TAIWAN - The story goes that his father Mehis would walk him around Tallinn and even at the age of five, Rump would be naming all the cars as they drove past, identifying them by their headlights, he recalls today.
“I was always into racing and cars and engines and everything. Ever since I was a little kid,” says the now 19-year-old Estonian. “Anything to do with engines or cars I would get excited by — and to tell the truth, I still feel the same every day.”
It helped no doubt that Mehis was into motorsports himself, an Estonian superbike champion who raced also in Scandinavia; but it was cars that captured the younger Rump’s attention and his passion set him on a course that has seen the young driver take his talents across the globe as he looks to establish himself in the ultra-competitive world of professional racing.
Rump is today talking trackside at the Penbay International Circuit in the far southern reaches of Taiwan where he is taking part in the Formula Masters China Series (FMCS), Asia’s leading junior single-seater race series. Set up by the Volkswagen Group China, the FMCS is designed to give young drivers a platform from which to showcase their talents, while they learn all there is to know about Formula-style racing.
It’s certainly a means through which Volkswagen can extend its brand imprint across China, the world’s largest car market, let’s not forget, through its Star Racing Academy programme set up to develop young Chinese drivers, but for the other Asians, Europeans and Australians taking part, the hope is they might get spotted either by teams in other regional series – such as the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia – or beyond.
“I have lots of rough edges to smoothen out, and lots of areas in which to improve,” explains Rump. “But the main goal for this year is to get as much experience out of this series as I can, and then to get recognized and to get an opportunity to further my racing. That’s the main thing – to keep racing.”
It’s Rump’s first time in the FMCS and – after a career that has already seen him graduate from go-karts, to Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup and Toyota Racing Series New Zealand – the decision to spend a season racing around Asia looks set to pay dividends. Driving for the Cebu Pacific Air by KCMG team, Rump eventually goes three-for-three during his time in Taiwan, thereby stretching his lead in the FMCS driver’s championship at the halfway point of the six-round series to 21 points over his nearest rival as racing turns now to the Kuala Lumpur Street Circuit in Malaysia for races 10 to 12 from August 7-9.
“Racing in the Euro Cup and in New Zealand was really tough but I gained experience and the reason I am here now is because I can keep learning and developing,” says Rump. “The FMCS tracks are very different – the first two this year, in Shanghai and Sepang, were F1 tracks and now we have one here that is tighter with twists and bumps. But to progress in this sport you have to test yourself, you have to travel, and you have to be prepared for hard work. This is my first time racing in Asia and it’s been challenging.”
It’s not just the fact that Rump is winning, it’s how he is winning that has the Penbay track buzzing. Rump’s natural, often blistering speed, sees him qualify in pole for each race, after setting a new track record on the first day of practice, and he never really gives the rest of the 16-car field a look in all weekend.
“What drives me now is the thought of being the best that I can be,” says Rump. “It’s about working towards the highest level of excellence that I can achieve and maybe being someone to look up to for a younger kid back home. I want to be a role model and get as close to perfection, in terms of my own skill, as I can.”
Rump is preparing to head to the University of Manchester to begin a degree in mechanical engineering in September but for the moment his mind is focused on the remaining rounds of the FMCS and on increasing his profile abroad, and back home.
“We only have a small population in Estonia of course but we have really good drivers – in WRC like Ott Tanak, and Marko Asmer and Kevin Korjus test driving in F1 – and the go-kart competition is really good,” he says. “To be honest I think at this stage more people know me on an international racing basis than at home. This is a bit of a privilege at this stage because I can concentrate on doing what I do. But hopefully this will change as I want people back home to follow me, and I want to help the sport in Estonia.”
The plan, he says, is to look to the future, but to keep his feet planted firmly in the realities of life.
“Of course Formula One is the dream but I am looking at things realistically. At the moment I just have to keep my head down and work,” says Rump. “I am quite a calm person, and I think that suits the sport. Once it is game time I have that explosiveness that you need but I save that for racing. I think that’s a good side of me. I am competitive and I always want to be first.”