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Mud, Sweat and Gravel: FIA World Rallycross Championship Concludes 2023 Season in Hong Kong Harbourfront

Mud, Sweat and Gravel: FIA World Rallycross Championship Concludes 2023 Season in Hong Kong Harbourfront

As the World Rallycross Championship ended with a double-header in Hong Kong, the event’s chief consultant and former FIA coordinator Wesley Wan tells us why this event is crucial for the city’s future in motorsports.

Although we don’t have a grand prix in Hong Kong like that in Singapore, this city’s motorsport fans were nonetheless rewarded for their passion last month when the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) brought its World Rallycross Championship to the Central Harbourfront. Held over three days, the event featured a double-header that served as rounds nine and 10 for the year-long competition, with the champion crowned on Sunday. This year, that title went once again to Swedish driver Johan Kristoffersson, who’s won the championship for four consecutive years and six times in total.

“It’s been fantastic coming here,” said Kristoffersson. “I can’t think the team enough for all the effort they’ve put in. They work every waking hour, sacrificing time with their families to give us the best car possible, so to reward them like this is fantastic – and there’s no better place to celebrate than here in Hong Kong.”

A resounding success among local enthusiasts, it was the first proper racing event held here since 2019, when Formula E made its last appearance. It was also one of a handful of major motorsport events in Hong Kong held during the past decade, the first being the Red Bull Formula 1 demonstration back in 2011.

The event’s chief consultant, former FIA Asian Zone coordinator and World Motorsport Council China deputy member Wesley Wan, told me over lunch with former Formula 1 driver Mika Salo that bringing the championship finale here wasn’t easy. “The most important thing is funding,” he says. “In Singapore, 70 percent of the funding for Formula 1 is supported by the government, and the remaining 30 percent is from private enterprises. That’s how they make it happen. But here, we got minimal government support. To build a circuit from scratch is incredibly expensive. The whole thing cost about HK$90 million, but what we received from the government was far from enough.

“There’s also the issue of sponsorship,” he explained. “We had very few local sponsors this year – the attitude was that they want to wait and see what happens. If this year is successful, then maybe next year they’ll want to sponsor us. Hopefully they will, because we need that local sponsorship from the private sector.”

Given the financial demands and complex logistics, many might question why Hong Kong decided to hold the event in the first place. For Wan, however, the race was more than just his own passion project. “Of course, my passion is motorsports and I want to introduce it to Hong Kong,” he said. “But whether it’s coming in person or watching it on TV, fans around the world following these championships will be following the events, so it’s great exposure for Hong Kong as a world city. The circuit is in Central, right on the harbourfront, so our cityscape provides the most spectacular backdrop. And for racing fans here, it’s a good opportunity to watch an international motorsports event in their own city.”

He also believes that, tourism aside, holding two rounds of the World Rallycross Championship here also promotes interest in automobiles. “Hong Kong has a rich automobile culture, but the reality is that we don’t have anything here. We don’t have a car manufacturer, we don’t have a circuit, we have no opportunity for motorsports to take place here. But the city has a big crowd of motorsports fans who travel around the world to watch these events, so what we’re trying to do is make the government aware of the fact that this is a sustainable sport and a large international event that Hong Kong should be investing in. In terms of the automobile industry, Hong Kong has always been a window for China, so these events will affect the whole environment in the Greater Bay Area or even beyond.”

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Moreover, Wan hopes that the three-year contract with the World Rallycross Championship will lay new foundations for the further development of motorsports in the region.

“Liberty Media has done a great job with Formula 1 since taking over. There aren’t a lot of fans in America, but they have three races there this year and they’re really trying to drive interest in that region. That’s what we should be doing in China,” he tells me. “We have an F1 race in Shanghai that’s returning next year after a hiatus, but that’s just the northern part of the country. We need another one in southern China, perhaps between Hong Kong and Guangdong.

“There’s plenty of land there where they’re building a new science park, but there’s enough space for a Formula 1 circuit as well. Not only will it attract regional fans, but it’ll also provide a training ground to develop new drivers from our country or city. We need space to train local drivers so they can move up to an international level. No matter how fast you drive locally or in Zhuhai, you always need to have another level above you that you can compete in. That’s what helps you improve. But to do that, we need the facilities. When you build up a group of Chinese drivers, then
you have the foundation to bring in international races.”

Source: Prestige Online

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