A 12-year-old with Asperger Syndrome who prospered through his love of motor racing has won a junior karting championship.
Rogerio Mendes, from Basildon, won the Summer 2015 Bayford Championship in Kent on Saturday, 17 October in just his second year racing the Kent track, beating 31 other drivers with far more experience of the track.
From April, Rogerio finished on the podium in five out of the seven races, winning three of them and always finishing in the top four, as he won by 279 points to 259 points from his nearest rival.
Rogerio, a pupil at Castledon School, Wickford, said: “At the time I was speechless and my heart was beating as fast as a bullet train when they said I was the Champion. Now I feel very proud.
“The sounds of racing cars just makes me feel happy. I love learning how they work. It has also helped me to find my closest friends because they are interested in the same subject.”
Having been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when he was eight, and told about the condition at 10, his parents, Danielle and Roger Mendes feel he has gone from strength to strength by researching and understanding his condition and using it to his advantage.
However, it is his passion for cars and his introduction to go-karting at the age of five which Roger feels has been the major positive outlet in getting his son to come out of his shell.
Roger said: “He always liked cars, engines, how things mechanically worked. It was when he started racing and started meeting other children who were into what he was into that he broke out of his shell and suddenly his problems with socialising and communicating weren’t a problem.
“When he is around these children he is completely relaxed, he talks freely and you wouldn’t guess that there is any sort of diagnosis on the autism spectrum – it’s quite amazing to watch.”
Representing Brentwood in karting, where he often trains three or four times a week, Roger adds that the support of the karting team there has been hugely beneficial, and praised how they help Rogerio.
Rogerio finished third out of 40 drivers in the Brentwood Championship, which finished on Sunday, 25 October, who race at a much higher standard than Bayford.
Racing every Sunday over 12 weeks, Rogerio achieved the most fastest laps and finished on the podium in five out of the 12 races.
Brentwood Race Director, Dan Lee, said: “To begin with when he started we told him to go away and get more practise; however rather than do what most people do and turn their back on it and give up, he pushed on better than I’ve seen any other driver do and completely turned it around and now he is one of our top drivers.
“You wouldn’t know that he’s got any learning disability. While he’s on the track and he’s got his crash helmet on he’s just another driver. The only difference is that he’s faster than most of the others.”
With the backing of his parents and three-year-old sister Alaina, Rogerio currently wants to become a driver, but his father feels that so long as he is getting something out of it and enjoying himself he doesn’t mind what he goes on to do.
Rogerio has now set his sights on competing in the Junior Subaru Challenge next year and Roger said he is extremely proud of his son and excited to see what 2016 holds.
He added: “I often have people say ‘How do you cope with it?’ Well I say, Rogerio doesn’t ‘cope with it’ and neither do we; he lives with it, he accepts it, he understands it, it’s who he is and is what makes him successful in what he does.”