History-making Chinese driver Ma Qinghua will get big fan backing every time he takes to the Ningbo International Speedpark for WTCR Race of China this weekend (13-15 September).
Ahead of the action getting underway, the Alfa Romeo-powered Team Mulsanne driver reveals his dream podium, explains why he chose number 55 for this season’s WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup presented by OSCARO, reveals why it’s been a busy summer, discusses his hopes of home success and the role he hopes to play in the future of motorsport in China.
If you could choose any two drivers to join you on a fantasy podium, from any category, any era, who would they be?
“I would choose Lewis Hamilton and Marc Marquez. I am a big fan of bike racing, it’s amazing and similar to WTCR because every racer is quite close and very competitive and side by side all the time. The rider who can win those races is really amazing.”
Pre-race, what do you do before climbing aboard your Alfa Romeo Giulietta Veloce TCR by Romeo Ferraris?
“When I raced with Citroën in the WTCC I had a case of Chinese tea with me and I used to drink this before I got in the car. Now I’m with an Italian team I change tea to coffee, espresso of course, and I listen to music. But the music is quiet and peaceful, not to make me too excited because I try to balance the emotion.”
Ningbo is one of 10 great tracks on the WTCR / OSCARO calendar. If you could add another for 2020 what would it be?
“Laguna Seca! Personally, I would love to have one race in the States and if you want me to choose one circuit then Laguna Seca represents that special point.”
All WTCR / OSCARO drivers get to choose their race number so why go for 55?
“I use number 55 because when I start to race in Formula 3 in Europe in 2008, I was number 55. In that year I got onto the podium three times, it was a very good year for me and very important in my career towards Formula One. I would like to repeat the success from before and the number ‘5’ is very lucky in Chinese culture so I choose 55.”
You became the first Chinese driver to win an FIA world championship motor race in 2014. In May of this year at the Slovakia Ring you became the first driver from your country to win in WTCR / OSCARO. What was that like?
“I was really, really happy. It was a difficult day for us, the weather was really demanding, changing which was never going to be easy, but in Race 3 it was a bit more stable. I did a really fantastic start to get in front. I tried to find a gap, but it was not easy because the guys are really fast and Norbert Michelisz, one of the best fighters on our grid, never gave up to try and catch me and try to make some trouble for me. There were lots of difficult moments, but when I crossed the finish line on my last lap I thought ‘finally! We made it!’ Thanks again to Team Mulsanne.”
Part two of the 2019 WTCR / OSCARO season is about to get underway. Are you ready?
“I am ready! There has been a lot of waiting but I’ve been keeping sharp, keeping training for two months. Now the weekend is coming, it’s a short time in front but I am really excited and really looking forward to my home race.”
How confident are you of a good result on home soil?
“It’s a very challenging circuit and everybody is quite close. We are in a good shape with our car, very comfortable and I’m really confident. In the first half of the season we found a lot of improvement in the car and I am building up my confidence with the team and my crew. The Asia season will be the next step for us to keep fighting in this championship, to keep positive.”
What improvements have you been able to make during the summer?
“By regulation we cannot change the equipment, but we did some improvement of the set-up side but also some small things to my personal cockpit equipment, some little change to make me more comfortable. The Asian rounds are very specific, and we need to wait for the Chinese race to see if our new set-up is working. But we are very positive from the last race in Portugal where we had another podium.”
In terms of the set-up changes, what have you tried to achieve?
“We were looking at the stability. At the beginning of the season the car was fast but sometimes not stable enough for me. Through the weekend when the track conditions changed, when the weather changed some moments were difficult because the car was not that stable. But as everyone knows we had zero testing before the beginning of the season so there were a lot of things to look after, to keep improving. So far, we have found most of the key points of this car’s set-up, but with every car there’s always something to improve because it’s never perfect. We keep our head down, the team is working really hard, even through the summer break.”
How challenging is the Ningbo circuit?
“It’s a difficult circuit with a lot of direction changes. It’s not high-speed but there are a lot of technical corners. Regarding the car set-up it’s going to be a lot of lose and gain and you have to balance in between. This presents the biggest headache for everyone, but for me I am comfortable and looking forward to drive my Alfa Romeo on this track.”
There’s a lot of pressure and expectation on your shoulders. How will you cope?
“I am quite relaxed. When I am in a good position in a race, I try to enjoy the race, I am not trying to think of the pressure, the spectators, being in China for my home race. I am trying to enjoy, to fight, and just focusing on the pure racing, not thinking of too much.”
When you eventually stop racing, how will you keep busy?
“First of all, I don’t know when I’m going to stop! I think I have quite a long time to go, I love being in this sport for the passion and I will try to continue my career for as long as possible. I would also like to do something in this industry in China for sure, to help the whole motorsport industry in China. I would like to help more drivers or even those kids who never drove before to start, to give them some instruction and good suggestions of how to make a career.”