© All photos, including featured cover, provided by Zhang Jingying
Growing up in a time when motorsport is little known to the general public in China, the distance between China and mainstream international motorsport has never stopped Zhang Jingying（张静莹，aka 张小鹅） from chasing her dream. A former editor at Sina’s Ultimate Motors and currently the Original Content Manager at Bitauto, Jingying also co-created her own vlog Channel é (张小鹅频道) covering motorsport, tourism, and many things in between. We had the opportunity to hear her story from all the top-level motorsport events around the world, let’s see how she leaves no regrets following her passion.
A career and life in motorsport for Zhang Jingying was influenced by namely three individuals: her father who introduced the sport to her, Michael Schumacher who showed her the beauty of the sport, and Cheng Congfu who brought the sport closer to her.
When Jingying was in 8th grade, broadcasting of Formula 1 started in China on the national television network, and she joined her dad in front of the TV to check out the session. However, the sport for her at that time, was merely “cars running in circles”.
“My dad watches it every race weekend. He really likes it. I would join him to check out what it was, but my mom and I were more like ‘what’s the point of all this running around in circles?’.”
Then, her attitude towards Formula 1 changed when Michael Schumacher won her over with his passionate celebrations of race wins. “You know how he would celebrate when he crossed the line first, and the jubilance you feel through his team radio, and his famous jump on the podium, those things made it different for me. The sport became this special thing and I started eagerly watching the races with my dad.”
But Jingying did more than just watching the races. As someone who volunteered at Student Press as a student journalist, Jingying was also building her craft as a writer with Schumacher stories in and out of school. “I squeezed him into all my school essays, it drove my teachers crazy.”
Even though Jingying was watching the races on TV and writing about Schumacher, motorsport was still this far away ‘European’ thing, until another person showed her the connection between the sport and China. “I went to High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China, and Cheng Congfu (aka Franky Cheng, then a Formula Renault 2000 UK driver) was an alumnus a few years older than me. His portrait was in our building, and he came back for a speech. His presence made me realize this could be my life, not some far away, unapproachable dream.”
Making a career out of it
I was reflecting on how lucky I’ve been to have opportunities like this, at such a young age, to attend all these top racing events and have a career in what I love.
The budding student journalist grew up into a full-blown professional journalist after interning at Tencent Auto and then taking up a full-time job at Ultimate Motors – a channel on Sina focusing on high-performance/premium/luxury cars and motorsport. As a long-term enthusiastic fan of motorsport, Jingying became the go-to person for motorsport events at the channel, which gave her the opportunity to explore the wider world of motorsport beyond Formula 1.
“At Ultimate Motors, the events were split between all editors, but I would get most of the motorsport events. In the five years at Ultimate Motors, I was able to go to single-make racing series and learn about all the other racing series beyond Formula 1. I developed a deeper understanding of the sport and fell in love with the sport even more. For example, when I went to Dakar in 2016, rally really captivated me even though I was suffering from illness the whole way. ”
Jingying’s career in motorsport didn’t stop at being an editor. The rise of streaming platforms created the demand for more commentators and Jingying was able to expand into a different path, which also helped her vlogger career later when she had to be in front of the camera. “Being a commentator really tests your knowledge of the sport, your overall knowledge of the history and your grip on the current season. You may have prepared pages of background information but not able to use most of it. However, if you were able to reflect on some stats that everyone relates to at the right moment, then fans would really appreciate your expertise.”
“I do thank LeTV for giving me the opportunity during the second half of the 2017 season. When I was a kid watching Formula 1 on TV, I would always hypothesize what I would say had I been in the commentator’s chair. Would I do a better job? Starting from Spa, I was having trouble finishing my sentences. When we got to Abu Dhabi, I was much more relaxed and confident. Fans would also DM me saying they think I was doing a good job. I was really content with my experience as a commentator.”
