Every time SEAOIL Karter Gabriel "Gabe" Tayao Cabrera zooms off in his racing kart, he is determined to make a difference in people's lives one race at a time.
At 15 years old, Gabe's undeniable dent in Philippine karting history was felt when he became the first junior driver champion of the Philippines Karting Series' ROK Overall Class last year. But he says he is not in it just for the competition. The Asian Karting Prince has already racked up more trophies than your average high school jock, however, rather than collecting metal souvenirs, Gabe finds fulfillment instead in inspiring young athletes to reach for their dreams.
The bumpy ride to becoming the youngest motorsports champion
The young Gabe made a decision to become a race car driver at an age when most kids are still preoccupied with racing plastic toys.
"I watched a world rally championship race and my uncle Kevin brought me to the Speedzone racetrack in Taguig. When I saw those speeding cars, I knew I wanted to become a race car driver," recalled Gabe.
Gabe's road to karting championship was paved with financial challenges but that didn't discourage him nor his mother, whose fierce spirit and unrelenting support kept his racing aspirations on track.
His racing career started in 2011, when he was 11 years old. He described his first race car as a "poorly-welded kart". To keep his worn-out shoes from disintegrating, his mother plastered duct tape all over them. His race suit was three sizes bigger and during photo ops, he would squeeze his race suit at the back to make it appear snug.
"We'd head out really early to the track because my mom had to drive via service roads to save on the toll fees. My mother was the only one funding my racing then and it wiped out her entire life savings," he shared.
Gabe won two leg championships during his first racing year but according to him, his performance in his early years was "not amazing" but he rallied on with his karting career, despite harsh criticisms around him.
"Some said I wasn't a consistent driver and some even said I would never become a champion. But I believe that champions are not born; they are made from hard days of training and perseverance. I believe that life is about risking something for a dream that nobody can see but you.
"I almost quit racing after the first two years because I was obsessed with winning trophies and titles, and eventually I lost myself in the process. I forgot why I loved the sport when I focused only on winning to attract sponsors. Then my uncle Konrad reminded me to just persevere because one day I will make history."
And so he did.
While suited up in a sharp golden race suit and driving a sleek racing kart in matching hues, backed by major sponsors such as SEAOIL, the largest independent oil player in the Philippines, Gabe sent massive ripples across Philippine karting history when, in 2014, he became the first junior driver to smash the entire seven-leg series in the Overall Class in the Philippine ROK Cup. He topped all the time trials in all of the legs, including finals. It was unheard of for a junior driver to top the ROK Overall Class, which included novice, junior, senior and veteran drivers all competing for the top five spots. That is, until Gabe came along.
It takes exceptional discipline to be a world-class athlete
When he's not training or racing on the track, Gabe's schedule is almost like that of any high schooler's. He wakes up at 6:30 am, leaves for school before 7:00, and after school ends at 4:00 pm, goes to the gym to work out until 6:00, does homework until 9:00 or 10:00 before he sleeps.
"I think of my daily routine as a work schedule. When I have spare time, I usually go online to chat with friends. During a race week, I bring my schoolwork and study on the plane or at the track," Gabe said.
Driving around the track repetitively in loops may look like a leisurely hobby but world-class athletes such as Formula 1 drivers know that maintaining rigorous fitness programs is essential to remain at the top of their game. Likewise, Gabe stresses that physical preparation is vital for his excellent performance in karting.
"I work out every day at the gym after school. However, a week before a race, I stick to mild exercises. I watch what I eat. Hydration is very important and I make sure to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. I also run in marathons during non-karting weekends," he shared.
In 2013, when Gabe was only 13 years old, he came out at the top of two highly-competitive race classes, trumping rivals with an impressive 200-point advantage. In one technical leg, he drove close to 180 laps with hardly any rest in between, a serious physical feat for an athlete his age.
"After my performance that year, racers and their parents and those who have questioned my serious physical regimen saw the importance of a fitness program off the track. After that, some kids took my cue and started to bolster their training with gym and outdoor workouts too.
"If I had not pursued karting, I would probably be a badminton or basketball player today. I like the mental and physical challenge, especially endurance, required in basketball. I used to play competitive badminton by being part of the varsity team. Our intensive training helped me a lot in karting," he said.
"For me, victory lies not in outdriving other racers but it is within every second that I decide to push more during a hard day of working out outside the track. Winning trophies is just a bonus."
On inspiring dreamers
"I used to think that being a great driver means someone who is hard to beat at races. Now, it's about inspiring others with my racing journey," said the young karter.
"Two boys who started out as my fans are now trying to make a name in motorsports. One was Cadet Novice Overall Champion in 2013 and the other was 2014 Rookie of the Year. Knowing that I have inspired them to excel in what they do fills my heart with joy that no amount of bagging trophies can do."
The indelible stamp Gabe left as the Asian Karting Prince at the 2014 Asian Karting Open Championships Series was a realization of a long-time dream he held. He was the first Filipino in years to become Asian Karting’s Formula 125 Open Juniors champion.
"I don't want to just win trophies all the time because winners come and go. Someday I will just be a memory, that's why I am doing my best to become a great race car driver by leaving a legacy through inspiring and changing people's lives with what I do."