From China with power

66th Macau Grand Prix Special | Co-ordinated by Sérgio Fonseca

WTCR – FIA World Touring Car Cup

Twenty years ago nobody would even imagine that a Chinese automaker could aim to win the most famous Touring Car race in Southeast Asia. The new global urban mobility brand from China “Lynk & Co” will target the Guia Race’s title glory when it enters the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) Race of Macau.

China’s auto industry has made enormous progress in recent years and taken a relevant position worldwide, including in electric vehicles, smart driving, the Internet of Vehicle or artificial intelligence. Chinese automakers are also coming into motorsports, from off-road to rallies and touring cars. Some already enjoyed some success overseas.

Last April, Swedish driver Thed Björk made motorsport history as the first driver to win a world-level FIA event in a Chinese car, the Geely Group Motorsport-developed Lynk & Co 03 TCR, with his victory in Race 3 at the FIA WTCR Race of Morocco. In China, Lynk & Co is perceived as a revolutionary brand. Chairman Li Shufu wants to push it further in Europe, where the customer is much more advanced from a car industry point of view. Picking up the WTCR to promote the brand worldwide certainly helps that strategy.

“There is nowhere on Earth where the traffic is as intense as on a racing circuit, and for a new brand like Lynk & Co there are endless possibilities through a motorsport programme in terms of testing technology, components and philosophies to their extremes”, explains Alexander Murdzevski Schedvin, Head of Motorsport at Geely Group Motorsport.

Geely Group created a motorsports division in 2018. The unit has dual headquarters. One is in the East China city of Hangzhou, where the group is based, and the other in the Swedish city of Gothenburg, where its Volvo Cars subsidiaries are headquartered. Four Lynk & Co 03 TCR have been entered in the WTCR this season. Björk and Yvan Muller represent Cyan Racing Lynk & Co, with Muller’s nephew Yann Ehrlacher and three-time FIA World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx lining up for Cyan Performance Lynk & Co.

This first WTCR season has been a success so far for the Chinese cars, with race wins and plenty of silverware for the brand. Lynk & Co doesn’t sell cars in Macau, but this is still a special race for the team. “Macau is one of the greatest and most prestigious motorsport events in the world and it is very important for us to participate. There is no street race like this one in the world and all manufacturers want to come out of it at the top, as do we”, Murdzevski Schedvin says.

Make no mistake though, Lynk & Co’s WTCR debut hasn’t been a walk in the park. With the only four Lynk & Co cars in the world racing in the WTCR this year, they have been heavily criticized by their opponents for running a factory outfit on a manufacturers-supported, teams-oriented series. Zhejiang Geely Holding Group plans to deliver the race car to customers starting in the first quarter of next year, while Murdzevski Schedvin played down criticism: “We have made the Lynk & Co 03 TCR available for customers well ahead of what the regulations require. This is a brand new programme and focus has been put on getting the first cars to the Lynk & Co Cyan Racing programme for 2019. From 2020 on, we will start delivering cars to customers, starting in China, which obviously is the home market for Lynk & Co”.

The Lynk & Co 03 TCR race car is based on the all-new and agile 03 road car and features a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine with 350hp and 420Nm of torque. It is front wheel-driven and fitted with a six-speed sequential transmission. The cost of the car is €130,000, as per the TCR cost cap. Lynk & Co will be facing a fierce competition in the customer racing business against big names of automotive and motorsport industries like the VAG Group brands, Hyundai or Honda.

“Our setup for the customer racing programme differs from others like the VAG Group and Hyundai. We will start on a much smaller scale, focusing on a certain number of key customer teams that we can connect with through local activities of Lynk & Co retailers in China”, explains the Geely Group Motorsport boss. “This is one of the key purposes of the customer racing programme, to support the Lynk & Co road car sales, and that will be our strategy for it, rather than getting out as many cars as possible”.

Geely Group Motorsport’s primary focus has been the Lynk & Co project, but the Zhejiang Geely Holding Group automotive empire is vast and consists of many other well-known international brands including Geely Auto, Volvo Cars, Polestar, Proton, Lotus or the London Electric Vehicle Company. The Zhejiang Province group is also the largest shareholder of Volvo AB and Daimler AG.

“Our focus is currently on Lynk & Co regarding international motorsport. But we also have a Dakar programme with Geely, as well as the Chinese one-make series Geely Super Cup and Formula 4”, says Murdzevski Schedvin. The motorsport future is still an open question, with the brand monitoring the development of the sport, including the new all-electric touring car series ETCR. “We follow the ETCR series closely, as we do with a number of championships across the globe. The EV market is progressing quickly and we will keep a close eye on it, but currently our focus for our motorsport programme with Lynk & Co is on the current TCR concept”.

For now, all eyes are on WTCR’s Drivers and Teams titles. The light blue quartet of cars is on the hunt, and a good weekend at Circuito da Guia will help the cause. Björk, who was announced as Lynk & Co Cyan Racing’s first signing, said in the beginning of the season: “To once again aim for the world title is a dream coming true”. One thing is certain: it definitely will be a Chinese dream coming true if he or any of his teammates achieves it.