WILMINGTON, Del. — Most 16-year-old kids are spending their afternoons wadding up spitballs in the back of driver’s ed classes around the world as “crash horror” films play, detailing what not to do when they step aboard mom’s grocery getter for the first time.
However, on the flip side of that coin, 16-year-old Alex Rullo is busy testing a Lucas Dumbrell Motorsport Holden Commodore ahead of the upcoming Virgin Australia Supercars Championship season.
Let me just be frank: I could not be happier for the kid.
Think back to what it was like to be 16 and have a driver’s license for the first time, carrying all that freedom and having the urge to drive fast. Your first car, though, was probably not a top-level, 500-plus horsepower Holden Commodore Supercar.
Mine was my mother’s 300-horsepower Acura TL, and though the roads of the Brandywine Valley are as exciting to me as Mount Panorama, the multitude of Subaru Outbacks that drive through the area are nothing like some 30 Supercars, driven by legends such as Craig Lowndes and Mark Winterbottom. They only gave chase in my imagination.
Rullo, like Max Verstappen in Formula One, is one of the “new age” of drivers, and I mean that quite literally. Emerson Fittipaldi was the youngest world champion for more than 30 years when he claimed the title at age 25, while the man who usurped him, Fernando Alonso, was just 24 when he won in 2005.
Both these men are relative grandfathers to whomever may claim the title next, be it Verstappen, 20-year-old Esteban Ocon, or 18-year-old Lance Stroll.
This is how the motorsport world is looking now — younger and younger.
Lewis Hamilton’s story of McLaren backing at the age of eight seemed farfetched at the time, for indeed, I thought no Formula One team would hire an eight-year-old under a development contract again. Now, it’s surprising that these teams aren’t standing outside the delivery room with a little fireproof suit, helmet, and lifetime contract for the newborns of the world.
When I was 18, I had pretty much assumed that my non-existent chance of being F1 World Champion (yes, dream big, my lad, dream big) had all but disappeared, and I sought to find somewhere else to race. For years, I had assumed touring cars were the equivalent of motorsport limbo — you either had tried your hand at formula cars and failed, or you were ticking off the days to retirement after a long and illustrious Formula One career, but it isn’t like that anymore.
The collapse of the global economy hurt the motorsport world as much as it hurt the everyday one, and while there are probably a thousand drivers in some kind of formula car, be it Renault, Ford, Honda, or Mazda-powered (hoping for their shot at being the next Ayrton Senna), only 20 or so of them may ever get to sit in an F1 car.
Even then, that number is optimistic.
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