Born to race | April 26, 2013 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Cover Story - April 26, 2013

Born to race

13-year-old has started his engine

by Glenn Wohltmann

A young racer from Pleasanton Middle School has been tearing up the track lately, staging some impressive come-from-behind victories.

Horatio Fitz-Simon, 13, has been racing just about two-and-a-half years and has been a challenger at some national level races. He hopes to become Pleasanton's answer to Jackie Stewart, racing Formula One open-tired cars like those at the Indianapolis 500.

"Ever since he was a little baby he wanted to race,"said Fitz-Simon's father, Ian. "He persuaded me to get a go kart when he was 5 years old."

Horatio's early career came to a stop, though, when his mother balked at the potential dangers.

"I had a crash and my mother wouldn't let me kart anymore," the young driver explained.

Horatio and Ian eventually talked her into allowing him to race, and he's back at it with a vengeance, according to Ian, who said early on, when the family took him to practice, they had to wait for him to literally run out of gas before they could go home.

"He started karting (again) when he was 11. He's up against kids that were carting since they were 5 and he's now challenging on a national level," he said. "Horatio completely comes to life when he races -- he's a completely different person. Under pressure is when he shines most."

Horatio hopes to compete as an open-wheel driver, following in the footsteps of his hero, Ayrton Senna, a Brazilian driver who won three Formula One world championships.

"He wants to race Formula One. His ultimate goal is to race Formula One for Ferrari," Ian said.

Like soccer, open-wheel racing is more popular outside the country. Americans have football, and they have NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing), which races modified stock cars that originated when moonshiners beefed up their cars to outrun treasury agents. The rest of the world has soccer and Formula One, which can trace its history to the early 1900s.

While NASCAR has gained in popularity in recent years, adding tracks across the country, America has only one well-known Formula One track, at the Indianapolis Speedway. Internationally, that's a different story: Formula One is well-known, with races like the Monaco Grand Prix and Le Mans drawing the sport's elite.

Racing is in the Fitz-Simon blood. Ian raced Porches for a bit when he was younger, and Horatio's older brother raced for a time. For a while, the family had a McLaren M10 Formula 5000 series car in their great room. Horatio was born within earshot of Silverstone Circuit race track in England, known as the home of British motorsports.

Horatio races in the Rotex Mini MAX class, with a 13.5 horsepower engine. It's the same engine every driver uses, so no one gets an unfair advantage.

Karting, like NASCAR, uses a point system, with points awarded depending on what place a driver comes in and points taken away or time deducted for infractions.

Horatio made a comeback on a recent weekend after a frustrating stint at the Auto Club Speedway in Southern California where he was in first place in points when a mechanical problem knocked his car out of the race.

"At the main event Saturday, he had a DNS, a did not start," said David Cole, of ekarting news, an online publication that follows karting. "Anytime you have a DNS, it hampers your chances."

Horatio came back Sunday for a win, his second victory in 2013 Challenge of America Mini Max racing. While he won, he lost points -- and the championship -- for not being able to compete in the Saturday races.

"It's just racing, I think. For us it happened on a day it shouldn't have happened," the young driver said.

The loss doesn't seem to have slowed him down. Recently at the Red Line Oil Karting Championships, a regional competition that draws young drivers from California and Nevada, Horatio qualified for pole position, the prime starting position. He also set the fastest lap, and won heats one and two.

"He's definitely one of the up-and-coming young drivers we have in the sport. I've watched him over the last two years and he's coming into his own," Cole said. "I think he's been making some very big improvements over the last 12 months."

He called karting "one of the best-kept secrets in racing," explaining that many professional drivers got their start driving karts before moving up.

While every driver likes to win, Horatio particularly likes a very specific type of victory.

"My favorite part probably is when I have everyone against me, not believing, and when I come up and finish high in the field," he said. "I feel best about myself when I come from the back."

He's done it more than once, including one time where he started out in 17th place, passing everyone to win.

At 13, Horatio is about to make the transition to racing in the Mazda teen series, which is open to 13- to 19-year-olds, and then on to Formula F, single seat racers like their larger counterparts, Formula Ones.

"It's a huge step coming from karts to cars. The suspension changes everything," Horatio said.

Racing isn't cheap. Ian estimates it will cost $65,000 to get Horatio into a Formula F car. That means looking for sponsors.

"I'd love to get a sponsorship because that's the only thing I think is holding me back. Usually, they get drivers at the front who are usually winning, they get the best sponsorships," Horatio said. "Five years from now -- I can't guarantee anything but I'm just going to work my hardest at school and racing and see how far I can get."


Posted by Bill Hair, a resident of another community
on Apr 26, 2013 at 7:13 am

Saw this kid race a couple times.
If his equipment holds together he can win any race.
He WILL be a factor in the Racing community - Formula
One is within his reach. Talent/committment like his
is rare at this age.
Hope he picks up good sponsors, s/be a Win/Win!

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Apr 27, 2013 at 9:49 am

It's always cool when a young athelete tears up the field!

Posted by Gordon Smith, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2013 at 11:10 am

The only Formula One track in the US is in Austin, TX, not Indy.

And I think Mr Fitz-Simons raced Porsches, not porches. A missing 's' can make all the difference!

Gordon Smith

Former Birdland Resident now a resident of Austin TX