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Late Start and Quick Rise: The Story of Korea’s Michael Shin

Conducted and Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Credit: Jakob Ebrey / GB3 Championship

During the off-season, most drivers take the time to recharge and mentally prepare for their upcoming campaigns in the summer. However, in the case of South Korea’s Michael Shin, he’s keeping himself prepped with a campaign in the Formula Regional Oceania Championship.


So, who is Michael Shin? Well, DIVEBOMB took the time to speak to him earlier last week. Here’s what he had to say!


Later Beginnings

While most drivers tend to get their starts right from the moment they can walk, Shin’s beginnings in racing came a little bit later than others, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the time he thought the most.


"I'd say my route in racing is a bit peculiar,” he said. “I haven't been racing for that long, I actually started after COVID. I was originally in a boarding school in the [United] States, and because of COVID, I had to go back to Korea and had a lot of time on my hands. That gave me a chance to reflect and really think about what I wanted to do in life.”


Once restrictions loosened, he hit the ground running, jumping into go-karts.


"My mom introduced me to a kart racing team since she knew I had a liking for speed. So, she just had me try it out to see how it went. I gave it a go, and I just really liked it. The first time on the straight where I put my foot down, it was like nothing else I've ever done. At that moment, I knew I wanted to pursue motorsports as a career. 


"From that point, I did a little training in karting, and instead of going back to school in the States, I convinced my parents to send me to the UK to do karting whilst finishing my high school education.” 


Early Debutant

Just a year after setting foot in a go kart, Shin was making the jump to single seaters, starting with a popular choice for newcomers: F4 UAE. However, there were some issues at the beginning.


“That (the sudden jump to single seaters) came about for many reasons: I was already quite old, 17 years old, and if I wanted to make a career out of racing, I figured I should be racing people around my age,” he said.


"To start with F4 UAE, the organisers of the championship were a bit worried because I hadn't done much racing prior to F4 UAE that they recognised, seeing the possibilities of an accident and whatnot. But luckily, I convinced them that I had watched all the safety videos, gone to enough training, and had my racing licence.”


After receiving clearance to race in the Emirati-based championship, the Korean had a lot on his plate aside from racing, finishing up high school too, all while balancing a hectic life of motorsport.


"I did that in the winter of 2022, and going from school right to winter testing was quite busy, but I think it was necessary to prepare me for what was to come. I believe the drivers looking to improve should definitely do a winter series because it keeps you switched on during the offseason.”


And what was to come would be a debut in one of the premier Formula 4 championships: British F4. This would be Shin’s most successful season yet, finishing 11th in the standings with two podiums, and even a victory in the second round at Brands Hatch. Following this season, he had one thought on his mind:


"...I graduated high school this year, and now I'm fully focused on making a career out of it [motorsport]."


Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Proud Representation

Before Shin could get a winter break, however, he was invited to participate in the FIA F4 Motorsport Games in Paul Ricard — a weekend of two races where drivers represent their nations in equal machinery. This was an opportunity that marked many things for him, who represented South Korea:


“It was a great experience for me: it was the first time racing on a European circuit, having come from British F4,” Shin said. “It was valuable track experience, and it was a unique experience in that there was a driver from one country representing their nation in F4 racing.


Credit: SRO / Nico Deumille

"I really enjoyed it a lot, even though I got a bit unfortunate in the last race where everyone sent it, I lost my front wing, and I was given a black and orange flag. Aside from that, it's not something you get to do all the time, and it was also the first time Korea has participated in it, which made it way more special."


Another Big Step

After a successful first season in cars, Shin made the step up to Formula 3 machinery, partaking in the Formula Regional Middle East and GB3 Championships. 


While the FRMEC season saw him take a podium in the last round in Abu Dhabi, Shin did not manage a podium in GB3; though. He still displayed great consistency, with 15 points finishes. With such a big jump so early in his career, there were a few key differences compared to F4.


"The F4 and F3 cars are fairly similar, but I think the biggest difference was that the [F3] car was much heavier,” Shin said. “With the F4 car, because it's a bit more nimble, you can afford to make mistakes. With the F3 car, every mistake feels like it's amplified since you can't make up for it. 


"You have to make sure you're consistent and look after the tyres. For instance, in F4, you can have four to five push laps in qualifying, whereas in F3 machinery, it's one to three laps, so you just kind of have to do the lap.”


With a team as strong as Hitech GP behind him, he gives short but clear praises to his team.


"Overall, I'd say I adjusted pretty quickly. I had a great team behind me and I learned a lot."


However, on top of the praises he gives to the personnel, Shin credits one of his fellow teammates for helping push him to his maximum.


“I think, when I look at everyone I've raced against within the team, Alex Dunne was the most complete in terms of race craft, pure speed, and as a whole racing driver. He really pushed me, and that helped me progress even more. He was always the benchmark compared to anyone else.”



First Taste of the F1 Paddock

In the middle of the season, Shin saw an opportunity to enter the FIA Formula 3 Championship, in consequence of missing a round of GB3. Despite the implications, he took it, replacing fellow GB3 driver McKenzy Cresswell for the rest of the season, from the Hungarian round with PHM Racing. 


Though the pressure is higher on this level, Shin speaks very positively of his experiences:


"I'd say F3 is quite a step up, because the regional championships, you're there to learn,” he said. “Even if you're just trying to get results, you're still progressing as a racing driver.


Credit: FIA F3

"With FIA F3 and sharing the paddock with F2 and F1, it feels like the area where people come to perform and really show their abilities. There's limited track time: you get practice, qualifying, and two races, so you can't really afford to make mistakes and take your time getting there. You have to be on it and straight on the pace.”


Many racing fans may not see the point in driving for select races away from your main campaign. However, Shin simply explains the rationale behind his move.


"When I went in, I was going on a completely blank slate. The reason I did it was to experience the level I need to get up to and get an understanding for the environment I will be participating in the future. It's better to have a little experience than to go cold turkey when I do it, say, next year or the year after."



2024 Winter Plans

For the winter of 2024, Shin — in accordance with his philosophy on them — will take part in a winter series, this time the Formula Regional Oceania Championship with M2 Competition. Going into a series with many new tracks he’s never raced, how will he adjust?


"I'm going there to learn and gain experience,” he simply states. “It's going to be a bit different from [F4] UAE, where they only used three tracks. In FROC, we're going to use five different tracks, which are all known to be challenging with little runoff and very bumpy — kind of like British circuits.

 

"I'm hoping to develop as much as I can as a driver while I prepare for my main season."


As for what lies ahead in his main summer season, Shin gives a teaser.


 "Unfortunately, I can't say at the moment because nothing's been announced. I can say it will be a European-based racing series, stepping away from GB3. That's all I can say for now!"


To keep up and cheer for Shin for his 2024 FROC campaign, the season will begin on January 19th at Taupo.


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