No Formula One? No problem, Hong Kong can still put on a party for racegoers

If organisers can stage a racing carnival at the proposed Kai Tak track, it doesn’t matter what kind of race is held there

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 12:59pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 June, 2016, 12:58pm

The prospect of having a car-racing circuit at the planned Kai Tak Sports Park sent a buzz of excitement around the motor racing community in Hong Kong. But what was going through their minds? A dedicated track for our Formula E race? The ability to be part of the fast-expanding Asian GT circuit? Top-class motorcycling races? Possibly, but deep within the hearts of Hong Kong motor racing enthusiasts was the burning question ... can it stage a Formula One race?

It was better left unasked to safeguard against disappointment but it took Australian Simon Gardini – one of two overseas motor racing track designers in Hong Kong to assess the Kai Tak site – to put us out of our misery. “We’re not talking about Formula One,” said Gardini bluntly at a press conference held by Hong Kong Automobile Association chief Lawrence Yu Kam-kee, who wants a street circuit at Kai Tak to host future Formula E races.

Gardini is with the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport and has worked on tracks for various Australian grands prix, Australian MotoGP and spent six years with the Singapore Grand Prix.

He is joined in Hong Kong by Briton Dafydd Broom, design director at Apex Circuit Design who was involved in the tracks for the KL City Grand Prix in Malaysia and the Zhejiang Racing Circuit in China.

The track at the future Kai Tak Sports Park is still in the approval stages and designers remain clueless as to what it will look like should it receive the green light. But having seen initial designs for the sports park and knowing the constraints of a city street circuit, Gardini and Broom can tell straight away that F1 is not an option.

When asked what kind of races could be held at such a venue, Gardini started promisingly, saying: “It really comes down to design and we can pretty much aim at any level.” Then he talked about the reality of it all. “Given the constraints of the site in terms of development, we’re not talking about Formula One. In terms of street racing, it really can be up to grade 2 standard, which will enable any competition below Formula One ... GT Asia series, super cars ... something quite easily influenced by design.”

Gardini and Broom said the ideal length of an F1 track would be 4.8km to 5.5km, though this weekend’s race at Baku, Azerbaijan – which is making its F1 debut – is 6km. Gardini said with his initial assessment of the Kai Tak site, he would like any track there to be at least 2.4km – the rough minimum on which to stage “anything below Formula One”.

With the sports park expected to become functional in six years’ time and no plans for a race circuit anywhere else in Hong Kong it means the city can pretty much forget about joining regional rival Singapore as a F1 destination. But it doesn’t mean Hong Kong cannot become a centre for motor racing by taking the lead from Singapore, which has redefined the concept of an F1 race week.

Being a street circuit, Singapore organisers have taken advantage of the public areas within the 5.065km track to create a carnival atmosphere and hold a party that lasts one week. Concerts featuring major performers, exhibitions, food gardens and a host of other activities are all within easy reach for the public, along with exciting night racing.

Hong Kong can replicate Singapore’s success at the sports park. Whether it’s Formula E or GT racing – both high-quality spectacles – organisers can use the sports park concept to make it more than just a race. And Gardini believes the Kai Tak venue is perfect to make such a concept work.

“This is the ideal type of track to do that,” said Gardini. “Having been heavily involved in Singapore myself, where you have the padang [public field], cricket club and recreation club, here in Hong Kong you have the opportunity to go further because you have actually stadiums within the precinct.

“It’s a great concept and Singapore has done it very well to put it all together without people having to leave the precinct. Hong Kong can do the same thing. People don’t have to leave all at once and it all works as a whole system.”

Broom said the fact that construction has yet to start on the site enables designers to have an influence on the final design.

“We’ve come at precisely the right moment,” he said. “It hasn’t yet been constructed and we have the ability to influence the master plan. We are quite confident we can get an FIA-quality facility integrated into the site that would benefit the wider community and not just motor racing. You would be able to have cycling and other events and it would really be of benefit to the people of Hong Kong.”