By sportswriter Michael Butterworth
SHANGHAI, Nov. 16 (Xinhua) -- Motorsport team boss David Cheng says he believes that a Chinese car manufacturer will join the World Endurance Championship as a factory outfit within the next few years.
Speaking exclusively to Xinhua ahead of the WEC 6 Hours of Shanghai on Sunday, Beijing-born Cheng noted that planned regulation changes to incorporate zero-emissions cars would likely make the series a more attractive proposition for Chinese automakers, many of whom are increasingly moving away from high-polluting combustion engines towards greener alternatives.
"I honestly believe a Chinese manufacturer will be in the series with these regulations. I believe they'll have the interest to come in because of where that development and innovation will go. I think it would be a real shame for them not to compete, as China is a leader in green technology right now."
According to the FIA, motorsport's global governing body, China produced 794,000 new-energy cars last year and sold 777,000, making it the biggest manufacturer and consumer in the global EV market, and Cheng talked up motorsport's suitability for testing and developing green technologies that can filter down into ordinary road cars.
"I believe that the zero-emissions regulations will center on hydrogen fuel cells. The only downside is that it's quite expensive technology right now, so what better way to develop that technology quickly than in motorsports? Having open regulations to develop concepts for hydrogen power can move the industry forward quite a lot."
The 29-year-old added that cars of tomorrow would not rely solely on one dominant variety of powertrain. "For me, in the future, there won't be just one type of car. I think it's going to be a mix of electric cars, petrol hybrids, and a big chunk going towards hydrogen."
Cheng runs the Jackie Chan DC Racing Team which competes in WEC's second-tier LMP2 category, and caused a major shock last year when they took the overall lead of the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans for several hours, before ultimately finishing second and third overall, with co-driver Ho-Pin Tung becoming the first driver of Chinese ancestry to stand on the Le Mans podium.
"Looking back, it's very surreal that we could take the overall lead," Cheng reflected. "In the entire history of Le Mans, for nearly 100 years, the secondary class hasn't surpassed the top class, which is astounding to think about. Motorsport is quite new in China, and when you get a result like that, everyone starts paying attention."
Looking towards this weekend's race, Cheng noted the unique challenges posed by the SAIC International Circuit, which also hosts the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix, saying that it is an even tougher proposition than the fearsome 13.6km lap at Le Mans.
"Shanghai is the most technical track of the year. The long corners put a lot of strain on the front-left tire, and the way the track is laid out, you have to sacrifice one part to make a gain in another. It's very awkward, but when you've had a lot of track time here, you know the ins and outs and the little tricks you can use to manipulate the car."
And with his cars having finished first and second in class last time out at Fuji in Japan, Cheng is confident of a good showing on home soil this weekend, even though recent history has not been on their side.
"The last couple of years here have been tough for me and Ho-Pin, but the two cars are looking really strong today. We've got the best preparation in the five years we've been here, and carrying our momentum from Fuji doesn't add any extra pressure on us."
"We know we can do the job, we just need to go into this weekend like we have been, and we will naturally come out with a good result." Enditem