IT may be curtains for the Formula 1 (F1) Grand Prix in Malaysia but the motorsports business still has a future in the country.
Stakeholders only need to be on the same page in sustaining the momentum of interests, according to panellists at the New Straits Times’ dialogue titled “Business of Motorsports: Racing towards the Future” here recently.
Competitive driver/trainer Alex Yoong said there should be a motorsport blueprint to chart the industry’s future.
Sepang International Circuit (SIC) chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Razlan Ahmad Razali agreed with having a clear policy.
“We are focusing so much on two wheels because there is a strong correlation with Malaysian MotoGP.
“With four wheels, the major issue is what we are going to do next.
“We need something realistic that can contribute to the local economy and companies.
“We don’t want to sell unrealistic dreams and that F1 should not be the target.
“We should not tell a 27-year-old that he should go into kart racing to get to F1, that is wrong,” he said.
Razlan told NST Sports sub-editor Azdee Amir, who moderated the dialogue, that the 2018 Budget had provided allocations for the development of motorsports.
Razlan said the funds could be tapped to organise events that were cheaper than the cost of running F1.
He agreed with Yoong’s idea that more race tracks should be built for enthusiasts to compete in a controlled environment.
“We need small tracks for them to blow off steam instead of racing on public roads,” he said.
However, Razlan said, such a facility was expensive as even a small multi-purpose track that it was looking at in Johor, for instance, cost about RM50 million.
He said the government planned to build a race track in Kedah at an estimated cost of between RM15 million and RM20 million.
He said investors were also anxious for quick returns from these projects.
He said the track SIC was viewing in Johor encountered some “administration issues”, such as faults in the track design that needed to be addressed for safety.
“(Overall) there must be returns on investment,” Razlan stressed.
Shell Malaysia chairman Datuk Iain Lo said sponsors wanted to see strong public interest that would justify an investment.
“The trick is sustaining interest throughout the year, beyond race weekends through our weekly retail sites’ customer base of 10 million people.
“What is the payback? It may be shifting your products, raising branding profile, recognition, airtime, or all of these.”
On talent retention, Yoong said Malaysia had a handful of good automotive engineers and a huge base of mechanics who “can work, but have picked up bad habits along the way”.
“They need to be supported, but we also need new people to come in and not learn all these (bad) habits,” he added.
The Otomotif College chief executive officer Adelaine Foo said youngsters would be attracted to motorsports if they were clear about the careers they could pursue in the industry.
“In race teams, for instance, it’s not just about glamorous drivers.
“There are many other people working behind the scenes, such as mechanics and event promoters. If it is clear how they can move up the ranks, it will attract more youths and parents to see it as a viable career option.”