When you devote every bead of sweat to your sport, you have only one target in mind: to win. Professional racing driver Shaun Thong, 21, is well aware of the feeling.
“Everyone who races wants to win. It’s the only way of showing that you are the best,” says Thong, who was an Audi Hong Kong representative at the 2017 Formula E Hong Kong E-Prix grand opening earlier this month. “To me, second place is just the first loser.”
The driver brushed shoulders with racing stars Oliver Turvey (from the Chinese team NextEV) and Jean-Eric Vergne (Techeetah) as Hong Kong prepared to host the opening two races of the next E-Prix championship season in December.
“It felt great to finally gain public recognition. I worked hard to get there and I continue to aim higher,” Thong explains.
Thong didn’t take part in a go-kart race until he was 14, but his career has been full speed ahead ever since. At just 16, he debuted in the Asia Formula Renault Championship – a colossal jump from kart to formula car – and came third. A year later, he started racing on the European circuit while attending university in Britain, before taking another step up to Formula 3.
Thong’s blossoming career landed him a partnership with Audi Hong Kong, where he is heavily involved with its young driver development programme.
“It’s been working well as a career so far,” says the official Audi Hong Kong driver and ambassador. “They provided a good training platform and I was really fortunate to get into the Audi Sport TT Cup in Germany,” he says, referring to the “one-make” championship where all drivers drive the same car with the same engine and specifications.
This year, Thong is racing in the Blancpain GT Asia Series and the Audi R8 LMS Cup. He will race in Japan next week for the Blancpain, where he currently stands in second place. “My goal this year is to win it all. I want to win my first championship title,” he says.
Despite these personal goals, Thong insists racing is a team sport.
“Cooperation with your race team is important because everything must be picture-perfect: the pit stops, the engine, the mechanics … the whole package,” he says. “It’s emotional and kind of a relief after a race because of all the effort we put in. Everyone deserves credit.”
Thong’s success is a result of serious sacrifice; he says it’s far from easy for young people looking to enter the realm of motorsports. “It’s massively difficult to start a career in this sport because we have limited resources in Hong Kong. Motorsports is all about budgets. The money required for fuel, car, tires … it’s like you’re burning cash.”
Thong remains optimistic, however. Even though it is difficult for even the most talented young drivers to get into the sport, he explains that China is continuing to invest in building tracks. “It’s much more affordable to start racing at junior level,” he explains.
Thong has also seen a shift in the way Hongkongers view the sport. “I see more parents [realising] that motorsports is not as dangerous as they thought, because the safety equipment is so much better than before. I’m glad to be racing in 2017 and not 20 years ago.”
And Thong expects the Hong Kong racing scene to only get bigger and better. “I love racing, and I’m confident that other people will too.”
But it takes more than money and lucky breaks for aspiring racing drivers to become successful. “You have to be mentally and physically fit. The level in Asia is building – we’re more or less matching European levels. It’s not easy, so you have to be prepared and focused,” he says.
With Thong as a driving force, it seems the future of Hong Kong racing is in safe hands.
What is your favourite thing to eat before a race?
A candy and a nice espresso before getting into the car.
Do you have any pre-competition superstitions?
Nothing special. I warm up and do some visualisation to get myself into the zone – lock in the feelings that I need.
If you could compete in any race in the world, which would it?
Le Mans 24 Hours.