honda.

Q: The dealership sponsored you this year. I find it hard to imagine that someone would want to pay so that someone else can have all the fun. Why do you think they do it?

A: A lot of times, we are at big venues. There were 200,000 people at the F1 in Montreal and crowds at the Indy in Toronto. The dealer's name is on the car and on the trailer.

Q: How different is what you've been doing in the Honda/Michelin Challenge from, say, the CASCAR Series?

A: CASCAR is oval-track racing. The vehicles look like cars but they are basically tubes welded together. Then you plop in an engine and glue on headlight stickers. What I do is road race in an open-wheeled car.

Q: Why do you think that Formula BMW USA has added you to its team?

A: Potential.

Q: Did you ever think you might want to do something a little tamer, such as model car building?

A: No, I like things that actually work.

Q: What about driving snowmobiles in the winter?

A: It's not motorsports.

Q: You do realize you are going to have to give up whatever social life you might have had as a teenager.

A: It's worth it.

Q: What makes you a successful race driver?

A: I like to consider that the harder I work, the luckier I get.

Send Auto-Biography nominations to driving@thecitizen.canwest.com

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