In 1996 saw the birth of the first permanent race circuit in China, with the incarnation of Zhuhai International Circuit. China has seen relatively slow growth over 15 years, be the recent 5 years has seen a huge boom in the industry. Now the 9th international race circuit is here with us namely Ningbo International Speedway. And I personally think our prayer has been answered, and here is why.
With the likes of Shanghai, Chengdu, Guangdong, Tiama, Ordos, Golden Port (Beijing), Zhejiang, they are all renown race circuits in China. So why did I put such bold claim on this Ningbo International Speedway?
All the tracks have some critical flaws to the nature of the business; Shanghai F1 circuit being the best in every aspect of safety and average speed etc. but the track is only available for open practice 2 calendar days per month (private/team bookings aside), and the price for booking is astronomical (at least compared to same graded Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia).
Zhuhai is second best with at least 1/4 to 1/2 month of the calendar days available, but the lack of elevation changes and high speed chicanes, it is the best place for brake performance test with 5 heavy brake zones per lap, but not so much to put chassis and suspension to scrutiny (not to mention drivers balls, sorry not setting aside female drivers, but you know what i mean).
Guangdong, Tianma, Golden Port suffers from lack of distance and diversity in corners, also you wont totally call them safe in the first place with limited run-off area. Ordos is a beautiful race track if you can get to it (one experience with delayed/cancelled flight will definitely put you off from going there again).
Zhejiang is a great circuit if you want to do time attack, only to find in a race situation, sector 1 is hell if you are trying to overtake even with a big difference in car performance, the continuous S corners throughout and very “green” tarmac make it near impossible to overtake in sector 1 unless you and to rub each other.
We are lucky to be racing in Chinese Cup at the opening race of the Ningbo International Speedway (with WTCC, CTCC and F4 China), the race track is graced with a very good mix of braking, cornering and speed.
Passing through the straight, as you approach the “Champions Bridge” (Translation straight from Chinese), you are met with an angled braking into T1, ultimately it is a 90 degrees left hander, but because you are passing the “Champions Bridge” with the race car pointing away from T1, drivers need to assess the speed and braking to minimise the chance of locking up trying to late brake and turn into the left hander.
T2 is a simpler 90 degree left while making sure you are flat out early from T2 to T6 is important.
Braking into T6 left turn while watching out for the run into T7 right corner as the track close up for a slight uphill on the exit of T7. As you maintain the T8-T9 long right corner, if you seat in a proper race car with the seat low into the body shell, it is actually a slightly blind through T7-8, so running the car with max load on left wheels you need to manage the line so you get max pace out of T8.
T10 and T11 is a double apex with shallower entry at T10 and tighter exit on T11, balancing out the T11 exit and defence into T10 is critical in race situations.
T12 a medium speed left 60 degrees turn where you focus on how far you can use the wider runoff on offer at the corner exit (obviously hitting the apex is also important).
Then you arrive at the uphill section, with a smaller chicane at T13-14, then feed into a bigger chicane at T15-16, granted it will be difficult to side by side at the chicane, but that’s missing the point, you are trying to get the perfect run up the double chicane for a chance into the braking zone at the top of the hill in T17.
If you are close enough and brave enough you might just get enough pace for a challenge for position into T17.
Back down the hill into T18-19, here you are trying to brake into T18 and hit the apex at T19 while carrying to momentum and the perfect throttle action through to T20 all the while managing the added acceleration going downhill.
T21 Left T22 Right T23 Left (Final corner) Medium Speed 90km/h to 110km/h in Touring Cars, you are managing the racing line, and throttle for the perfect exit into the straight.
It is a challenging set of setup requirements and driving to put together for the race car and driver. Ningbo International Speedway is a challenging race track urge you to go try it out, it is a blessing that we get a race track that can nurture both engineers and drivers alike. I can only hope there will be more race tracks as challenging (if not more) as this in China.