China's quest to be best
Motorsport boss Zhan Guojun sees staging the MotoGP as a key step to excellence
It is perhaps fitting that the world's biggest producer of motorcycles will finally be part of the MotoGP circuit.
China overtook Japan last year as the world's largest manufacturer of motorcycles, with exports exceeding 17 million bikes and accounting for about half the world's output.
'In a way, the MotoGP is coming home,' said Zhan Guojun, vice president of the Federation of Automobile Sports of China (Fasc), underlining that the mainland has a substantial relationship with the motorcycle industry. He said it was high time that the world's most populous nation became part of the world's most prestigious two-wheel circuit. Another point of interest was that the series upon which MotoGP was founded began in 1949, the same year China became a communist state.
'The MotoGP is a very good platform to show China's products,' said Zhan, who is also vice president of the Chinese Motor Sports Association. 'Some Chinese teams are participating in the race [although they are using Japanese-made bikes] and this will enhance China's motorcycle industry in the eyes of the world.'
The day when China uses Chinese-made motorcycles to race in the MotoGP against established giants like Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati is a firm ambition for many Chinese. 'China still lags behind the European and Japanese manufacturers in motorcycle racing technology but the gap is closing. The Europeans, for instance, have about 100 years of history of racing. China entered the frame somewhat later but it remains a common dream for the Chinese to one day race with our own bikes,' said Zhan.
'We realise there is a gap between our domestic and international manufacturers and it would be some time before we can catch up with our counterparts. We haven't had circuits for motorcycle racing until recently [in Zhuhai and Beijing].
'It all really depends on China's motorcycle enterprises and whether they can make a competitive racing bike since our industry has largely been involved in making ordinary road bikes with a smaller exhaust capacity. But we are making inroads in racing. We have circuits in Shenzhen, Chengdu and Xian and our federation has already had a domestic championship for the past three years.'
Zhan said the future was bright for China in motorcycle racing since teams like Zongchen had achieved considerable success in the mainland's first foray into international racing several years ago.
On the manufacturing front, Zhan said there are between 100 to 200 different Chinese motorcycle brands with several big companies producing more than three million bikes a year. 'China's bikes are exported all over the world with Indonesia and Vietnam being two of our biggest markets,' he said.
In fact, Chinese-made motorcycles are sold to over 150 countries and regions with Youyiguan, or Friendship Gate - located in south China's Pingxiang City, bordering Vietnam - China's largest motorcycle exporter with 3.44 million produced in 2003 alone.
Motorcycles produced primarily in Chongqing, the largest city in western China, were mainly exported to Vietnam and other southeast Asian nations and mainland bikes have about a 60 per cent market share in Vietnam. Other regions like Africa, South America and Europe have been introduced to Chinese-made motorcycles and they were well received there, said Zhan.
In 1980, 49,000 bikes were produced, but that figure jumped to a staggering 11.27 million in 1999. China is also the world's biggest consumer of the two-wheel vehicle.
In 2000, China had 45 million registered motorcycle owners, making it a nation with one of the world's biggest number of bikers.