W Series Academy 2022: Meet Bianca Bustamante
"I drove my heart out and I showed my talent and my speed – and I deserve to be here."
17 year-old driver Bianca Bustamante talks us through the beginning of her career in motorsport, her W Series selections and the challenges of her first season in single seaters.
The third ever W Series season is about to go underway and the all-female championship is gearing up for what should be its biggest and most international-oriented campaign to date.
On the eve of the 2022 championship, in fact, W Series' CEO Catherine Bond Muir announced that the first ever single seater championship for women only would take the path of a global operation and – as a sign of this commitment, the profiles invited to the 2022 selections increasingly took into account also drivers outside the usual European racing scene.
The age of the participants at the assessment tests at Inde Motorsports Ranch, Arizona, was also significantly lower, with several hopefuls coming straight from karting or with little previous experience of junior formulae. Nevertheless, some of them impressed the W Series organization and advanced into the second stage of the selections – which saw the candidates travelling to Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona, for the collective tests in the actual F3 Regional machinery used in W Series.
Among them was 17-year old Bianca Bustamante, from the Philippines.
Interestingly, Bustamante had only raced in karting before the W Series selections and had jumped in a single seater car for the first time at the Arizona test – which should have put even a bigger pressure on her shoulders.
The second-youngest driver on the shortlist, Bianca convinced once again W Series racing director Dave Ryan and was finally selected. She will team up with 16 year-old Juju Noda for the W Series Academy project, succeeding Nerea Marti and Irina Sirorkova in the program that will grant them a two-year seat in the championship.
We had the chance to meet the Filipino racer and get to know her better, ahead of her first season in W Series.
"It doesn't matter if you're different or your gender. As long as you have the passion for it."
"I started driving at the age of three because my father was a former karter and he introduced me to motorsport" – she told us. "I can remember him bringing me to one of his races as I was about a year old. He brought me to the podium as he won and I guess that was the moment the passion started" – she recalled. "I started driving at the age of three, competing at the age of seven and it's been really my life ever since". "At seven, I started competing in international races and I began winning all around Asia. I showed my competitiveness and even if it was a very male dominated sport, it felt amazing being able to compete with the boys, being able to drive with them and experiencing a lot of things" – she continued. Bustamante raced in some of the most competitive karting competitions both in Asia and America – which already makes her an international profile – before her F3-level debut this weekend. Since 2015, she took the start of the SKUSA Supernationals, while she raced in the IAME Asia Cup in 2020. While moving her first steps in the European racing scene, she said, the growing number of female drivers was a pleasant surprise to her. "Being here in Europe I've seen a lot of great female drivers and comparing that to Asia there are not many drivers at all. You rarely see female drivers competing – which I think is also because of the culture in Asia and how women are more used to working at home or for a desk job". "It's not very common to see a woman racing and doing something different. That's why I'm very grateful to be given the opportunity to be different, to show people that if you live your dreams, no matter what, just grab every opportunity and work really hard for it – and it doesn't matter if you stand out, it doesn't matter if you're different or your gender. As long as you have the passion for it." Bustamante was not a completely new name in Europe, though, as the young karting driver was part of the FIA Women In Motorsport-supported project "Girls On Track - Rising Stars" in 2021. The programme – which ultimately selected the first ever female Ferrari Driver Academy driver – saw the most exciting female karting prospects from all over the world meeting at Circuit Paul Ricard for assessment tests. Likely, that experience helped Bustamante cope with the pressure of the W Series selections in Arizona. "The Rising Star Shootout was amazing", she said. "Not only did it give me opportunities, it also taught me a lot as a driver. They've given us a lot of tips and information and where to improve." "My shootout ended quite a bit early, but I got so much input that I have used it ever since. It inspired me to progress and I was learning better in the shootout."
Building on that momentum, Bustamante was invited by W Series for its first ever selections outside Europe, in a circuit that is rarely on the maps of conventional racing series. "Arizona was amazing", Bianca told us. "The track was very technical, it was very difficult there with around 21 corners – and it was tight." "I had so much to learn – the track was more about technique rather than speed and that was a lot to learn from my side. Especially as I drove a formula car for the first time." At Inde Motorsports Ranch, the 16 invited drivers drove Formula 4 US-spec cars, operated by Kiwi Motorsports. "In Asia there are not many formula car drivers, we don't get the opportunity to drive a F4 or F3 car a lot and that's why I was just so grateful being there in the shootout", she continued. "I gave my best, I drove my heart out and I showed my talent and my speed and I deserve to be here." Certainly, the quick progression from karting to F4 - and now to F3 machinery – required an impressive and exponential physical effort and preparation. "It was physically demanding" – Bianca agreed. "The track was technical and the car was technical. It's physically demanding, especially jumping from karting to formula cars – there are a lot of differences. There's a lot more to learn – like shifting, downforce, the G-force and everything combined." "I was a bit overwhelmed to be honest. Not just physically, but mentally too, with how much there is more to improve as you never stop learning. But that's one of the things I love about [motorsport]: when you think you're the best, you're not. There's always someone better than you, and it's a great feeling learning from those people." And, with this approach, Bianca Bustamante is destined to learn and improve quickly. Ahead of her W Series debut in Miami, she joined the first two rounds of the USF Juniors Championship – an American-based series on the Road to Indy program, as she aimed for some important mileage. At the first round at the new Ozarks International Raceway facility, she was faced with a few technical difficulties and, after only completing a few laps in practice, Bustamante used the races to build up confidence on track, yet secured a 14th and a 10th place. Last weekend, the series supported IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park and, with more testing under her belt, Bianca was 15th and 12th, showing good progress and improving her racecraft. With this preparation, Bianca Bustamante will start her first race weekend in W Series – as the series kicks off its 2022 season in support of the Formula 1 GP in Miami. With a secure seat, Bustamante is surely expected to improve session after session, with some rather experienced drivers making up the field of the third on-track season of the series. At 17, time is on her side.