Singapore considers permanent race track in Changi

By Ian de Cotta, TODAY | Posted: 02 April 2007 1411 hrs

First, it was Formula 1, a glamorous annual event to ratchet up Singapore's image as a cosmopolitan tourist puller and put the Republic's skyline on hundreds of millions of television screens worldwide.

Now, that once-a-year race through city streets could be given a turbo-charged boost adding to the lucrative dollars that the motor-racing industry generates with a plan to build a permanent race track to feature races throughout the year.

The benefits to Singapore's fledgling motor industry would be enormous, sources told TODAY. In Britain, the heart of Europe's motor-racing community, the industry is worth 3 billion ($9 billion) a year, employing over 38,000 people across 4,000 companies. Singapore's automotive spare parts industry generates $800 million in annual sales, servicing both local and regional needs. Motor sports also provide invaluable technology spin-offs to the automotive industry.

According to sources, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) is considering building the permanent track facility off the East Coast Parkway, near the Changi Naval Base, which could cost between US$150 million and US$200 million ($228 million and $304 million).

The circuit, an FIA Grade 2 track stretching between 3.5km and 4km, will be capable of hosting major motorsports events, except for F1 races, which need Grade 1 circuits.

Singapore Sports Council chief executive officer Oon Jin Teik feels it is critical that Singapore takes advantage of the momentum, when it wins the rights to host an F1 race in Singapore. "A permanent track is ideal because we can't possibly close our streets regularly. It is just not viable," he told TODAY.

Even as F1 enthusiasts are enthusing over seeing the likes of world champion Fernando Alonso of McLaren-Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari in action, fans of two-wheelers will be keen to watch MotoGP champion Niki Hayden do battle with five-time world champ Valentino Rossi. Then there's the World Superbikes series, A1 Grand Prix, the American Champ cars and the World Touring Car championships, which could turn Singapore into a hub of motor-racing activity.

Local sports car owners, who head to Sepang in Malaysia regularly for a spin, are looking forward to using a track in Singapore. "At least 50 car owners will want to rent the track every weekend," said Mr Arjunan Kulasegaram of Stuttgart Auto, who organises trips for Porshe owners.

It is believed MCYS is looking at the business model of the Sports Hub, where investors will be invited to bid to build and maintain the facility. Among those who are interested is Australian Ron Dickson, whose company D3 has built several street and permanent tracks, notably the Surfers Paradise Track in Gold Coast Australia and Mexico City.

The Australian, who is in Singapore to deliver a talk on racing circuits at the Grand Prix for Marketeers forum at Pan Pacific Hotel (April 3-4), has said that he has had discussions with the MCYS and other government departments and is currently doing a feasibility study on the project.

"Not only is it going to be a top-notch circuit, it will also have space for entertainment for the public and for corporate events," he said. - TODAY/sh