Marlon Stockinger: The Man Behind the Racetrack Champion
It was an important day for GP3s, a single-seater motor racing series. For the first time since GP3's inception in 2010, it was holding a race at the Circuit de Monaco, arguaby the most famous track in Formula One—a dream experience for young drivers who aimed to make it to F1 like then 21-year-old Marlon Stockinger.
FOR THE PHILIPPINES
A few laps into the 2012 race with 13 mean machines blasting at 300kph and already the smell of burning rubber and exhaust fumes filled the air. The race looked like it was off to a good start till a car clipped the tail of another, sending it into the air before flipping and landing upside down. The incident slowed everyone down. It would have set back Marlon Stockinger, who was in the lead, but he had his eyes on the prize. Defending his position, he took on the pressure from Portugal’s Antonio Felix de la Costa who desperately yet dynamically trailed behind throughout the race. Marlon wouldn’t let him get ahead. He had to keep the top position, he told himself, and so he did. Some drivers began losing control, and a few more laps and several more collisions into the second half of the race, the track’s side fence got damaged and the race had to end at 14 laps instead of 18. Marlon Stockinger had won.
He dreamt of becoming one of those racetrack daredevils he and his father watched on TV. Seduced by speed and moved by the adrenaline rush, Marlon found a sense of purpose on the track.
This 2012 GP3 Series round in Monaco was Marlon’s debut first place win in the GP3s, and more importantly, he says, it was also the Philippines’s first. “Marlon Stockinger did everything right. Not just did everything right, but he put up with so much pressure from Antonio Felix da Costa,” said the race’s TV announcer as Marlon’s car slowed down in the winner’s lane. “For Stockinger, it’s another fabulous result. It’s his second visit to the podium. The first time was the very first race of the season and that was for second position. Today, though, it’s for a win, and a richly deserved one.”
“Woohoo!” Marlon shouted in careless abandon as he got out of his car. He raised his fists in the air and yelled another time, obviously unable to contain his joy. He saw his father, Tom Stockinger, whom he embraced and lifted up in excitement. “Great to see his emotions here with a win at Monaco, and it was not an easy win. Not easy at all soaking up all the pressure from pole position, not making a mistake from pole, leading the way. He drove absolutely beautifully,” continued the announcer.
Marlon saw the TV camera pan to his face and took the chance to send his love and air kisses. “For the Philippines!” he shouted with pride and joy. Later on, he took to the podium and raised his trophy. The Philippine national anthem was played as the Philippine flag was raised and Marlon Stockinger, the only Filipino race car driver to have made it this far into Formula racing, was in tears. “A win anywhere is special,” said the announcer, “but in Monaco it is extra special.”
UP TO SPEED
Marlon has won numerous races, “too many to count with my hands,” he says nonchalantly, but this win in GP3 was indeed extra special. It was a proud moment for the Philippines in Formula racing, with Marlon earning the country’s first honors in that category. Other notable wins for Marlon include being the 2006 Asian Karting champion, the 2007 Philippine Rotax Max champion, and the 2008 Formula BMW Pacific Scholarship winner, apart from other accomplishments in Formula Renault, Formula Renault 3.5 Series, and the Blancpain GT Series, which he raced in last year. “It brings me so much joy to carry the country’s flag, to have it on my car,” he says. “It doesn’t even need to have my name on it, just the flag.”
He is more Filipino than anyone can imagine. Behind his fair skin, brown eyes, and chiseled face is a boy born and raised in Manila by a Swiss father and Filipino mother; who played tumbang preso and piko with his two younger siblings; who spent afternoons on the streets of La Huerta, Paranaque, with his cousins and grandmother; and who enjoys Filipino food.
“It is so easy in this day and age to over think things especially with social media. It’s very easy to listen to other people. Focus on yourself, look ahead, and drown out all the bad noise.”
Unlike his classmates, however, Marlon didn’t head to basketball clinics on weekends or football training after school. He spent his time either with Calcarrie’s, an international modeling agency, or on the racetrack in Carmona Cavite, with his father, who introduced him to kart racing at age nine. He dreamt of becoming one of those racetrack daredevils he and his father watched on TV. Seduced by speed and moved by the adrenaline rush, Marlon found a sense of purpose on the track. “In my first race, I got a trophy,” he recalls. “I think it came naturally. The talent was there and I knew I had to put in the hard work and dedication.”
The road to Formula One is never easy. Marlon continues to drive in the GP3 series. Drivers usually move up racing classes not only through practice, talent, hard work, and winning, but through sponsorships and outside support. It is a very expensive sport, and so Marlon feels very lucky to have parents who have been supporting him and finding sponsorships to help him carry on with his profession. “I’ll forever be indebted to my parents in this regard because they have been super supportive and they have always believed in my abilities,” he says. “I want to return the favor in a way and win more races and championships for them to be in a position to just enjoy life, you know. I’m hoping with such results, we could get the sponsors and contracts to secure proper races.”
