A nation's driving force

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 July, 2011, 12:00am


The dust has settled on the Ordos International Circuit - as it does daily over everything and everyone out here on the high plains of Inner Mongolia - and Rodolfo Avila is reflecting on what he has just witnessed.

The 24-year-old Macanese driver has been in the thick of the action out on the track, staking his claim for this season's Porsche Carrera Cup Asia title with a second in round five on the Saturday and - thanks to a cool, calm and collected effort on Sunday - taking his first chequered flag of the season in round six.

The entire 26-car field has been treated to something a little bit special over the weekend.

The unique Ordos circuit - built in the shape of a horse, the animal that helped give rise from these parts to the great Mongol Genghis Khan and his all-conquering hordes - has been tested by the series' Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars and has come through with flying colours.

And then there's the little matter of the setting. Ordos - a city surrounded by ancient history - today lies bustling away in testament to the ambition of modern China.

Neither fact has been lost on Avila, either, and the Team Jebsen driver looks on wide-eyed at all that he has seen both at the track and beyond.

'I have to say this is an interesting track, certainly very different and very different for China,' he says. 'It's fun to drive and this has been a great experience.

'As for the city, it is still growing but it is clean and nice and modern and in a few years I am sure that it will be a very nice city to be in.'

The Chinese government is certainly hoping so. At the moment, the expansion of Ordos almost beggars belief. Dubbed China's 'empty city', here stand thousands of buildings - from tower blocks to luxury villas - most of them empty. Conservative estimates put the hoped-for population at more than a million - others say more than 10 million was the plan - but at present it stands at less than 500,000.

The deserts that surround Ordos are dotted with massive construction sites, satellite suburbs springing up everywhere, linked by sprawling motorways. And everywhere you look there are recently planted trees, saplings mostly and their numbers must count in the millions. The idea is to keep nature at bay, to stop the erosion that comes with construction and with the reason Ordos has fast become so important to China's dreams: coal.

The earth in these parts holds around one-sixth of China's coal reserves, the fuel which is helping the nation expand. The reward for the people of the these parts, or more likely those who have moved here with a keen eye for investment, is a gross domestic product that has been growing at more than 25 per cent per year for almost decade.

Ordos has quickly become among China's richest cities - with a per capita GDP of some US$21,600 which is more than twice that of Beijing. And you can see that wealth out on the streets, which brings us back to the reason we are here: the cars.

Taxis out here seem to be an endangered species - a rare thing for any city in China - because the rise in wealth has been matched with a passion for motoring. The latest models of almost every make imaginable, from Kias to Cayennes, cruise the city streets at all hours.

There are now close to 20 million new cars being sold annually in China, making it the world's largest car market, and that's a point definitely not lost on Oliver Schwab, who has helped bring the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series here to Ordos in his role as the brand motorsport manager in China.

China is now Porsche's third largest market (behind the US and Germany) but, with an estimated 14,000 sold each year, is expected to be second only to the US next year. And the Porsche series helps spread the brand name - and the good will.

'Race weekends like this give people in China an opportunity to see how you can enjoy driving a car,' he says. 'Most cities here are congested so the driving experience here is different. These events show people what the spirit of driving is all about.'

And the spirit of racing. The very nature of the Ordos track, with its twists and turns, its ups and downs, made for some thrilling action.

'We heard about this track last year and we heard it was going in a different direction to, say, the tracks in Shanghai or Zhuhai,' says Schwab. 'We saw the layout and thought it was suitable for us and suitable for a new experience. They are certainly getting that. Look at the landscape, how it is being reshaped - it's exciting and it is interesting. It is Porsche's job to be at the forefront of motorsport in China and that is what we are doing here.'

For LKM Racing driver Darryl O'Young - a winner of the Porsche series in both 2006 and 2008 - it was a weekend of mixed fortunes, finishing fifth on the Saturday and second on Sunday. But he walked away impressed by what he saw.

'When there is dirt on the track you have to be a little bit tentative,' he says. 'It gave us a chance to be more aggressive as the weekend wore on and the track got more use. It's great and can only get better.

'As more people in China get into motorsports, tracks like this one can only grow and improve. To be here first is a thrill as it will be watching the development of the sport in China.'