Hong Kong Profile: Matthew Solomon

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Driving fast cars, jetting around the world and garnering high-profile sponsorships left, right and centre – local racing driver Matt Solomon already lives a life many could only dream of. He recently competed at the GT Asia series in Zhuhai, sharing the wheel with former Formula One champion Mika Häkkinen, and is hotly tipped to become Hong Kong’s first ever F1 driver. What makes it more impressive is the fact that the 17-year-old fits all this around his school work. Ironically, the fresh-faced talent doesn’t even have his road licence yet. “I still get my mum to drive me around!” he says with a grin. “As soon as I turn 18, I’ll get my driver’s licence.”

Solomon, who is half-Chinese, half-Australian, has been racing go-karts since the age of 11. “My dad’s always been into motorsports and always had fast cars, and we always go to Macau to see the Grand Prix. So it’s been in my blood,” he says. Last year Solomon progressed from go-karts to single-seater cars, which are ‘sort of like mini-Formula One cars’ – and he now races regularly all over the world. “Yeah, I skip quite a bit of school,” he says. “In the last couple of years, once every two weeks I’ve been flying to Japan, Europe or something to race. It gets quite exhausting after a race to sit down and get through a couple of chapters of a book. Everyone can get by at school on 90 percent, but I have to put in 120 percent to keep up with what they are doing.” 

Despite all the distractions of his budding career, Solomon appreciates that his education is still important. “It’s tough, especially when you have a lot of guys in Europe saying ‘dude, don’t care about school! Just come over here and race;’ it’s quite a big dilemma. But racing is like walking on a tightrope, and if you fall, you need something to fall back on. School is super-important.”

It seems as though all the success and attention (he has over 20,000 followers on Facebook) hasn’t gone to Solomon’s head. “A lot of my success so far is down to the people I have worked with,” he says, humbly. “I’ve worked with Carlo van Dam over the past couple of years; he’s a very respected racer, and has been coaching and managing me.” He also appreciates the support of his family, particularly his father, Peter, who is also his manager. “Of course it’s a lot of money to keep going to Europe and it’s hard to keep finding sponsors,” he says. “And a big amount comes out of dad’s pocket; he has to work very hard to make up for it.”

Many a teenager’s worst nightmare would be working with their father, but Solomon’s mature attitude towards his career seems to keep things on an even keel. “We do argue a bit, naturally. But I understand how much work he puts in to support me and I really appreciate that. If I have a bad race for some reason, he’s just there to put his arm round me and say ‘don’t worry’, instead of giving me a bollocking. It did get quite heated sometimes in the past, but now it’s great – he understands the stresses that come with racing.” 

While it’s a difficult task to make it to Formula One, Solomon seems to have his eyes firmly on that prize. After he completes school, his goal is to move to Europe to compete. “After two or three years of Formula Three, if everything works out, maybe I can fast track to Formula One. But you need the right connections and sponsors, and everything that comes with the circus,” he says, sagely.

It may seem odd that, considering the super-fast pace of our city, there has never been a local Formula One driver. “Yeah, Hong Kong is probably the worst place in the world to nurture a budding racing driver,” Solomon says with a laugh, telling us he often practices at Sideways (a driving-simulator centre) and even has a simulator at home. 

As if racing wasn’t enough, Solomon also plays water polo before school twice a week and cycles around 100km on his free Sundays. He is devoted to staying fit, though it can be tough. “I don’t go partying a lot,” he says. “It can be hard; my friends are all turning 18 and going out. But it’s a goal that I have, and it keeps you very disciplined.” With an attitude like that, we’re sure he’ll go far – and fast. Anna Cummins

 

See what Solomon’s up to next at mattsolomon.com.

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