IN A third-world country such as the Philippines, it’s very rare to hear someone take up racing as a sport. Even as a hobby. Not only is it expensive, there’s also the lingering misconception that women have no place in this field. If you look at its history, you can count with one hand how many female racers have reached the pinnacle of motorsport.
Thankfully, times have changed, and women are slowly but surely becoming more visible on the track. Leading this new generation of Filipino female racers would be none other than Bianca Bustamante ⏤ the 16-year-old wunderkind drafted into the highly selective FIA Girls on Track - Rising Stars program.
This program was created by the FIA Women in Motorsport Commission to give young girls between the ages of 12 to 16 the opportunity to receive support and financial backing in their racing journey. It’s divided into two categories (the junior and senior divisions), with candidates undergoing a series of tests and training camps.
The winner from the junior division will get a leg up in an international karting season, while the best racer in the senior division would be given the chance to not only compete in Formula 4, but to also join the prestigious Ferrari Driver Academy, which has produced the likes of F1 stars such as Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, and Mick Schumacher.
Bianca Bustamante has been racing since she was six
Accepted into this year’s batch in the senior division was 16-year-old Bianca Bustamante, who has been racing for the past ten years.
That’s right: At six years old, you could already find her behind the wheel in national competitions, thanks to a father who was also involved in karting.
“My dad showed me [what] racing [is], but he never pushed me to try. It was [really] an initiative of mine to pursue it because I would see him race and I ended up falling in love with it,” she told SPIN Life.
Her dad was actually a bit hesitant at first due to the costs, but she was able to convince him with a clear passion for the sport. In the decade since, she’s become the three-time Macau International Kart GP Champion, two-time Overall Junior Asian Karting Open Champion, and three-time Philippine Driver of the Year in Karting.
Lone Asian rep in prestigious program
Now, it’s time for her to level up.
“My primary goal [at the moment] would be to win the scholarship with Ferrari Driver Academy,” she said. “Moving on from there, I just want to get into Formula 4, hopefully win a championship, make it to Formula 3, then move up the ladder.”
She admits that this might be difficult, but she is constantly training and preparing herself for it. As she goes to France for the FIA competition, Bianca will be the lone Asian representative amongst a pack full of Western talents.
“I was very nervous at first, knowing that there won’t be anyone else from home, but I feel lucky to have been selected,” she said.
Bustamante added, “It’s like I’m carrying the whole continent along with their support. I’m just very happy and it’s a dream come true for me... The journey is tough, it’s very exhausting, but I think that my passion has fueled me and helped me reach great heights.
“I was very determined and disciplined [in competing] because I know that we weren’t financially capable of doing it for a long time unless I had financial support, and it gave me this mindset that if I don’t do my best now then I might not have another chance. That thinking pushed me to power through… Racing is not very easy and it’s not just about driving. You need to be creative with your strategies, especially with passing an opponent.”
Ferrari fan, through and through
When we asked who her favorite drivers and racing idols were, let’s just say that they all come from a certain team in red.
“Niki Lauda is the complete package when it comes to racing,” she said. “He was very persistent and was more than just a driver… he had a strong passion for motorsport.”
She also added: “Charles Leclerc is also one of my current idols.”
While the shot at the Ferarri Driving Academy is a tantalizing (and motivating) prospect, she knows that, win or lose, the valuable insights she’d pick up on track would only boost her further in her racing career. She hopes that it would be a safe run for her and that she would enjoy the process.
Hopefully, too, more young Filipinas would also aspire to become racers.
“I implore you to try racing because it’s one of the best sports out there,” she said. “I also urge you to find passion in whatever you choose to do and to build love and discipline for it as it is the main ingredient to success… You only live once, you only have one childhood, so you’d want to make the most of it which is what I’m doing now.”