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Joni Lim

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Jaime Chiew

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Fiona Bartholomeusz

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AN ASTON MARTIN V8 VANTAGE ROADSTER

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Ong Chih Ching

Drive, She Said

Flashy cars are no longer just for the big boys. Geoffrey Eu meets a fast-growing breed of women behind some of the hottest wheels in town.
Nov 26, 2016 5:50 AM

A fancy sports car pulls up next to you at the traffic light. It's a low-slung, high-performance number with all the frills and a soundtrack to match. You can't help but look to see who's behind the wheel: an attractive female with long hair and designer sunglasses.

Do you: a) sink lower into the seat of your practical family car and pretend not to notice? b) lean over with a smirk and mouth the words "nice curves" while pointing in the general direction of her car? c) think to yourself: "now there's a successful career woman who's got great taste in motorcars"?

In Singapore, where the growing supercar population and the maximum speed limit are diametrically opposed concepts, women drivers - especially those in flashy cars - haven't been getting the respect they deserve. Instead, they tend to be on the wrong end of remarks about sugar daddies or parallel parking.

The four women and their cars featured in the following pages will dispel those notions. There are many more like them. These independent, successful career women are not defined by the cars they own. They simply enjoy being in the driver's seat.

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JAIME CHIEW DRIVES: A LEXUS RC F Jaime Chiew likes driving cars, but she loves playing golf. She's good at both but in her book, the first rule of vehicle ownership is "it must be able to accommodate my golf bag". A brief flirtation with a two-seat supercar several years ago ended badly, when her golf bag occupied the passenger seat once too often.

Ms Chiew, 55, a piano teacher-turned-businesswoman, has been running a hardware materials supply company with her husband for the past 25 years. She manages the China side of the company while he takes care of the Middle East business.

As a woman in the building and construction industry who has been traveling to Hong Kong, Guangzhou and other parts of southern China since the early 1990s, she knows how to adapt to any situation. "I've gotten so used to it," she says. "In our trade, we're dealing with guys all the time. I had to earn their respect. It was a totally different world from teaching little children how to play the piano."

Her earliest car-related memories date to the late-1960s and travelling to school in a private vehicle. It was a car whose back seat had been converted to include a second row of seats so that eight children could squeeze in. "I was so happy when my dad bought an Opel and my mother got a second-hand Fiat," she says.

Ms Chiew bought her first car in 1980 - an old Nissan with a rusty bottom. "It was just a tool to get from one place to another but as time went on, I started looking out for better-performing cars." As the business became more successful, she was able to trade up and now drives a Lexus RC F, a race-car inspired coupe with the ability to get her to her tee-time - or anywhere else - on time.

It represents a full circle of sorts for her because the first sports car she owned, over 20 years ago, was a limited-edition Toyota Celica - a vehicle her son referred to as "the Batman car" because it was depicted in comic books.

While she doesn't claim to be a car enthusiast - she describes herself as a "steady, well-behaved" driver - Ms Chiew enjoys the occasional high-speed adrenaline rush. At the Sepang race track earlier this year she learned to drive fast while under control; the best part was beating her husband's lap time.

Ms Chiew has a 10.4 handicap and plays golf at least twice a week, switching cars with her husband when she needs to pick up friends. If it's just the two of them, however, they can drive her RC F - happily, there's enough space in the trunk for both their golf bags.

FIONA BARTHOLOMEUSZ DRIVES: A BMW I8 On the cusp of a new millennium and fresh from stints in the corporate and publishing worlds, Fiona Bartholomeusz grabbed opportunity by the scruff of the neck and rewrote her own destiny. You might say she was driven to do it.

Armed with a positive attitude, strong work ethic and a straight-ahead manner, she founded creative agency Formul8. It started as a three-person team and now has a staff of 45. "I'm the only ad agency MD who didn't work in an ad agency before I started one - having a fresh perspective worked," she says.

That was almost 17 years ago, and she hasn't done much looking back since. Success in the initial years was followed by a big break in Dubai when she won the bid to launch Meydan, a massive (200-million-square-foot) government-backed integrated development with the Dubai World Cup - the world's richest horse race - as its centrepiece.

Bartholomeusz, 48, isn't likely to be mistaken for a mild-mannered type anytime soon - and that's exactly how she wants it. In fact, she named her related social media and digital content company Type A. "My friends joke that it stands for 'Awesome' but they know a lot better," she chuckles.

The same go-getter spirit applies to her active lifestyle - you just have to look past the hair and the high heels. "I'm a guy's kind of girl," says Bartholomeusz of her masculine side. "I took technical in school, not home economics. I drive like a guy, drink like a guy and cuss like a guy - I've even been Best Man at somebody's wedding."

She's gone skydiving, taken flying lessons, travelled to remote corners of the world and even plans to skydive off Mount Everest next year. Going for a few hot laps around Germany's Nurburgring race circuit is high on her bucket list.

Bartholomeusz is Exhibit A when it comes to debunking stereotypes about chicks driving nice cars. Hers happens to be a stylish BMW i8 hybrid sports car, whose futuristic looks and state-of-art engineering appealed to her. "I bought it because I thought it was ahead of its time," she says.