Maybe another 50-100 years
Ask anyone who works in the motorsport industry in China, they would tell you motorsport in China is years, decades behind Europe and Japan. Jingying first experienced this when she went to Le Mans for the first time. “In 2014, Adderly Fong invited me to cover the first all-Chinese line-up at Le Mans of him with Ho-Pin Tung and David Cheng. It was my first time at an international motorsport event outside of China. It blew me away. You may need to walk a long way to get to the paddock, you might be really tired at the end on Sunday, but you get to totally immerse in that environment, taking in everything that’s happening around the circuit and in the pit-box. Even though you may not be focusing on the race in the whole 24 hours, you are still experiencing that culture full time.”
Also ask anyone who works in the motorsport industry in China, they would also tell you they have contemplated how to push Chinese motorsport forward. For Jingying, cultivating a star and leveraging what we already have could be the answer. “It’s not something we can change overnight, it may take another 50-100 years. But someone like Li Na for tennis and Yao Ming for basketball could mean a huge leap for motorsport in China. We have a small fan-base for Formula 1, but we don’t have a Chinese face to represent it and to promote it to a wider audience here. Some day, if a Chinese driver, maybe Zhou Guanyu (current F2 driver and Renault Development Driver, he just recently collected his first F2 victory during the Russian Grand Prix weekend), gets into Formula 1, more kids would know this is something possible for us.”
“We also already have a lot of people working in motorsport. We have so many facilities around the country, these are resources we could leverage. When I was a kid going to Goldenport Circuit in Beijing, I didn’t necessarily know what event I was attending, but I still felt very excited about what was going on around me. Cross promotions between circuits and events like auto shows, music festivals, and carnivals could showcase the fascinating side of our sport to a lot more people.”
Continuous pursuit of the passion
In 2017, when Ultimate Motors folded at Sina, before joining other platforms, together with her partner Hou Junming, Jingying started her own media platform – Channel é – to produce video content on motorsport and related topics.
When asked about why opting for video content when all her previous content creation experience had been with written material, Jingying said she wanted to capture the essence of a race weekend and show it to people in the most well-rounded format. “When I was working with written material and still photographs, I always felt that something was missing. I’ve been trackside around the world, I’ve written about the engine roaring and fanatic fans, but capturing it on camera and let my audience feel it themselves would be a more complete presentation. When Ultimate Motors folded, I thought if I can’t get the opportunity from where I work, then I’ll create the opportunity for myself. It was also when vlogging was this new hot thing, so we rode the wave and created our own channel.”
Channel é may not be the most well-thought-out business idea, and Jingying ran into some obstacles when she was trying to build the business. What gave her the peace of mind though, was that she built new skills through the process, and the channel kept the door open for her to do what she’s passionate about. “I was a bit naive when planning this thing. I thought I’d have enough charm to make it work. But it turned out a lot of the connections in the industry I had before were because of my employer, Sina. I myself was struggling a bit with business development and operations of our vlog. Despite some difficulties, I was really thankful for the brands which would still work with me on projects. It meant a lot to us.”
“Even though this is not the most profitable business, my partner and I really matured as content creators. At first, we weren’t really familiar with how to make an interesting video, I wasn’t confident enough in front of the camera, my partner also just transitioned from print media. We would never be able to accomplish these things if we just stayed at another online platform similar to Sina. I always knew what I loved since I was a kid, and I pursued it as a career without hesitation, and now I can still follow this passion through my own vlog. I consider this an achievement not many people can claim.”
I’ve been to Le Mans twice, Monaco Grand Prix of F1, Dakar, Goodwood, Formula E in Long Beach, London, Hong Kong and Sanya, and I’ve made a name for myself among the motorsport media circle in China. If I drop dead right now, I wouldn’t have any regrets.
No regrets, but there are still expectations. Jingying still hasn’t been to a WRC race and she really looks forward to covering one in the snow. Also, on a personal level, going back to her root as a long-time Schumi fan, Jingying also has a secret wish: “For me, no news is good news. But I do hope one day I’ll be able to get a glimpse of Schumi just leading a normal life. Then I’ll know he’s well enough.”