PROFESSIONAL race car driver Denis Lian, 42, advises those who harbour racing aspirations to be “slightly crazy, lucky and brave. Most of all, have a self-belief that borders on over-confidence”.

Mr Lian, who has been a professional race car driver for almost a decade, has had his share of close shaves.

Earlier this month, for instance, at the Asian Le Mans endurance race in Japan, he was negotiating a hairpin bend when the front brakes failed, sending his car into a high-speed spin.

He recalls: “It happened so fast that my body just kicked into reflex mode. Fortunately I managed to gather the car after a full rotation just as it was headed towards the barrier.”

The narrow escape “sent a chill down his spine” but he still remains passionate about the sport.


An early start

Mr Lian’s love for racing began at a young age when his father bought him an electric toy kart.

This passion was further nurtured during his teens.

While studying in Adelaide, Australia, he passed his driving test at the age of 16. 

Weekends were spent karting with a neighbour and watching local and international races beamed on Australian television.

In 1989, he was inspired to delve deeper into the sport after watching his hero, late Brazilian race car driver, Ayrton Senna, “live” in action at the Formula One Grand Prix in Australia.

Three years later, Mr Lian made the switch from karting to racing and competed in the Australian Club Racing series.

“I had no idea how or when I would be able to do it, but I was determined nonetheless,” he says about his decision to pursue a career in motorsports at 21.

Besides being in the “right place at the right time”, having the backing of the right people in the racing circuit also helped his racing career take off.

Above all, his mother’s support kept him going.


Zooming ahead

Mr Lian, who worked as a go-kart track manager and a car show television host upon his return to Singapore in 1997, committed himself to finding sponsorship support, the “single biggest challenge”. 

He faced over 200 rejections when looking for sponsors to back him in the 1999 Asian Formula 2000 Championship, but he kept “knocking on doors till I got one willing to back me,” he says.

Racing is not a cheap sport, he explains. Financing a career in racing can cost from US$1 million (S$1.26 million) upwards. 

Costs include purchasing the race car and paying the salaries of the engineers and mechanics who look after it, among others.

On the track, thousands of dollars are also spent on testing the car. Track fees, tyre usage, and the car’s wear and tear costs need to be taken into account, he says.

Though Mr Lian finished fifth in the 1999 race, his career continued to zoom ahead.

In 2002, after participating in the race for the third year running, he emerged as its overall champion, proving his potential as a professional racer.

Subsequently, in the 2006 Formula V6 Asia, Mr Lian finished among the top five. “That helped me to secure my drive with A1 Team Singapore, one of the high points in my career,” he says.

A1 Team Singapore is the A1 Grand Prix national team. 

To date, Mr Lian has participated in more than 200 races in various categories. He recently led Team Avelon to second place at the Asian Le Mans series in the CN class.

Team Avelon is the works team of Italian racing car manufacturer, Wolf Racing Cars. Mr Lian is its lead driver and team principal.

These days though, he is more involved in the business aspects of racing, like team ownership and management.

But he plans to keep racing, as long as he is fast enough and can get the backing of sponsors and manufacturers.

He says: “Speed and competition flow in my blood. It’s what I was born to do and I’m grateful to have been able to do it for as long as I have.”