Michele Bumgarner is a Filipino driver, although her father is American. She started racing at ten, in karts, having learnt to drive at seven. Her father owned a kart track at Subic, so she had plenty of opportunity. To begin with, she combined karting with competitive junior tennis, but karting, and senior motorsport, interested her more. Soon, she was competing all over southeast Asia, and also in Europe. Almost unbelievably, when she was fourteen, she did her first car races, in Formula Toyota in the Philippines. Even more unbelievably, she was third in the championship.
A return to karting beckoned in 2005, but she was still looking for her big chance in full-size motorsport. She travelled to the Bahrain for the Formula BMW Scholarship, which she won, although it did not translate into an actual drive.
In 2006, she moved more fully into circuit racing, at the age of 17. Instead of taking her first steps in Formula Toyota or Formula Renault, she jumped straight into Formula Three. She drove for Team Goddard in Formula 3 Asia, in the Promotion class. The series was run from the Philippines. Her first three rounds were somewhat of an ordeal, with stalling, spins and a crash, but she learnt quickly, and by the end of the season, had climbed to third in the Promotion class, for older cars. She was 12th overall.
Her next big step was a move to America in 2007, in order to further her single-seater ambitions. She enrolled at the Jim Russell Racing School, and even competed in two of its Formula Russell races, scoring a podium finish in one.
She put together a deal for Formula Mazda for 2008. Her season consisted of the first five rounds, and she had a best finish of 15th, at Portland. She was one of four women racing in the series that year, and was the third fastest of them. At the same time, her younger brother, Mark Bumgarner, was also competed in the States, in the Skip Barber Series. He has since left motorsport. In September, she tested an Indy Lights car at Putnam Raceway.
Later in the 2008 season, her Indy Lights testing appeared to have paid off; she was selected for the NexGen team’s driver development scheme and was set to compete in Indy Lights in 2009, with Walker Racing, as part of a five-year development deal. However, the deal fell through, and she returned to karting.
During this time, she was also in talks with the Newman Watts team about a Formula Atlantic drive, but this too came to nothing, as the team’s backer, actor Paul Newman, died.
In 2008 and 2009, she won the Rock Island Grand Prix, a major street kart race. Although she had to take a lengthy hiatus from circuit racing, not competing at all in 2010 or 2012, she used it as constructively as she could, and was very competitive in a kart.
She made a small return to Formula Mazda in 2013, entering two races and finishing one, in ninth. This performance, at Houston, earned her an award for the most places made up during a race. This was a more positive end to the year than its start, which had involved Michele travelling to Charlotte Raceway for a “NASCAR RaceEX World Circuit” event for Filipino drivers, which turned out to be a scam.
2014 saw her full-time return to motorsport, in Formula Mazda, after a long series of false starts. She was racing for World Speed Motorsports. Her main sponsor was Mazda Philippines, and she was now part of the Mazda Road to Indy development programme. Her schedule took in eleven of the fifteen races, and her best result was eleventh, at Houston. Usually, she finished just outside the top ten. Her finishing record was good, with only one retirement all year, and she was fifteenth in the championship.
In the near future, Michele plans to progress up the Indycar ladder, with the aim of competing in the Indy Racing League in 2016.
(Image from www.leblogauto.com)