An IndyCar race in China?
Such a question first emerged in 2009, and when it did, it seemed like harmless, pie-in-the-sky dreaming. Before getting to ask INDYCAR commercial division president Terry Angstadt about the matter at Richmond that year, I remember my thoughts as I perused the first AP wire story on this proposal to race in the coastal city of Qingdao.
We’re just one year removed from unification and IndyCar wants to go race…in China?
And there was some angst over this…For nothing, at least for the first two years. But this season, China started to publicly creep back onto the radar for potential IndyCar sites.
However, did it ever really leave the radar in the first place? With over 1.3 billion people, China holds the world’s biggest population. It also holds one of the world’s biggest economies. Both were always going to be enticing to the series and its sponsors.
It was only a matter of time, and perhaps, the series’ health, which is markedly better than what it was three years ago. Whether it was going to go race on a street circuit or the alleged 500,000-capacity replica of Indianapolis Motor Speedway (the goal, per the series, is to move from a street circuit to a permanent racing venue in coming years), INDYCAR heading to the Middle Kingdom was going to happen. It’s too big a market to ignore for anyone, especially a global racing series with sponsorships from multinational corporations.
"As the world global economy continues to grow and evolve, China, the world's second-largest economy, has become a top priority with most American businesses and the sponsors that are committed to INDYCAR," said series CEO Randy Bernard in a release. "Last year, at our sponsorship summit, China was the No. 1 place our sponsors wanted to go outside of the United States.”
While we’ve yet to see a track map of the gargantuan 3.87-mile street course that IndyCar drivers will wind through, a quick search on Google reveals some nice things about Qingdao.
A waterfront setting never hurts and the city’s location on the Yellow Sea, not to mention the city’s extensive array of European architecture, could make for something beautiful to behold (the Barber Motorsports Park of street circuits?). Then there’s the Qingdao International Beer Festival, which will coincide with the race in August 2012. Conveniently located near the home of the city’s longtime claim to fame, Tsingtao Beer, the festival is the biggest of its kind in Asia and should combine with the race to make a festive atmosphere that’s also unique amongst the other IndyCar street events.
The collision of cultures will be striking as well: An American-based series with drivers from all over the world racing through the roads of a Chinese city that was once under German control in the early 1900s and now stands as a hybrid of 21st century and Old World.
But there are questions, chief among them being what kind of impact that a trip to China will have on the 2012 schedule and whether or not the Chinese will take to the race. With an event date of August 19, the Qingdao event could effectively eat up the entire month, from getting the cars and teams there to the race itself and then getting everything/one back Stateside. For the record, the series had three August events on American soil last season.
Then you have China, a country that’s still earning its “racing stripes,” so to speak. Formula One has been racing in Shanghai since 2004, but on the whole, this market is still largely untapped when it comes to motorsports.
Champ Car attempted a trip to China in 2007, even going as far to have Roberto Moreno run demo laps at the Zhuhai International Circuit in November of 2006 to presumably raise interest in the event. But promoter troubles and a lack of FIA approval for the race at Zhuhai put the kibosh on that.
But in INDYCAR and Chinese motorsport in general, there’s a simple, common goal, and that’s to grow. Determination can be a curiously strong thing, and if this race is successful, it will bode well for both of their respective futures.
Is it Road America, the No. 1 track on most fans’ wish list? No, it’s not. But if INDYCAR is going to raise its presence, it can’t just rely solely on traditional venues. It needs to find newer, emerging places to put down roots. And when it comes to emerging places, China certainly fits the bill.
Raise a bottle of Tsingtao and wish ‘em good luck.