Written by Agency.Asia
Alex Yoong - the first ethnic-Chinese driver to ever earn a drive in a Formula One team - is no different. He is among the best. This promising driver is now on the other side of the pit wall with his own outfit, Axle Motorsport.
Agency.Asia: Your own championship winning team is primarily sponsored by Malaysia’s Proton. They must have been happy that your drivers outshone Honda, Peugeot, Mitsubishi, Toyota, Suzuki, Chevrolet and the like to win the Asian Touring Car Championship. Tell us what such a relationship brings both parties – and how one goes about meeting an openhanded sponsor before the season begins?
Alex Yoong: This relationship was bourn out of Proton’s desire to use high level motorsports to promote their brand. Not only does motorsports give high visibility to sponsors, but also seeing your brand doing well in a competitive environment ensures the positive perception of the brand in the consumers mind. Meeting new sponsors can be tough, especially when trying to see them about Motorsports. Most sponsors are unsure how to leverage of sponsorship with a race team and it’s all about painting a complete picture of how to do just that.
Agency.Asia: Outside of the racing itself, what do those logos plastered all over your car mean to you as far as added responsibility? You’ve never appeared to have any difficulty picking up sponsorships. Describe the amount of extra curricular work you do each week to ensure that sponsors keep coming back year after year. You can now speak as a driver and a team boss – so relate to both sides of the coin.
Alex Yoong: When a company sponsors a race team, they are placing the reputation of the company with the team. It’s a very heavy responsibility, and we in the motorsports business have to treat it with the utmost respect. From the driver, to the mechanics and management, it is crucial that the team behaves and responds in the most correct manner because we are representing our sponsors all the time.
Axle Motorsport always keep an open channel with our sponsors, and give updates to them all the time, especially during and after race weekends. If they are to leverage off the sponsorship they need as much information about the teams results and activities.
Agency.Asia: You were once quoted as saying, ''There's only half-a-Chinese who has ever raced in F1, and that's me.” Of course, being part European and part Asian by heritage, you do straddle something of a cultural divide. Let’s restrict this to your business experiences, but what would you see as the most interesting cultural differences throughout your career in the motor racing biz?
Alex Yoong: The main difference between the East and the West is the level of exposure to Motorsports. Most companies in the West know how to use the sponsorship to their full advantage, while a lot of companies in the East are still learning. One advantage of the East is that motorsports is not as saturated as the West, which means if a motorsport team can give good value to their sponsors; they should be able to pick up quite a bit of business.
Agency.Asia: Outside of Europe some of your most notable racing victories have been on Chinese circuits, yet if some of the biggest events are anything to go by there were unbelievably few people in the grandstand - compared to Europe. Having won the inaugural A1GP – the World Cup of Motorsport - in Shanghai, do you sense growing interest among fans and indeed sponsors in China and across Asia?
Alex Yoong: Yes there is a growing interest in China and the rest of Asia. But big F1 circuits are not the best way to encourage local motorsports. We need smaller venues with good facilities that are not expensive for organizers, promoters, teams and fans to use.
Hailing back to your time racing with Minardi Formula One Team, perhaps you’d give the uninitiated an indication of just how many dollars our beloved brands contribute to sponsoring Formula One’s top drivers in this day and age!
The main difference between the East and the West is the level of exposure to Motorsports.
Alex Yoong: The top teams in F1 spend about half a billion dollars per year, with the smaller teams spending 50 million dollars. Top drivers can be earning in excess of 20 million dollars per year, not including private endorsement contracts. The FIA are introducing cost cutting measures in F1 this year to try and bring the costs down which in this current economic climate is a wise decision.
Agency.Asia: Motor racing is peppered with the big brands and events such as the Toyota Racing Series and Formula BMW. Do you think that GMs woes and Honda’s decision to pull out of F1 is going to change the landscape? Will brands swing to more regional sponsorships and classes that the man and woman on the street are better able to relate to, such as Proton’s sponsorship of Team Axle Proton?
Alex Yoong: I think that brands will look more to regional sponsorship as I believe there is a place for it alongside international sponsorship. There is something to be said for a brand understanding their local markets and hopefully Axle Motorsport will benefit from that. We generated over USD 50 million worth of exposure for our clients last year. There is a demand for local motorsports content from regional media.
Agency.Asia: We love a good yarn at Agency.Asia. Do you have a favourite story where a driver or sponsor said the wrong thing, wore the wrong watch, drank the wrong beer or effectively did something disastrous off the track that left them feeling like a professional driver bogged in kitty litter waiting for a tow truck?
Alex Yoong: I guess I have a few stories….. but really, what drivers or sponsors do in their own time is their own business, so sorry no kiss and tell stuff.
Agency.Asia: Which books inspire you the most, Alex? You’d be heavily into rousing biographies, wouldn’t you? What about ‘Art of War’?
Alex Yoong: Art of War is good, but I like fiction more. Lots of books to choose from, but I’ll try and narrow it down to five.
- Atlas Shrugged, Ann Rand
- Left hand of darkness, Ursula La Guin
- It’s not about the bike, Lance Armstrong
- Freakanomics, by whatisname
- Life of PI, Yann Martel
Agency.Asia: We ask each guest to nominate a marketing person or indeed a brand that they feel our readers would be interested to hear about in the next edition. Who would you like to nominate here? Alex, thanks very much.
Alex Yoong: Apple Computers. If everyone asks for that, then how about Google?
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