The interview was originally conducted in Chinese and the English article is written by Paddock Sorority without review from anyone with English as a first language. Any mistakes in the language only reflect our limitation in leveraging the English language rather than the team’s opinion.
© All photos (including featured cover) provided by Erin Chen and Absolute Racing Team
In the past decade, Absolute Racing has been a formidable force in the motorsport scene in China and Asia. Based in Zhuhai, Shanghai, and Sepang, this team has been pushing forward motorsport in China and Asia, as well as raising young Chinese drivers such as Ye Yifei to international championships. Among the management of this team, there is a Chinese lady, Erin Chen, who is the Account Manager. We had an opportunity to chat with her about her story of getting into motorsport, and making history with Absolute Racing.
We met Erin in Beijing on her business trip. Her flight just landed in Beijing from Kuala Lumpur via Singapore. She would stay in Beijing for one night, meet the clients, and return to Shanghai over the weekend. Out of the 52 weeks of the year, she would spend over 30 of those like that one, busy with the team’s business development and operations on and off track. She would only be able to spend 20 weeks at home in Shanghai, and that is including the race weekends in Shanghai.
Her life has been this way for seven years. She started as a blank page with the team, now she understands all aspects of the team that’s not technical. “When I started with the team, the only thing I wasn’t involved in was the technical part. After all, I don’t have a degree in engineering. I was involved in everything else, I needed to learn everything from logistic, to liaising with the circuits, so on and so forth. I would also be communicating with our drivers from time to time. For example for some of our Chinese drivers, it’s easier for them to communicate with me. ”
“Now our team is racing in many championships, our team managers would take most of the responsibilities to communicate with different manufactories, and I’m less involved. I manage the planning of our racing with our two founders Ingo (Matter) and Fabian (Fior). Our business development includes working with sponsors, partners, drivers, and manufacturers. On a race weekend, I work more with our press team, collecting material for them to post on our English and Chinese social media platform. Also, there would always be unpredictable things happening during a race weekend, and I’ll be the one dealing with those things.”
I like that it’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s not a repetitive job, things change all the time. No matter how well you planned, something unexpected would come up.
What got Erin into this intense and competitive environment was love at first sight with motorsport. She wanted something new, something fun, something with growth potential, and motorsport in Asia and China was exactly that. “I met our two founders in 2011. At that time Audi Sport was trying to bring Audi R8 LMS Cup to Asia. They wanted to leverage motorsport to help promote the Audi RS series and change their brand image here from old to young. They started planning it with Absolute Racing back in 2010. The team had a lot of business in Asia, relatively less in China. After all, GT racing had just started in China. Audi decided to start their own one-make series “Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup” in China. I started with helping out the team on a freelance basis aside from my day job in 2011, helping them with promotion and prep for the Cup. I didn’t really know motorsport back then, even though I loved cars. The first Audi Cup race in May 2012 was also the first GT race I ever participated in. I felt a lot of fun during the race and then I joined the team officially. I think racing is compatible with my personality. You are always learning and improving yourself. Motorsport was a new thing in China. It was interesting and I’d like to try it. In addition to that, racing is exciting, of course. I also thought this industry has great potential to grow and I just wanted to try, so I joined.”
“But a life in racing is not for everyone. There are no weekends or holidays. You are always out and about at the circuit. Unexpected things always come up, and you may not even know when you can call it a day. This is indeed an exhausting job, it might be why there are so few women in the industry.”
For all the cities we go to for racing, we know the airport, the circuit, the hotel, and that’s it. Even for street races in city centers, you still won’t have time for sightseeing.
Since Erin joined Absolute Racing, the team has expanded from Audi Sport R8 LMS Cup to working with multiple brands in GT racing, as well as competing in single-seater series such as Formula Masters and F3 Asian. “We work closely with brands in VW Group. Audi got me into racing. Our founders were already racing in Porsche Carrera Cup before creating this team. We’ve also worked with Bentley and Lamborghini before. As a team, our objectives are obviously to win races. We want to work with brands like Porsche and Audi, which have sophisticated systems in running and promoting motorsport in China and Asia. Porsche was the first to be racing in Asia since 2003. Audi was one of the first to bring GT racing to China and Asia and they pushed GT racing into a higher level in Asia. Another aspect is their cars. In our opinion, their models are competitive and reliable. After all these years working together, these existing relationships have really built up mutual trust, understanding, and loyalty between the team and brand. This is how we choose the championships and continue to work with them throughout the years.”