THE SAFER SPORT
For someone who admits to being ultra-competitive, Marlon seems “very chill,” as his longtime handler Allan Acosta would put in, when he’s racing. “I have to think less to drive better. I excel when relaxed. It’s more about controlled aggression,” Marlon points out. “There are so many factors, so many components. If you’re too aggressive or almost gigil in a way, you can spin, you can crash. And it’s not just yourself you should be worried about. There are other competitors and the thousands of components of a racing car: If you’re just level-headed, and of course, talented, you can be a good racing driver.” In racing, sportsmanship is essential, he says, but that doesn’t mean it’s a friendly competition. “I guess you could say you can be friends with some drivers off the track, but when you’re in the car that just goes out the window. You want to beat them and you have to think that way too. There are no friends out there when you’re racing,” he says.
Having been in motor sports for over 15 years, Marlon shares that he has had over 20 crashes so far. But fortunately, modern Formula or NASCAR races have become much safer, with great improvements in car features and implementation of stricter safety rules, unlike the early decades of racing when the specter of death hung over every race and fatalities and sever accidents were considered normal occurrences.
“Today I’d say playing in the NBA or NFL, where players are constantly putting their bodies at risk of wear and tear, is more dangerous than car racing,” Marlon says. “Race car drivers have longer careers because we are protected more than ever and our bodies don’t get as battered. I could race well into my 40s or 50s if I still want to compete at a high level.”
IT IS MUCH LIKE LIFE
When Marlon moved to Europe to pursue his racing career at 17, he needed to give up pursuing a traditional college degree. For him, however, the racetrack was his own campus. “Go Kart is the grassroots of racing; it’s like kindergarten. Junior formula is high school. GP2 is college. Formula One is graduation,” he explains. “I’ve always appreciated what my younger sister did, that she went to college and all, but I also feel that I’ve learned a lot in life the same. Racing may seem a bit more alone, but I’ve worked with peers older than myself, which forced me to mature very quickly and learn as much as they have. Racing is a great school for life.”
The most important lesson for Marlon, he says, is developing resilience and unceasing attitude toward both his profession and life outside it. “No matter what, never give up. No matter what, stay positive,” he says. “That’s an essential lesson because in the road of your life, you get hit with speed bumps.” Would he rather have a pause or a rewind button, we ask. “Pause button,” he says. “I don’t believe in redoing things, and I’d always do it the same way even if I make mistakes. Pausing would give me more time to assess what the next move would be.”
“I have to think less to drive better. I excel when relaxed. It’s more about controlled aggression.”
Speed bumps in the world of Marlon Stockinger have been not finishing a race twice in a row or having a really bad year in terms of sponsorships or having a car part break at the worst possible or suddenly having to deal with a full-scale media storm that dug deep into his personal life. This most recent bump in the road has to come at a time when the spotlight is on his relationship with Miss Universe 2016 Pia Wurtzbach. “As much as you have fans, you’ll have haters as well,” he says. “I’ve learned that you just have to make sure that you please more people than you offend people. Bashers will always be there, but it’s not for them to decide who you are.” That’s showbiz for Marlon.
“If it doesn’t break you, it makes you,” he says of how he deals with challenges. Such things, after all, come with being a private person with a somehow public life. “It is normal,” he says. “Social media is out there and information is shared with everyone faster than ever. You just need to know how to separate that and to have the right balance. Being in the limelight isn’t anything new for me. It’s been that way ever since I started racing as a kid. You get used to it and the best way to handle it is to know that you have a life outside of fame.”
STRONGER THAN EVER
Of course, Marlon’s main support group is his family who’s been there through it all. He acknowledges his extraordinary closeness to each of them, from his dad and mom who have been with him through every step in his career, and his sister, a couple of years younger than him, whom he considers his best friend, confidante, and the person who keeps him sane in trying times, to his younger brother, with whom he is very loving and sweet.
“My mom has always told me to never be too hard on myself, and she is right,” Marlon says. “It is so easy in this day and age to over think things especially with social media. It’s very easy to listen to other people. I think when you’re able to look at yourself in the mirror and accept what you see then I think you can be content and happy with how you’re going about things. Focus on yourself, look ahead, and drown out all the bad noise.” Pretty much like racing.
See more of Marlon Stockinger’s Town&Country shoot in the June 2017 issue, available on Zinio, Magzter, and major bookstores nationwide.