The Chiang Mai classic car enthusiasts have formed the Classic Cars of Lanna
group, which meets every month at the Chiengmai Gymkhana Club. The January
meeting will be on the 5th. Like minded enthusiasts can
contact David Hard-castle on 06 911 6868 or 01 992 4819 (you don’t have to
actually ‘own’ one right now, just being interested is enough)
The above headline is no pipe dream. There is every
indication that this could happen, as several talented Asian drivers achieve
their goals of getting into the top echelons of motor sport.
Whilst the World Championship for F1 appears to be dominated
by the UK and Europeans and South American drivers, it should not be forgotten
that there are other categories of the sport, and some of these are also world
championships. There are also new “world” categories on the rise, such as
the A1 Grand Prix world championship and the Grand Prix World Championship group
that could be the premier category in 2008. One should also not forget the North
American motor racing scene, which runs championships that are open to drivers
of all nationalities.
very quick sweep through different classes in the US soon turned up Asian
drivers such as Hideo Fukuyama from Japan who was one of the earlier Asian
drivers to enter professional racing, competing in NASCAR in 2002 and 2003.
2004 was a spectacular year for Asian drivers. Three Japanese
drivers have excelled and have shown the emerging talent from the land of the
One of these was a newcomer, 25 year old Kosuke Matsuura who
made his debut by placing within the top 10 of the Indy 500. However he is no
newcomer to the European scene. He finished third in the 2003 Formula Renault V6
Eurocup, claiming three wins and five additional podiums. Matsuura also was a
front-runner in German Formula 3 competition, finishing second in the 2002
championship with two wins and six pole positions.
One name that is well known in the current crop of F1 drivers
is Takuma Sato, who was contracted to the BAR Honda team. When he first secured
the seat, there were those who said that it was just as a sop to Japanese engine
supplier Honda, but nothing could have been further from the truth. Sato
deserved his seat, and has shown that he could out-qualify the much vaunted
young Briton Jenson Button on many occasions. Takuma Sato also had an impressive
history in the British Formula Three racing class, where he won 16 races and the
2001 championship, and took out the Macau GP, the premier F3 event in the world.
Unfortunately, Takumasan looks to be out of a seat for 2006. His
over-enthusiastic driving winning him more accidents than podium finishes.
Another Japanese driver who was not only well known (and
feared) was Tora ‘Tiger’ Takagi in world motor racing, including F1. He was
fearless but his rough driving style resulted in several pile-ups and a few
reprimands from CART officials after he went across to the US to race there. He
is now in the IRL category and last year picked up almost quarter of a million
dollars in the Indy 500, America’s premier auto race.
Another Asian driver who is making his mark in the results
book (and not on the retaining walls) is Narain Karthikeyan, known as ‘The
Fastest Indian in the World’. He is another emerging Asian talent, and has a
solid pedigree with wins in the ultra-competitive F3 arena in Europe. This
resulted in his securing an F1 drive with Jordan for 2005, but he is still in
the wilderness when I wrote this, as his chance of a test driver for Williams
looks as if it will not come off.
Asia is not short of talented drivers, with Rizal Ramli
showing that he had the speed, but not the luck, to carry off the Porsche
Infineon Cup Asia, while young Marchy Lee from Hong Kong took the Formula BMW
Asia title in 2004 with a dominant display, and is now racing in Europe.
But to return to the headline, “Asian racing driver wins
world championship”, this is certainly not a pipe dream, as an Asian driver
has already done just that!
Remembering that F1 only began in 1950, before then and
before WW II, the unofficial ‘world championship’ was the British Racing
Drivers Club championship, run over a number of events each year. Any driver who
could win the coveted BRDC Gold Star was the supreme driver of that year, but
there has only been one driver to win three pre-war consecutive BRDC Gold Stars,
and that driver was an Asian, and in my view one of the most under-rated drivers
in motorsport history. This driver was the only Asian to beat five times world
champion Juan Manuel Fangio, in equal cars in 1949, when Fangio was making his
name as the up and coming driver of the future.
That driver was Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, a
member of the royal family of Siam (as Thailand was known then). In 1936 Prince
Bira won the J.C.C. International Trophy and three International Light Car Races
at Monaco, Peronne and Albi, France. In 1937 he won the Campbell Trophy, the
Light Car Race at the Isle of Man, the London Grand Prix, the12-hour Race at
Donington Park and the Imperial Trophy. In 1938, he won seven major races
including the Coronation Trophy, the Campbell Trophy, the Light Car Race at
Cork, the London Grand Prix, the Nuffield Trophy, the BRDC Road Race and the
Siam Trophy. Those wins against all the accepted hot-shoes of the times, gave
him the BRDC Gold Star awards for 1936, 1937 and 1938. A feat unequalled since
However, with motorsport burgeoning in all categories in Asia, and the F1
circus now including many Asian circuits, I believe we are getting closer to
seeing another Asian driver on the top step of the world championship podium.
And I believe it will be soon!