It may not have been the last bar on Earth; however, it was one of the noisiest. Who says that all Holiday Inns are the pits? While the digs in Zhuhai will never be confused with The Ritz-Carlton, the majority of the teams were content enough. A race in China is far from just another stop on the calendar. It is a major undertaking involving considerable logistics in getting man, machine and equipment all in one place at the right time. Long gone are the days when a car and a couple of mechanics made the long haul by air or sea to partake in an event. The images from 1954 of an Aston Martin or Ferrari being unloaded at the Autodromo in Buenos Aires for a 1,000km sports car race may show a simpler time, but the reality of the effort remains the same today. Competition and commerce.
Endurance racing has been the backbone of sports prototype and sports car development since the beginning of organized motorsport. National championships are based around sprint races, though in order to get the major names and manufacturers to invest their time and finances, it has to be played out on an international stage. Back to Buenos Aires for a moment—consider that among the official entries for the 1954 race were factory teams from Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin, O.S.C.A. Gordini and Borgward, and Porsche well represented with a few examples of its new Spyder. Commercial consideration was evident in that a good showing from any of these manufacturers could result in sales being made to the wealthy sportsmen in the countries making up the stops in a championship season.
In many cases, teams sold cars on the spot after the race was completed, which not only generated cash flow, but also added the insurance of providing parts and service to the buyers. It may be called a sport, but it is and always will be a business. The stakes are higher today, considerably more so than shuffling off a few of last season’s race cars to those who have the money. Now it’s all about market share, what a manufacturer can bring to a locale. It could be name recognition for a regional factory that produces vehicles, or a technical showcase for a manufacturer looking to broaden its horizon.
Which brings us back to the ILMC Zhuhai 1000 KM. The 14-turn, 4.319km circuit held its first international event in November 1996. It has the distinction of being the first permanent road racing facility constructed in China. More commonly known as the ZIC, it served as incubator for an ever-growing scene. With Hong Kong only an hour away by ferry, ZIC was convenient and accessible. As China’s economy grew, its appetite for motorsports and prestige brands also blossomed and caught the attention of major auto manufacturers.
Audi and Peugeot came to Zhuhai to continue their dueling-diesel rivalry. The Lion had claimed the bulk of the 2010 endurance season podiums, while Audi continued its Lord of the Rings majesty on the Lion’s home ground with victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Both squads were packed with talent, and the race on the Chinese mainland was expected to continue the season-long duel. The prototype category was also filled with entries from smaller private teams that always keep the spirit of endurance racing intact. They may not have the funding or name recognition, but they make up for it with committed enthusiasm.