Each time I’m at a race event and I tell someone I’m from Singapore, without fail I will get asked about the progress of the Changi Motorsports Hub – the supposed permanent race track that Singapore was to have next year. The project has sadly been plagued by one terrible incident after another and now there is a possibility that we may not even have a circuit at all. At this point now I only have resignation that if the track comes up eventually, it will be a bonus for us all.
In four weekends in the last quarter of 2011, I attended four different motorsports events and saw Singaporean drivers do proud on the regional and international stage. From a Singaporean-owned team winning their fourth Super Taikyu title, to the first Singaporean females participating in the Sepang 1000KM race, to the young ones racing at the final round of the Asian Karting Open Championship and bringing home some trophies, and finally to the smoking tyres of the drifters at Formula Drift Malaysia; our local drivers continue to pursue their passion across the various aspects of the sport.
This, despite all the drama from building a permanent racing circuit and the limited commercial and media support, shows how there is talent, commitment and a willingness to develop the sport to higher level. Families and individuals are doling out pennies by the trillions to go racing in the absence of physical infrastructure and commercialism of motorsports locally.
As local driver Yuey Tan – who races in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia (PCCA) – puts it, “There is driver development, industry development and mass market participation. I also believe we should strive to develop these all in tandem in order to make the sport grow. Firstly we need good drivers. To do this we need professional standard operating teams, good mechanics, work ethic, precision coupled with the engineering prowess of experienced race engineers. Unfortunately these elements are not here and this is largely because we do not have a circuit.”
Land was allotted for a proper race track to be built in Changi and then SG Changi won the bid for tender to build and operate what would have been the Changi Motorsports Hub. However, hope for that is diminishing quickly as the plug was pulled on SG Changi in December. With one setback after another – internal fighting, suspected corruption and financial inability – the plans for Changi Motorsports Hub have screeched to a halt. Singapore Sports Council, who was appointed to supervise and manage the consortium to ensure that it sticks to the contract, will consider putting out a second bid for tender only if there is enough public and commercial interest to do so.
Apart from driver development, there is a need to develop the industry and that means money. Yuey added, “In the sport, much of the money comes from sponsors. We do not have that culture here of media distribution, but this culture of sponsorship can and will grow if teams and race series improve their media packages in quality and distribution. At the end of the day, media distribution is a major KPI in what a sponsor wants – High quality video, audio, photos of motorsport. Relevant targeting is what needs to be done but right now, it’s difficult as karting is the only sport in existence locally.”
After providing the performers (the drivers) and the stage (race series for them to compete in), the last major component to complete the equation is the fans. There is already a healthy base of motorsports fans in Singapore but at the grassroots level where it all begins, there is much work to be done to generate greater demand and awareness.
Singapore has shown what we are capable of – by pulling off a successful Formula One night race – but therein lies another ticking bomb, as the renewal of the rights to continue hosting F1 is still in consideration by the government.
Rodolfo Avila, who lost the PCCA championship by just two points this year, has raced on the Singapore makeshift Marina Bay circuit a couple of times already. He said, “Definitely, the latest news about the Changi Motorsports Hub is not good news for Singapore and Singaporean motorsports. Fortunately the country has people with the passion and willingness to develop the sport. A permanent racing circuit will boost the interest in the sport beyond anything you have seen before and it will also help the local drivers to go further. Singapore is already hosting one of the most imposing Formula One Grand Prix and it would be a waste losing the opportunity of being a motorsport hub in Southeast Asia. If Singapore aims to have a driver in Formula One one day, you need to create the base to do so. The Singapore Karting Championship is a great first step but there is the need to having something afterward.”
“It seems that Singapore is starting to lose grip on what motorsports represent. It is a sport that will need to be grown from the grassroots, starting with karting. Right now the focus for Singapore is F1; though four years have passed and nothing has been done to repair the situation at grassroots. It’s like everything else – You learn it then develop tiers of development. Unfortunately, due to its high costs, motorsports need the media distribution and glamour of it to sustain. If we all want to go racing, this is what we will need. It isn’t that hard if we all stick to the correct mindset,” Yuey concluded.
Agreeing with him is Singaporean David Wong, team owner and founder of PETRONAS Syntium Team that has achieved international recognition and success: “I spent the last 21 years developing a race team and drivers that have since competed all over the world at various levels of motorsports. Building a motorsports hub requires a lot of forward thinking and planning for the future, beyond the dollars and cents. For Singapore to step up its motorsports sector and produce a world-class racing driver, a track will benefit lots but the right mindset is essential too.”