Is karting in real life like Mario Kart? Hong Kong teen racer Frederick Lee of Canadian International School says it’s way harder


The 16-year-old student athlete competes in IAME International events around the world

Kelly Ho |

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Hong Kong teen kart racer Frederick Lee starting karting in 2016.

The first thing that comes to mind when you talk about karting might be Mario Kart, but to Frederick Lee Fu-kwan, the sport is more than a game – and the thrill of conquering the game’s notoriously tricky Rainbow Road doesn’t come close to how he feels when he’s racing in real life.

The 16-year-old began his karting journey in 2016, when his father enrolled him in a programme offered by local racing star Darryl O’Young. In the years since, Frederick has become one of Hong Kong’s elite go-kart drivers.

Since advancing from the junior events for racers under 14, Frederick has been taking on older, stronger, and more experienced drivers in the senior category. He competes in races across the mainland, as well as in first-rate circuits like the IAME International Final.

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“I’m usually the youngest driver, and my opponents are in their mid- to late-20s,” he told Young Post, adding that he tries to think more maturely when racing with them.

Still, the age difference doesn’t seem to stop Frederick from winning – he has made it on to the podium 11 times out of a total of 14 races this year.

Unlike in Mario Kart, there are no power boosts or detours when racing. To whizz past his opponents, Frederick says it’s all about taking chances.

“At the beginning, I was scared of crashing, so I took no risks and I was always behind,” Frederick recalled. “It was my mum who told me to stop worrying and just go for it, so I did.”

Frederick Lee trains in Zhuhai and competes in races across China.
Photo: Frederick Lee

This mindset was what help the teen driver at the IAME International Final in Le Mans, France, last year, where he zipped ahead of 10 first-rate drivers from his starting position, eventually coming 14th out of 29 contenders. That race was proof to Frederick that success doesn’t come if you don’t take risks.

Being daring doesn’t come without its drawbacks, though, and the karting star said he has been in a number of crashes. The worst involved his kart flipping over and flying up in the air, before crashing off the track. He was, thankfully, uninjured because of all of his safety gear.

“My dad ran over immediately, but I was okay. I’m sure my parents are worried about me [racing], but they also trust that I can handle myself,” he said.

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Frederick doesn’t just fearlessness to win, though. The sport is all about physical – especially arm and core – strength, and having a game plan.

He explained there are many rounds in a racing tournament, starting with practice sessions, qualifiers, and heats, which are followed by a pre-final and the final race, which can last up to 26 laps. Frederick needs to plan carefully how fast and hard he drives in each round, taking into account the number of tyres he can swap and when to do so.

The Canadian International School of Hong Kong student admitted that, what with training and races on the mainland almost every weekend, it is physically and mentally taxing for him to try and balance both his studies and karting.

Frederick Lee Fu-kwan picked up the sport three years ago when he joined a programme offered by Hong Kong famed driver Darryl O'Young.
Photo: Frederick Lee

The Grade 12 student skips classes on Thursday and Friday to fly out to his next competition venue, often not returning to Hong Kong until the Sunday evening. Flights to and from the mainland are often subject to changes, too, which means he might end up going straight from the airport to school on Monday morning.

Still, he has never thought about putting the brakes on his karting career. He wants to apply to a British university next year, as some there have their own racing engineering team, and are always on the look out for budding drivers like Frederick to join them.

If there is one thing that Frederick wants for Hong Kong in the long-term, it’s for the city to reintroduce tournaments like the Hong Kong International Kart Prix (which ended in 1993), so that the sport can be more widely recognised.

“Training and competing in China is time-consuming and expensive,” he said. “Most drivers in Hong Kong want to have a local racetrack. Even a small one would do.”

Edited by Ginny Wong