Formula E

Can Formula E coup make Hong Kong one of Asia's motor sport capitals once more?

The man who helped to make the event a reality says Hong Kong has been a pioneer in Asia but was held back by size and strict regulations

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 October, 2015, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 October, 2015, 5:07pm

The dream started with a walk along Central's new harbourfront three years ago and will become a reality next October when Hong Kong hosts its first major international race with a leg of the 2016 Formula E series.

However, the fulfilment of this dream is not about launching Hong Kong as a major player on the regional motor racing circuit. It's more about restoring the city's lofty place among Asia's car-racing capitals.

Lawrence Yu Kam-kee, the president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association and one of two men who took that walk in 2012, said Hong Kong had a motor sport history that went farther back than that of Singapore, which now stages a leg of the Formula One circuit and Macau, which stages the annual Formula Three Grand Prix.

Actually, I must mention that Hong Kong has a much longer history in motor sports than any other country in Asia, even earlier than Japan
Lawrence Yu Kam-kee

"Actually, I must mention that Hong Kong has a much longer history in motor sports than any other country in Asia, even earlier than Japan," said Yu.

"About 60-odd years ago, it was Hong Kong that started the Macau Grand Prix. We designed the circuit ourselves. About 30 years ago we started the Hong Kong to Beijing rally, we've had the Kart Grand Prix in the past."

"There was a lot of motor sport on the Shek Kong air strip. We started our motor racing history very early but, unfortunately, because of the limitation of land, we couldn't take it any further.

"With Formula E, I'm sure we can restart our racing heritage."

Watch: Formula E world champion Nelson Piquet Jnr shares his inspiration as he visits Hong Kong

Yu's companion during his Central stroll was Alejandro Agag, the chief executive of Formula E Holdings, the company that runs the series.

Both men saw the area as an ideal venue for a Hong Kong street race, with Formula E cars and their environmentally friendly concept a major selling point in convincing the government to give them the green light.

The race is now confirmed for the 2016-17 season, with the Hong Kong event on October 9. The circuit also goes to Beijing, Malaysia, Britain, the US and other countries.

"We imagined having a race, we dreamed of having a race in Hong Kong," said Yu. "It took a lot of effort and support. There were difficulties along the way and it wasn't all plain sailing. But I'm very pleased the dream has come true. I never gave up.

"I knew it might not have happened, but I was determined to give it a damn good try," said Yu, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association.

Indeed, the electric cars dove-tailed perfectly with the government's desire to see more clean vehicles on the city's roads, as Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said at Friday's launch.

"The Hong Kong government is rule-based, so even the chief executive cannot just press a button and say it will happen," said Leung. "We have to meet all the rules and requirements, therefore it has taken us some time. I'm very proud to share the realisation of this dream.

"The Hong Kong government is promoting e-transport and the use of e-vehicles, and this event gives us very good traction."

The last time Hong Kong staged any kind of car racing was the karting grand prix in the early 1990s at Victoria Park. The event was abandoned because of complaints of noise pollution from residents in the Causeway Bay-Tin Hau area.

Yu said Formula E was likely to become the next big thing in motor racing, with F1 losing its lustre over the years.

"Formula E is appreciated because countries would like to introduce electric cars to prevent pollution," said Yu. "Hong Kong is ideal for electric cars because our city is small.

"Nowadays, big cities around the world are talking about three to four million cars. Imagine if you turn to electric cars, which is much cleaner.

"So many cities are looking to get this e-car race."

The Formula E circuit's credibility is strengthened by the presence of several former F1 drivers, including former world champion Jacques Villeneuve, reigning FE champion Nelson Piquet Jnr and Nick Heidfeld, among others.