China is constantly in the headlines in many foreign newspapers, magazines, TV shows. As a French citizen living in China for the past 7 years, I am amazed at how much is written about China in my own country. A few years back it was the year of China in France, the following year it was the year of France in China, exhibits, shows, conferences, it was a great way for both countries to get to know each other better. But even if China is on the forefront of the media all around the world, in many areas it is still at a growing stage and going through the learning process, but not for long.
Motorsport is no exception to the rule; China is learning but is learning fast, really fast. Europe has had a racing culture for much longer, people have enjoyed going to events for years with their family, people have driven cars for over 100 years, but it seems that slowly, the western world is not what is used to be for motorsport, it is sort of stagnating while China is leveraging on motorsport more and more through the involvement of car manufacturers, race teams, promoters.
China is catching up, motorsport is booming. It is impressive to see so many events of international standard coming to China one by one over the years, not all successful right away but all trying their best to succeed: FIA GT, F1, MotoGP, V8, DTM, Le Mans, WTCC. The age of China begging to get events is over. I remember a few years back, as I was working at Zhuhai international Circuit, we had the visit of an American promoter who wanted to discuss a historic F1 event to take place in ZIC. As much as we welcomed his ideas and his vision, and were open to listen to his offer, he had not yet realized that Chinese Motorsport Companies were now in a position to negotiate, partner with series and championships rather than just buy events at any cost. So when he offered for us to purchase the rights to his event for a few million dollars, the deal was off immediately.
And by this simple anecdote, I just want to show that China’s motorsport market has already moved to a different level over the past few years. It took time from the first Hong Kong Beijing Rally, the first GT race downtown Zhuhai, the first F1 Race in Shanghai, to put China motorsport on the map of international motorsport but if we look now, in 2011, what events come to China, what deals are made, what partnerships are signed and the level of sponsorship and involvement of all the partners, teams and federations, it is a completely different scene than the one in the 1990′s, at the start of China motorsport.
Obviously, all is not perfect and a few things have to improve. When an industry grows fast, the foundations can be rocked. I would say that one of the key things to improve is the relationship between all the actors of the industry: promoters, circuits, teams, federations, sponsors, it could often be smoother and healthier. Most parties are passionate about this sport, which is great and necessary, but often, business priorities wildly take over. At times, the struggles that take place amongst the actors seem unnecessary: who will promote what, who will organize what. But it is also part of any growing business community, we all want a piece of the cake and it is no different in China motorsport, actually maybe it is even more obvious because of the glamorous image of motorsport and the strong media coverage. But let’s not forget that we all have a responsibility towards the sport we love, the image we give of it is what people will remember. Small to big operators all contribute to that image. The best we do for China’s motorsport future, the more business will flow back to the community.
2011 is going to be another impressive year with new events and a super busy month of November in South China with WTCC in GIC and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in Zhuhai for the final round, followed by the world renowned Macau Grand Prix. 2011 is also: news circuits, new teams, new Chinese drivers on the local and foreign scenes, and more foreign businesses looking to invest in our sport, let’s look forward to it and make it grow together.
Benjamin Grenon has lived in China for the past 7 years. He is Managing Director of SpeedShare