"I've always loved cars and driving. It's a time I call my own, is both calming and exhilarating, and I'm happy as a lark when I have an open road in front of me and a car that does my bidding." She readily admits that although driver training programmes have taught her to corner at ridiculous speeds, "from a skills perspective I'm better as a city driver." She adds, "As a person you eventually come into your own and you don't have to make excuses for what you have or how you live, as long as your conscience is clear."

ONG CHIH CHING DRIVES: AN ASTON MARTIN V8 VANTAGE ROADSTER Planes, trains, yachts and automobiles hold such a deep fascination for Ong Chih Ching that travelling significant distances using any combination of the above ranks right up there among her favourite things to do.

"I love the romance of travel," says Ms Ong, Co-founder and Executive Director of property developer and hospitality group KOP, which specialises in luxury housing and high-end resorts like The Ritz-Carlton Residences and Montigo Resorts. Equipped with a reputation for unconventional business ideas and a sense of adventure, Ms Ong is likely to show up in locations as diverse as an icebreaker to Antarctica, a ski lodge in Aspen, a luxury train to Machu Picchu or even an unpaved road in a former Soviet republic with a name ending in '-stan'.

When it comes to cars though, Ms Ong is inclined to choose from the fast, rare and highly desirable variety - an apt description of her current drive: an Aston Martin V8 Vantage Roadster. "I've always liked cars," she says. "My ultimate car for a long time was an Aston, and then I started looking at sport utility vehicles (she also has a Hummer H3 in the garage).

As a youngster, Ms Ong owned a large collection of Matchbox cars and added to it every time she did well in school, rewarded by her parents. By the time she was old enough to drive, she was a law student in England, where "I literally sat through 10 lessons and bought my first car (a Renault 5) for GBP270." When she returned to Singapore, her father handed her a 20-year-old Mercedes. "It was a rust-bucket but I drove it around like a sports car," she says.

After she made some money on the stock market early on in her career, she bought an entry-level BMW. Over the years, she's owned a variety of cars and driven in challenging conditions, including a once-in-a-generation blizzard in France and off-road European rallies. "I don't typically like mainstream choices," she says.

Driving holidays in places like New Zealand, Colorado and Tuscany are on her agenda, and being in almost anything with four wheels will do. It's the journey that matters most. "I'm even thinking of having a second home somewhere that has good driving roads - that's how much I love cars," she says.

Ms Ong is hoping to incorporate her love of travel in the near future: one of her current projects involves introducing a luxury tourist train that retraces sections of the Silk Route in Kazakhstan. With vast landscapes and great views to enjoy, the only downside may be that she doesn't have a train driver's licence. Yet.

JONI LIM DRIVES: A FERRARI 458 SPECIALE For her 30th birthday last year, Joni Lim's father asked her to 'pick a car, any car' - from the showroom of a certain Maranello-based manufacturer - so she did.

Of course, a Ferrari isn't just 'any car' and a 458 Speciale isn't just any Ferrari: this mid-engine beauty is the brutally quick, track-ready supercar of choice for more than a few hard-core driving enthusiasts.

"I love to drive and my dad, who really loves performance cars, has been the biggest influence on me since I was a kid," says Ms Lim, who despite her age is determined to prove herself in the business world. She was in the yacht chartering business before starting Prominent Land, a boutique property development firm, several years ago. When not on the road or track, Ms Lim buys old bungalows and turns them into premium homes. She is currently building a 27-unit property near Tanglin Road.

Ms Lim's red Prancing Horse is lighter, faster and equipped with a host of high-tech modifications over the 'regular' 458 Italia. It also has distinctive blue-and-white stripes running down the centre of the car. "Based on my character - I'm quite sporty, extroverted and I love to be in control - and my personal interests, the car seemed to be the right choice for me."

Still, "It's not just about driving though, it's about educating myself on what the car can do," says Ms Lim. Her mother Linda adds, "You have to push your boundaries - that is her dad's philosophy."

Taking a pilota course on Ferrari's Fiorano test track, going on organised drives to Malaysia and honing her technique at the Sepang Formula One race track have helped Ms Lim to become a better and more confident driver, "but I still have a long way to go," she says. "Learning to fully concentrate and anticipate things has been helpful in my work, too. I've gone through a steep learning curve with both, but I really enjoy the challenge."

Starting with a 'safety-first' Volvo during her university days in Melbourne and moving later on to Peugeot, Maserati and BMW marques back in Singapore, Ms Lim has been focused on fast cars from young. She accompanied her father on many drives and family bonding time often involves road trips to various destinations in Malaysia. It helps that there's a full stable of drool-worthy cars at her disposal, including a Porsche 911 Turbo (or two), a Ferrari California (belonging to younger sister Belinda), a Bentley GT and a Lamborghini Aventador.

"My family has absolute trust in me and that motivates me to do well, whether I'm behind the wheel or driving my business," she says. She does allow that she enjoys driving fast while her sister prefers speed in a different form. "She's into adventure activities like sky-diving and rollercoasters - me, I just love to drive."

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