Tsang says that back in the 1970s and ’80s, Hong Kong had a thriving motorsports scene. He himself participated in many local and international car racing competitions including the famous Hong Kong-Beijing Rally in 1986. He drove directly from Hong Kong to Tiananmen Square.
The city also hosted an annual world-renowned kart competition in Victoria Park. The Victoria Park International Kart Prix began in 1967 and was the karting competition with the most prize money in the world. Many foreign visitors came to Hong Kong to watch the competition.
The track was built on the four football courts in Victoria Park, while the two basketball courts were used as the pit for the race. Some former Formula One Champions such as Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna were among those who competed in Victoria Park at the start of their racing careers.
Tsang describes the event as a carnival. People from different countries did not just watch the competition but also used it as an opportunity to trade car-parts and exchange views on cars. “The atmosphere in Victoria Park during that week was so joyful,” Tsang recalls.
However, due to complaints received from residents and the public’s increasing concerns about pollution, the karting prix ended in 1993 after 27 years. Tsang laments its passing. “It is just a week in a year. But the Victoria Park International Kart Prix was an international mega event. It was really cool,” he says.
Prominent businessman Lawrence Yu Kam-kee, the president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA), is the “godfather” of motorsports in Hong Kong. He attributes the glories of the past to the support from the British colonial government.
Back in the 1980s, apart from following international standard racing competitions, car buffs would also organise various driving activities locally. They held a karting competition in the Shek Kong Airfield with the permission of the British army. Enthusiasts also utilised the barracks and the runway to hold driving activities such as slalom races and quarter-mile sprints.
Perhaps the most exciting race was the Hong Kong Rally competition when the Waterworks Office (now the Water Supplies Department) of the colonial government opened the catchwaters to provide a rugged racetrack.
“I feel sorrow [about the current situation], because Hong Kong was actually the forerunner of motorsports in the Asia,” says Yu, remembering the good old days.
Now Macau plays host to a mature and world-renowned Grand Prix every year with huge support from its government. Yu says that, at the beginning, the competition was entirely organised by HKAA. All the helpers and staff were from Hong Kong. “We were very proud to have organised such an event in Macau but, at the same time, feel it’s very much a pity that we don’t have our own event in Hong Kong,” says Yu.
Although Yu says the current condition of Hong Kong car racing is stagnant, he believes it is not terminal. “In my opinion, if we want to develop a sport successfully, it must start from the grassroots,” he says.
Yu, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Football Association, uses football development as an analogy. He says people need not play in the World Cup in order to enjoy football. Those who play on local cement pitches also enjoy the game. Likewise, what local car buffs want is just a place where people with a car licence and an ordinary car can enjoy various entertaining driving activities.
The popularity and prominence of motorsports in Hong Kong has certainly undergone a sea change in the last 30 years. But local people may soon have the chance to become reacquainted with car racing after all.
Although Hong Kong failed in its bid to host the 2014/5 Formula E Championship, Lawrence Yu is making a bid for the 2015/6 Championship. In Formula E, the race cars are all electronically-powered.
There is no pollution problem and the cost of holding the competition is much lower than for Formula One. Yu says it would be really worthwhile to hold such an event in Hong Kong. What is more, citizens will be able to enjoy the sport up close as it would be held in the urban area.
On top of that, Yu says the government has agreed to reserve land for driving activities. He stresses that car racing does not need a large space. Even with limited space, many activities can be held. Drivers could drive around in a chase race or compete in accelerating from 0 to quarter of a mile in the shortest time. Besides, just drifting or driving around obstacles would be interesting enough.
Yu says he has already “filled up his calendar” with possible activities that could be organised for such a potential new space. He is already thinking about activities involving electronic karts, advanced driving lessons, professional racers’ training, and even second-hand car festivals.
Car racing in Hong Kong may appear to be in the doldrums now, but Yu is optimistic about reclaiming past glories. “We have the history, we have the tradition, we have the heritage,” he says.
Edited by Yoyo Chan