Local spectators will be among the first to witness the arrival of a famous marque on the Asian motorsport scene – via the Aston Martin Asia Cup (AMAC).
Aston Martin raises profile with Asia races

EVEN if you can’t tell a carburettor from a crankshaft, it cannot have escaped your attention that Singapore is gearing up to host its Formula One race next month – the first Grand Prix event here since September 1973.

However, most people may not be aware that the race weekend (Sept 26-28) will feature several supporting races as a build-up to the main event.

While the Ferraris, McLarens, BMWs and the rest of their F1 brethren will get most of the attention, local spectators will also be among the first to witness the arrival of a famous marque on the Asian motorsport scene – via the Aston Martin Asia Cup (AMAC).

The inaugural one-make race series – similar to the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia launched in 2003 – features Aston Martin’s Vantage N24, the racing version of its V8 Vantage, with a 410 hp 4.3-litre V8 engine.

The series, comprising some 12 races over seven rounds, began in Shanghai in May and continued in Malaysia in July. The Singapore round will be the first of two races held in conjunction with a Formula One race – the next will be at the F1 event in Shanghai in October – and the series is scheduled to end the season in November.

The N24 cars are built by Aston Martin Racing, a partnership between Aston Martin and the British motorsport company Prodrive, whose owner David Richards led the consortium that bought Aston Martin from Ford last year.

Backed by more than eight decades of racing pedigree – particularly its success at Le Mans – Aston Martin is hoping the race series will raise its profile in Asia and attract new buyers, especially in the lucrative China market.

Participants in AMAC – including drivers from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and Australia – had to invest in a £92,000 (S$243,000 ) race car as well as fork out US$120,000 to race over the season. The races typically feature a variety of formats, including 30-minute sprint and longer endurance races.

“For Aston Martin this is something completely new. It’s the first one-make series they’ve done,” says Malaysia-based series director Ian Ross Geekie, a veteran of the motorsports scene in Asia, who helped establish the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia series and before that, the Ferrari 355 Challenge.

“Aston Martin chose to do this in the Asia-Pacific region because of the potential for growth,” he says. “They are looking at developing the brand beyond traditional markets such as the US, UK and Japan.”

Mr Geekie has been involved in motorsports for the past 30 years and still manages his own race team. With his Datsun 240Z, he is the current overall champion in the Hong Kong Classic Car Series.

“Aston Martin has a good racing heritage linked to Le Mans, but beyond the racing fraternity it is not that well-known,” he says. “The distributor in China is the prime mover to have the racing series as a marketing platform to build brand awareness – it is not just a gentleman’s carriage.”

With AMAC, the idea is to offer something different for drivers as well as spectators.

“Aston Martin occupies a unique space in the car world, so we want to be associated with different racing events and some different racing formats, such as driver changes and longer races, to bring in the Le Mans feel – we want to differentiate ourselves from other one-make series,” says Mr Geekie.

Due to the constraints of F1, though, the AMAC race in Singapore will be limited to a 30-minute sprint. Other support races – to be held in the afternoon during the Singapore race weekend – include rounds of the Carrera Cup as well as Formula BMW, the junior racing format for single-seat, open-wheel cars.

Right now, 17 cars are taking part in the AMAC race.

“There are similarities to the Carrera Cup, but my goal is to expand the scope rather than take away from the Carrera Cup,” says Mr Geekie, who worked for Porsche in Australia when he started out. “I want to take Aston Martin in a slightly different direction and if we can co-exist, it will broaden the racing horizon,” he says.

“Aston Martin is looking at this series quite closely to see if it works, so that it can grow elsewhere. The power of the brand has created a lot of interest for corporate people as well as drivers.”

Mr Geekie also wants to make the race entertaining for the drivers. “When we spec-ed the car, I said I wanted lots of noise and flames shooting out. In the end we couldn’t get the flames, but the noise is great,” he says.