“As for single-seaters, our founders started in single-seater racing when they came to China. It has always been special and even nostalgic for them. Our team was founded in 2010, and in 2015 Formula Masters came around. Their first race was in Shanghai. A lot of young drivers reached out to us before, asking whether we provide services in single-seaters. We were still focusing on GT at the time. We saw competitive young drivers in Formula Masters, including Chinese kids, and we were like ‘why don’t we come back to single-seater racing?’It was like lightning in the bottle, and we just did it. We started with the second race which was in Penbay International Circuit. We haven’t raced in that car before, we haven’t even tested it before, we didn’t plan our drivers’ line-up. But we managed to get Alessio (Picariello), Dennis Olsen, who is now in Porsche Young Professional Driver program, and Oliver Askew, who is now in McLaren Junior Program in the US. We leveraged that first year as a preparation to collect data and understand the car better. In the end, we had good results. We participated in four events and finished second overall. “
“Single-seater also became a business model for us after that. Not every young driver can keep going up in single-seaters, when they switch to GT they can stay with us. So our team in Formula Masters and F3 became this bridge for them. Philip Hamprecht from 2016, Lu Wenlong from 2017, and Dennis are now at Porsche. Alessio also now races in GT. Besides single-seaters, now with many other platforms, young drivers have more options. We built this bridge for them.”
No business is easy. But it’s fine as long as you find what you are interested in from of your job. People in motorsport are energetic, this is what the sport gives us, the positive energy.
Besides growing to expand to different brands and different formats in Asia, Absolute Racing also has their eyes on international platforms outside of Asia. But their focus will always be in Asia and China. “We always have plans to go outside of Asia, and we’ve already participated in some races outside of Asia, such as 24h Spa and Bathurst 12h. We will take those opportunities when they arise. However, our main focus will always be in Asia. Right now the level of competition in Asia is pretty high too, and we need to make sure we have a good platform. It’s always nice to have good competition. Right now we have many good teams, but some of them are still quite new. Rivalries can drive a series to better status, it then attracts more manufacturers, and they can help widen the platform, and then comes the sponsors. It’s not that the sponsors are not interested. Motorsport is too new for them to know why this is of any value for them. But we learn things fast in China. There are championships such as China GT and CEC in China. When championships in China and Asia grow to be more mature, sponsors and the whole market would understand motorsport better and how we can work together.”
Motorsport in Asia and China still have a lot of space for further growth. We need time to build the culture. We want to help with growing motorsport in China and Asia, so our focus will always be here.
Speaking of the funding required to succeed in not only single-seaters, but any type of motorsport, perhaps no one knows it better than someone like Erin who oversees the operation of a team like Absolute Racing. “If you want to race, you’ll need a car, and you’ll need a team to service you and the car. This is where it gets expensive. Motorsport is not a game for one person. A lot happens behind the scenes for the driver and the car to be competitive. The money required to cover the car and the team can be provided by sponsors, the driver’s family, the manufacturers, or anyone who would like to pay. If you want to become a professional race driver, you have to pay the price to go down this road. For competitive sport, not just motorsport, there is always only one winner. To raise a top athlete, you need money, opportunities, talent, and hard work. It takes all of those to get to a victory, and a world champion.”
Fans are used to seeing champagne spilled and joyful tears shed on the podium, for the people on the team who contributed to that win or that title, are they equally excited even if they are not the one on the podium? “For sure we are also excited when our drivers win. For young drivers, it could take them many years to get to that champion. Behind the scenes, I saw all the preparation from the team, for a win, for a title. I know all the hard work from our engineers, our technicians, our assistants, people from the office. I know what everyone sacrificed to get there. Without a good technical team, your car won’t be ready and your driver won’t be able to perform at a high level. This is also why motorsport is fascinating. You never know what could hurt your championship. A small mistake would ruin your chance. Until you take the chequered flag you can never be sure you are the winner. We can only do our best, give our best to the driver, and let them fight for the win.”
Our driver is the one winning, getting on the podium, but we are also very excited because it takes all of us. A win and a title is not only the honor for the driver, but for the whole team.
A few days before our interview with Erin, Absolute Racing announced that W Series Champion Jamie Chadwick would be racing with them in F3 Asian Championship Certified by FIA this winter. Jamie was brought in by someone who has previously worked with GP3 Champion, F2 Champion, and Formula 1 winner Charles Leclerc. “F3 Asian starts in December this year and runs for three months. This is a great time for European drivers or any driver who’s in their winter break. It also offers Super License points, so this is a great opportunity for them to train and get points. Jamie reached out to our F3 team manager Martin Young. Martin joined us this year. He has a very impressive background. He was team manager at Fortec Motorsport in Formula Renault for seven years. He worked with Charles Leclerc during his time there. Our team has been competitive in F3 Asian, and Jamie is fast and well known in Europe. I think we can make a good combination, I look forward to her performance with us in F3 Asian.”
During the past weekend, Round 2 of F3 Asian Championship took place in Dubai. Jamie finished 6th in Race 1, making her best result so far. Her teammate, Canadian driver Devlin DeFrancesco was able to score points in all three races. This weekend, the team will move to Abu Dhabi for Round 3. We wish Jamie and the team good luck this weekend!
* We would like to thank Erin, Absolute Racing, and Shanghai Ning Sports Development Co., Ltd. for all their help and support for this interview.