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27 June 2011

Gary Thompson's road to Formula One

Words and photos by Christopher Kho
Even before he was old enough to get a driver's license, Gary Thompson was already busy racking up the victories on the race track. The young Irishman practically grew up in the circuits around the world - racing in go karts, Formula BMW, and more recently in the Japanese Formula 3 series. With a natural talent for speed and a dedicated team behind him, Gary surely has his sights fixed on Formula One to join the ranks of fellow countrymen Ralph Firman Jr. and Eddie Irvine.  
Getting up to Speed
According to Gary, he's been around the race tracks as early as he could remember when his dad Noel was still racing. Surrounded by cars, he easily picked-up the love for the sport from a very young age, and it was just a matter time until he himself takes a whack behind the wheel. When he turned 9, dear ol' dad bought him his very own go-kart which jumpstarted his career in racing. Gary's natural talent for racing shined from the very beginning. At only 19 years of age, he has earned multiple podium finishes in the Cadet, British JICA, and KF2 championships, as well as bagging up two Irish International Kart Driver of the Year awards. 
In 2009, Gary finally made the switch from go-karts to Formula BMW Asia Pacific. Wasting no time to get up to speed, he qualified pole at the Malaysian GP and went on to win the chequered flag on his maiden race. Modesty aside, what Gary calls as a “great introduction to car racing” actually translates to winning the Rookie Cup and finishing 2nd overall in Championship. And to continue nurturing this young talent, they finally took the big jump into Japanese Formula 3 the year after. 
Life in the Fast Lane
Travelling across two continents between races is not something anyone would call convenient, let alone economical. That's how Gary wound up in the Philippines, bunking with fellow Irishman and manager John O' Hara during short breaks in the season. A race driver himself, John came to the Philippines when he was still racing in the now-defunct Asian Formula 3 series. But as he found new opportunities in the country (and it served as a great racing hub in Asia) John never really left. 
Other teenagers are busy partying and exploiting the fruits of puberty, but Gary spends most of his time training to keep fitness levels up and travelling to and from races. Although life in the fast lane has its sacrifices, he actually finds it quite enjoyable. Seeing that he spends months away from home, we were quite curious if he misses his family and friends, where he replied “not at all.” Well, let’s just see what his parents and buddies have to say about that. 
Road to Formula One
Since the past season, Gary has been racing in the Japanese F3 Championship under the banner of KCMG, a Hong Kong based team that also runs in the Chinese Touring Car Championship (CTCC) and Formula Nippon. So far, things are looking good for Gary. He's had a string of victories with the KCMG outfit, finishing 5th overall in last year's championship. Impressed with his performance, they've signed a deal to move him up to Formula Nippon if he wins this year's championship. With ambitions as big as Gary's, KCMG hopes to be the first Chinese Formula One team sometime in the near future - and when that day comes, it'll be Gary's ticket into Formula One. 
Dubbed as “Ireland's best bet in F1 since Eddie Irvine,” Gary doesn't let the pressure get the best of him. It doesn’t matter if the youngest or the only non-Japanese driver on the grid; it's all about the fight to the finish once you're on the track. He doesn't even concern himself with what Formula One team he'll drive for because according to Gary, “I just want to win an F1 World Championship.” Committed, focused, and strong, Gary Thompson surely has a bright future ahead of him. And when he finally gets on the Formula One grid, we'll be there to cheer him on.