FIA’S challenge: Unlock motor sport’s potential among younger generations
By Aida Sevilla-Mendoza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
June 13, 2018 at 3:38 am

Eleven-time Formula One winner Felipe Massa shows a thumbs up before boarding a BirelART eKart (electric kart) at the karting track, SM Mall of Asia concert grounds. PHOTO BY THE FIA Communications Team

In a country obsessed with the NBA and Manny Pacquiao, motor sport events get scant public attention or media coverage.

So why did the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile), the Paris-based governing body of all four-wheel motor sport worldwide, choose the Philippines as the venue of its sixth annual Sport Conference?

The 2018 edition of the FIA Sport Conference was the first held in Asia, as previously it took place in the United Kingdom, Germany, Mexico, Italy and Switzerland.

One reason why the Philippines was chosen could be its predominantly young population. At the start of 2018, according to based on the latest United Nations data, 34.6 percent of Filipinos were under 15 years old, compared to 4.3 percent above 64 years old. The median age is 24.1 years.

Grassroots program

Another is that the Automobile Association Philippines (AAP), the only FIA national sporting authority and mobility club in the country, initiated a nationwide grassroots motor sport development program (MSDP) three years ago that has trained more than 1,500 youngsters ages 17 to 19 in competition driving and road safety.

Since getting more young people involved in motor sport is precisely the goal of FIA, the MSDP and Department of Tourism support helped AAP to win the international bidding last year to host the FIA Sport Conference 2018 (FIA SC) from June 4 to 6.

Aside from the DOT, the major sponsors of the FIA SC 2018 were Petron Corporation as official energy partner, SMC Asia Car Distributors Corp. (BMW Philippines), Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. as official vehicle partner, and Philippine Airlines.

With offices in Geneva and London aside from Paris, the FIA has 245 member clubs in 143 countries.

The FIA SC held at the Conrad Manila in Pasay City drew 300 delegates from 93 countries.

This year’s theme was “Empowering the future; Unlocking motor sport’s potential.”

In his opening address, FIA president Jean Todt said that one of the key challenges for the FIA and its clubs worldwide is how to engage with younger generations and inspire them to get involved in motor sport, both as fans and competitors.

Providing as many people as possible with access to motor sport is one of the main priorities for the FIA and its member clubs worldwide to ensure the sport’s long-term success, he pointed out.

Developing motor sport at the more affordable grassroots level like karting and cross car racing is one way to attract more participants and spectators.

Todt stressed that the FIA’s focus on making motor sport accessible and sustainable is not limited to circuit racing, but also includes the rally and off-road disciplines, the FIA’s cross car project and e-sports through the FIA-certified Asian Gran Turismo Online Championship.

The FIA head urged FIA clubs to pay special attention to karting and the potential of e-karting, saying: “It is essential that you are able to organize karting events in this region. E-karting represents not only a new opportunity in terms of motor sport development, it also demonstrates that the world is changing, and that we need to be a change leader.”

FIA Commission Internationale de Karting (CIKFIA) president Felipe Massa, FIA president Jean Todt, and Petron Corp. chair Ramon S. Ang at the Manila Polo Club gala night. PHOTO BY THE FIA Communications Team

Todt was obviously referring to the evolution of electric vehicle (EV) technology in the global automotive industry, the success of FIA’s Formula E series, and the attraction of young people to EVs for their non-use of fossil fuels, zero emissions, silent operation, and other ecological advantages.

Social media and access to F1

Marlon Stockinger, a former Monaco GP3 winner, joined a panel discussion on motor sport cultures in Southeast Asia.

Stockinger summarized the history of Philippine motor sport and said that Filipinos are starting to understand what the sport is, as platforms like YouTube and Instagram are being utilized to access F1.

Speaking as a millennial, Stockinger recommended that social media be tapped to attract the younger generation to motor sport since the Philippines has one of the biggest social media interactions in the world.

Technology, like the online Nissan GT Academy, has also increased access to motor sport for youngsters coming from lower income levels, Stockinger added.

As for the dream of many young drivers to reach F1, Formula One Group CEO Chase Carey described the F1 structure like a single-seater pyramid with grassroots motor sport at the foundation, Formula 2 and Formula 3 leading up to the pinnacle ,and F1 at the pinnacle.

Carey has established F2, and is introducing F3 in Asia. The FIA’s new regional F3 championships for young drivers will begin in July 2018, and will race across Malaysia and China.

“It’s about developing a sport at a grassroots level,” Carey said. “At the end of the day, we want the 20 best drivers in the world to compete in Formula One, but we also want drivers from around the world to have the opportunity to get involved through grassroots efforts.”

Role of karting

The other topics taken up included the role of karting and e-sports as an entry to single seater racing, and how advanced technology like 4K, ultra-HD, live OTT (over-the-top) platforms can attract new fans.

Financing the progression from karting to Formula One is the biggest stumbling block for young drivers.

At one of the panel discussions, new CIK (Commission Internationale de Karting)-FIA president and 11-time Grand Prix winner Felipe Massa talked about his own personal experience, how he spent most of his time finding sponsors to fund his racing career.

Massa, 37, retired from F1 when the 2017 season ended, and will join Formula E in 2019.

As president of CIK, Massa tries to give back to aspiring youngsters what he learned in his career.

He started Karting at 8 years of age, and believes that the best category to prepare for F1 is karting since it is the most similar in terms of reaction, speed, G4, and braking.

Motor sport demos

After the closing plenary session on June 6, Massa went to an area on Bayshore Avenue, SM Mall of Asia complex, where a karting circuit had been built.

Massa drove a birelART e-kart to benchmark a reference time for FIA SC delegates and local karters to try to beat.

Simultaneously, at the auto gymkhana course built on the SM concert grounds, eight young AAP MSDP finalists battled for the fastest time. Jevoy Moreno was first, with Inigo Anton as runner-up.

FIA Asia-Pacific coordinator and China ASN president Wan Heping, FIA president Jean Todt, AAP president Gus Lagman, and FIA deputy president for sport Graham Stoker cut the ribbon to open the MotorEx. PHOTO BY THE FIA Communications Team

These motor sport activities were preceded the day before by an X-cross car demonstration with French cross car champion Benedict Papillon and Philippine slalom champion Milo Rivera in an exciting driving display of race buggies.

Source won’t matter

After noting that electrification is everywhere in the automotive industry, that Formula E will be followed by e-rallycross or e-karting, and that fuel cell technology for long distance racing is in the works, a speaker at the last plenary session posited: “Change will happen, whether it’s EV, fuel cell, or the next thing. We just need to be prepared to accept that change, and keep rolling with it because the passion is the motor sport—what the source is won’t matter as long as it’s fun and exciting.”

In his closing remarks, Jean Todt returned to the young blood theme: “We will keep going, developing motor sport, being more ambitious in all the regions. Young blood is absolutely essential. We have a community that is developing, and it can only develop by having young people. We have a lot of new members of commissions, new presidents of commissions who are young, and that’s very important to secure the future of the organization.”

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