Having been to international school all the while, Adderly Fong was more comfortable speaking to me in English, which I didn’t mind at all since English is my first language anyway. The 22-year-old Chinese driver is in his first year of racing cars – after having only been in formula cars (aka single-seaters) – and never expected to be clinching race wins.
In the inaugural Audi R8 LMS Cup, a brand new one-make series by the German car manufacturer, Adderly surprised himself and everybody when he finished within the top three at the pre-season testing. First racing with Sino Vision Racing, he qualified 3rd at the season opener at Shanghai, before finishing 4th in Round 1 and then winning Round 2 after successfully avoiding all the aggressive lead-changing between Alex Yoong and Marchy Lee to hold on to the front spot.
That win was his first ever race win in his entire motorsport career.
At Zhuhai, he sported new team colours when KLM came onboard to sponsor him. He qualified second and then finished second in Round 3. He secured his second race win of his life in Round 4 when race leaders Alex Yoong and Marchy Lee got involved in a dramatic last-lap incident with each other.
When I attended the third race meeting at Ordos in August, Adderly qualified 2nd but made a mistake in Round 5 and failed to finish on the podium, coming in 5th. He managed to get back on the podium in Round 6 with a 2nd place though.
Curious to know how he managed a smooth transition from formula cars to GT cars, I chatted with the young driver at the end of the weekend.
Q: How did you get started in racing?
A: I missed out the karting stage entirely and went straight into formula cars. It all began when my dad bought a Porsche and took it to Zhuhai International Circuit (ZIC) . I remember clearly that it was March 2004 when I followed him there and saw the Zhuhai-based Asia Racing Team (ART) pushing a formula car out. My dad then asked if I wanted to try it so we spoke to the people at ART.
I was 14 then and I always had an interest in cars, but I never thought of racing. The only form of racing I did was on my Playstation! There was a waiting list so I had to wait for a year till my 15th birthday before I could go on the formula car.
Q: That’s quite a wait. So how did your first formula car experience go?
A: I was lucky to get a slot as someone backed out. I did the pay-and-drive driver training programme and on the second day I totalled the car. The coach still put me back into the car on Sunday and I didn’t have a fear at all, unlike some kids who develop a fear after crashing. I only had one fear – the repair bill!
Initially, I didn’t like driving those cars – it was hot, tough, my neck was hurting in school and I couldn’t sit straight in class. It took a few years to get used to the G-forces. But soon I took to like it and I used to skip school every Thursday to head to ZIC to practise. You can’t get a racing licence till 16 so I just kept training every week.
Q: Then when was your first race?
A: My first race was on my 16th birthday (I know right – there’s something about my birthday being significant milestones). That was the Asian Formula Renault in Shanghai in 2006. I only did the China rounds though, missed out on Malaysia. It was difficult and I knew it was tough with a lot to learn. I also did Formula V6 Asia and in 2007 I had a big crash in the first race in Malaysia. I lost a lot of confidence from that experience but I got back on track and got some podium finishes in that series.
2008, at the age of 18, I moved to the German Formula 3 series as my dad felt that I needed to take the big step to get going in my racing career. I struggled a lot there! Competition levels there are so intense and the pace between drivers is just half a second, whereas in Asia the gap between drivers can be as big as 5 seconds. It was a humbling experience for me – you think you are alright in terms of Asian standards and then you go to Europe and you get a shock. It wasn’t easy to accept and it even got to a point where I didn’t want to drive anymore. It was also affecting school as I kept flying in and out and I wasn’t the best in studying.
Q: But you carried on anyway?
A: Yeah, my dad kept pushing me to keep going in the worst of times and I did the full season of German Formula 3 in 2009. It was an academic gap year so I had no school and could focus on racing. I was finishing in the top 10 but it was nothing spectacular.
2010 I moved to the British Formula 3 series and at that point, I wasn’t very happy about life. I mean, I was glad I was racing but I was on a budget and in F3, it’s like a mini F1 series where you needed to modify your cars for racing and all that. So there I was lacking in resources and in addition, I had to manage the team. Compared to say, Carlin, they are another league altogether and their drivers had the confidence to improve.
Other than F3, in October 2010 I did Superleague in Ordos then Macau.
Q: Was there a turning point?
A: There was one race at Brands Hatch where I qualified crap, in 17th. It rained on the formation lap so I missed the start to change tyres but that call paid off and I eventually finished 3rd, becoming the first Chinese to be on the British F3 podium. That gave me plenty of motivation.
Q: Did things improve from there?
