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Coming ‘zoom’: First Filipina to Indy

Mazda PH supports Michele Marie Bumgarner’s quest to race in the North America IndyCar Championships

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Michele Bumgarner fields questions from the media in a press conference also attended by her father Lee (right) and Mazda Philippines president Steven Tan.

It has always been about going international.The dream has been to represent the country in global motorsports competitions. For to be proud Pinoy racers, being “world-class” is a necessary qualification.

So it is not surprising for Filipinos to embrace someone like Marlon Stockinger—he with a Filipino mother and a Swiss father—who became part of the Lotus F1 Team as one of the seven elite junior drivers to train and compete. He stirred up quite a media frenzy when he showed off his skills—on an F1 car at that—here at home during the Manila Speed Show-Lotus F1 Team Philippine Roadshow in May at the Quirino Grandstand.

Car-loving Pinoys also proudly called former Formula 3 driver Enzo Pastor one of their own when he carried the Philippine flag to the Nascar Whelen Euro Series on his Chevrolet Camaro bearing the sticker “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

Now, a Pinay may be following closely in their tracks. On July 15, Mazda Philippines formalized its support for Michele Marie Bumgarner’s quest to race in the North America IndyCar Championships. Mazda Philippines will be behind her efforts to compete in the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship as part of Mazda’s Road to Indy development program. This program is a major stepping stone in Michele’s ultimate goal of racing in the global motorsports arena in the North American IndyCar Championships.

Berjaya Auto Philippines Inc., the distributor of Mazda in the Philippines, and Lee Bumgarner Inc., announced a memorandum of understanding at the July 15 press conference held at a restaurant in Greenbelt, Makati City.

Michele, a 2008 Star Mazda Championship series veteran, multiple Philippine Motorsports Driver of the Year awardee and international karting champion, was born and raised in the Philippines to a Filipino mother (Monina Bumgarner) and an American father (Edward Lee Bumgarner).

‘Racing dream’

Michele Bumgarner fields questions from the media in a press conference also attended by her father Lee (right) and Mazda Philippines president Steven Tan.

“Michele embodies the racing dream of the nation,” said Mazda Philippines’ president Steven Tan during the press conference, which also served as the sendoff party for Michele as she will soon be off to the United States for her training. He added that Michele started almost literally from the ground up (go-karting), where she competed for nine years at various levels and venues, winning several championships along the way. Tan disclosed that for the past two years, she has focused on open-wheel car racing in North America, aiming for the top levels of the IndyCar series.

Does Mazda consider this endeavor to support a Filipino racer, and a female at that, a big risk?

Tan answered this query with a bit of Mazda racing history. “In 1991, Mazda fielded in the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race the Mazda 787B, and won; the first and only Japanese-built machine to win the Le Mans event. It was considered impossible to be racing against the other players in Le Mans, and winning it.

“We are stubborn, and we believe we can do the impossible. Nowadays they call it defying conventions. We feel that we are in line with Michele as a team. These are the ones who are also willing to defy conventions. With a young, talented racer in Michele, we share in that aspiration. We will do all we can to support Michele to where she wants to go to, which is Indy. The first step is the Mazda Road to Indy,” he said.

Tan, however, refused to disclose the financial details of Mazda Philippines’ support for Michele.

Michele intends to compete in the last three race weekends of the 2013 Pro Mazda series in August at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the Circuit Trois-Rivieres, and in October at Houston. She is also lining up testing schedules with a Pro Mazda Formula car in the weeks to come, with the possibility of competing in the top class of the Formula Car Challenge in the final three legs of the series at the Sonoma Raceway from August to October.

For embodying the racing dream of the nation, Tan commits to support the Indy campaign of Bumgarner

Nash Performance, her management team in the United States, will determine the best testing schedules and the right Pro Mazda team affiliations for the young racer for her full race season in 2014.

Karter by heart

Michele continues to race go-karts professionally. She says karting is still one of the best ways to stay in top form for open-wheel racing.

Michele’s open-wheel car racing experience to date has been the following: Formula Toyota, Formula BMW, Formula-3 and Star Mazda in preparation for the Indy Lights Series in North America. Her overall motorsports career goal is to graduate to the top level of the IndyCar series, moving forward as the opportunities exist.

On Sept. 19, 2008, Michele became the first female champion of the Rock Island Grand Prix in Rock Island, Illinois, the world’s largest street karting race. She was also the seventh foreign-born winner in its 14-year history.

“Motorsport has always been in our DNA. This is a very natural move for us to offer our support to lift Michele to the top level of the international US IndyCar racing scene. Competing in the Mazda Pro Championship under the Mazda Road to Indy program is the absolute right strategy for such a talented race driver like Michele to reach IndyCar,”  Tan said.

Tan added: “Michele has the talent, the experience and a team that can take her as far as she will go. Mazda shares Michele’s values of setting extreme goals and defying convention. We felt strongly that Michele is the Filipino personification of Mazda’s ideals.”

The Japanese carmaker is the title sponsor of the 2013 Pro Mazda Championship. The nine-leg event is the second official step on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system. The series champion of this IndyCar-sanctioned event will be given a sponsorship package by Mazda to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights series the following year.

Michele’s father, Lee, is likewise confident of the partnership and the new route his daughter will undertake. “Whichever option Michele decides to participate in for 2013 will be focused on preparing her to be ready for a full racing season in 2014 when she will compete for the championship in the Pro Mazda Championship throughout North America,” affirms the supportive dad.

For updates on Michele’s Pro Mazda racing progress, follow Mazda Philippines’ Facebook page (facebook.com/MazdaPhilippines), or catch the latest news through Mazda Philippines’ Twitter account @Mazda_ph.

Berjaya Auto Philippines Inc. is the exclusive importer and distributor of Mazda automotive products in the Philippines through 14 dealerships nationwide. The range of vehicles includes the Mazda2 subcompact car, Mazda3 compact car, Mazda6 executive sedan, CX-5 compact SUV, CX-9 large 7-seater SUV, BT-50 pickup truck and the iconic MX-5 roadster MX5.

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