"From the beginning of the season I knew I could be champion, no problem," says Alon Day, who won the Asian Formula Renault championship on Sunday. Day, 18, secured the title in the sixth and final race of the season, and ascended the podium with an Israeli flag.
"Victory is personal, but it's clear people are thinking about Israel," said a triumphant Day after the ceremony.
The Ashdod native started the day trailing Angolan Luis Sa Silva, the leader, by three points with two races to go. Day had the best time in the first race, and benefited from a technical problem Sa Silva had with his car. Sa Silva lagged 20 seconds behind Day, allowing Day to open a 15 point edge. Day played the second race more conservatively, finishing second but protecting his lead.
Day had to fund his title pursuit out of his own pocket and now turns to a series of prestigious races in Macau, where he will compete starting this Thursday in the final race of the season for the Formula BMW Pacific Series.
Ironically, Sa Silva's team, ART Motorsports, agreed before the season ended to fund Day's participation in Macau. Sa Silva is Day's main rival for this championship.
Day is scheduled to race Sunday, and if this season's trends continue, he has a good shot at picking up a sponsor from one of the representatives attending the competition.
The Ashdod native started his racing career with karting at age 10. That tender young age is relatively late for Europe, where racing starts as early as age 6. At 15, Day joined an Austrian team racing Formula cars in Hungary and got his first taste at international competition.
At last year's race in Macau, which Day's parents helped him pay for, accidents and breakdowns plagued his efforts.
"I'm coming to Macau without any pressure," said Day. "I don't need to show I'm worth something. I have an official Renault championship, and I'm calm."
The up-and-coming racer sees Formula 3 - which was won by Lewis Hamilton - as a realistic option. "The first thing people do after winning this kind of championship is moving up to Formula 3 - which makes for a promising racing career."
Day is one of the few Israelis in motor racing abroad, which he attributes to the lack of any exposure that would lead to sponsorship. His father, Avi Day, deserves credit for providing financial support.
"Drivers in Israel are no less and perhaps even more ambitious than any other place in the world," asserted Day. "The problem is this sport is expensive."
He says he did his part now to show the others here it's worth it not to give up.
The Israel Defense Forces are supposed to draft Day in May, but first he will go before a special committee that may grant him status as an outstanding athlete.
"I believe they'll award me this status so I can continue competing," Day said.
His father added that they are preparing for Formula 3 next season.
"The expenses there are so great that even if I wanted to I couldn't afford them," Avi Day said. "We'll need some type of support for Alon to continue his momentum. If he doesn't come away from this championship with a sponsor, at least some public interest in motor sports has come out of it."