A: Not really. I continued with British F3 for 2011 and this time I had a team-mate. We still struggled on set-up and not so much on speed. The car wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do and again it was a crap year. I was only 21 and I had to manage a team, and I didn’t have the time for university. At the Macau F3 race, I only came in 10th and by then the championship was so crap that it was hard for my father to keep believing. He wasn’t keen about the championship results at all and honestly, if you haven’t really matured in your driving then there is no point going to the next level of GP2 or its equivalent.
Q: Oh dear, sounded like you hit a wall there. What happened next?
A: Then I got a call from Audi about this new Audi R8 LMS Cup one-make series and they invited me to go for the test. I finished in the top three during the test and that felt good. Then I got a win (in Round 2) in the first race weekend! I was initially driving #27 but after that win, KLM came forward and they wanted a winning driver, so everything came together and I’m now driving the KLM #68 car. Other than this Audi series, I’m still racing in British F3, but this time in the national B class.
Q: Well done. First time racing in GT cars and you are scoring wins, how different are GT cars from formula cars?
A: Joining Audi has matured as a driver for sure. Between GT cars and formula cars, braking is very different. In a GT car there is not so much downforce and the car is heavier so there is more weight. Initially it feels like you’re not braking but towards the end of the braking zone you end up being too slow.
Also, the R8 LMS is a very sophisticated car with lots of advanced technologies and there are a lot of electronics to get used to, so I must understand them to get used to them. I don’t think I’m still using the car 100 per cent and I’ve not adapted it to my style yet. Jumping into a formula car any time any day is a lot more familiar for me.
Q: You were leading the championship after four rounds, coming into the Ordos weekend at the top of the leaderboard and proving yourself a force to be reckoned with. Were you expecting any of this?
A: No, I was not expecting this at the start. I mean, I thought I would be quick but not winning quick. I never knew what to do or what needed to be done to win and I’ve learnt so much so quickly in a short period of time. Before this Audi series, I never had a race win and I couldn’t believe it. Prior to this, I’ve ever only seen Alex Yoong on TV and I thought I wouldn’t be able to catch him.
Q: How is driving the Audi R8 LMS like?
A: The car is a great car and it doesn’t behave in a funny way. In fact, as you get to know it better, it becomes a part of you, like an arm or a leg.
Q: What is most challenging about racing?
A: I have to say qualifying is most difficult. You have to get that one lap at 100 per cent. Tyres are important here. The rubber is best when it’s new of course, as more rubber means keeping the temperatures better and the best time to get the hot lap is during the first few laps when the tyres are hot. But the thing is you don’t know when the grip will kick in from the new set and then you need to find a position where there is no traffic on the track so you can get a clear run. Sometimes you choose to go out late so you can avoid traffic but then you have to hope that the session doesn’t get red-flagged. There are a lot of unknowns, just like how racing is so unpredictable.
For example, at the qualifying session for Ordos, I was one of the first to go out and I stayed out long. Then Alex stopped after a few laps due to car problems and the session got red-flagged. By the time we went around, in and out again, the tyres were cold already. My plan was to do two sets of five laps actually. When qualifying restarted, it was very difficult for the tyres to re-heat and hence the speed couldn’t be improved.
Q: How has racing developed you as a person?
A: It definitely matured me as a person. I encounter a lot of liars, politics and then there are people trying to trick you and take your money. I’ve seen many parts of the world through racing and I’ve had to do a lot of stuff myself, such as managing a team at a young age. I also learn how to interpret information and know what’s real.
Q: What’s your goal in racing?
A: Formula 1. My deadline to myself is to reach F1 by 24 or 25 years old.
Q: What if you don’t make it to Formula 1?
A: Then I may not drive anymore after that. To be honest, I don’t enjoy GT cars as much as formula cars. I want to go to Indy Lights or the World Series by Renault. I know it is all a big gamble and everything is still up in the air. If all else fails, I guess I’ll go back to university. Hopefully God is on my side!
Q: What will you be doing to help yourself get to F1?
A: Other than driving, I will be putting effort to build myself as a whole package. I realised that a driver needs to be a package and only this year I realised I’m an advertising board. So, I will start building fan base, gaining media coverage, doing more interviews, increasing awareness with platforms like Facebook and all that.
Q: Talk to me about Ordos. You came into the weekend riding high at the top of the standings.
A: The Ordos weekend started well and I finished 1st in Practice 1 and 2nd in Practice 2. I’ve always been in open-wheeled formula cars and this is my first season in GT cars so every day I’m still learning how to drive. I was hoping to win both rounds at Ordos and I am disappointed as I set a goal to win both races and I didn’t achieve it. I will fight to the end though – this championship is gonna be close, I can tell you that. I believe that we have to try to minimise our mistakes for maximum results so we can do better and get closer to our goals.
For more of my photos at the Audi R8 LMS Cup Rounds 5 and 6 at Ordos, view here.
Read my Postcard from Ordos here.