This week’s Motorsport Prospects feature is an interview with Hong Kong-based driver and driver coach Dan Wells. With the increasing popularity of racing in China and the growth of development series in the region such as Asian Formula Renault, Chinese and Southeast Asian F4, Asian F3 and the Blancpain GT World Challenge Asia, I thought it would be a good idea for Dan to bring us up to speed on what is happening in the region what makes it different from other parts of the racing globe.
Motorsport Prospects: Throughout your career you have done something I am a big proponent of and that is maximizing your opportunities. Your website goes into some details of how you got to where you are today but for people that may have not heard your story, please explain to us how ended up racing in Asia?
Dan Wells: When I began racing, I knew that it was going to be primarily about funding. I was lucky enough to be selected by Racing Steps Foundation, who sponsored me into Formula Renault UK, but when this ended, I knew I had to take a different route. I had just finished 2nd in the 2011 Formula Renault UK Finals Series, and a Hong Kong team messaged me on Twitter to see if I was interested to race with them in the new Formula Pilota China Series. It was to be their first year in the series, and they were looking to support a European driver, so I decided to make the move to Hong Kong and find a way to make it work.
MP: How different is the Asian racing scene compared to Europe?
DW: It very much depends on which Asian racing scene! There are some events which are really run in a top way so that it is comparable to Europe. But then there are also events which make Pembrey look like Yas Marina in comparison. There is quite a wide variation, depending on the hosting country and of course, budget.
MP: You have extensive experience in multiple Asian racing series from Formula Renault Asia to Chinese F4 in addition to your experience racing single-seaters in Europe. Can you give us some insight into the various Asian single-seater series and what they offer a young driver?
DW: The top level single seater championship in Asia is the Super Formula series in Japan. Below that, you have Asian F3 who are doing a good job with organisers Top Speed to have a proper rung on the ladder, and then you have your Chinese F4 and things like this. It is normally quite good because it is cheap, and you can show yourself in front of big, well-funded entities who might take you into GT’s for example.
MP: You have also built an extensive background in sports cars. How much do you enjoy racing sports cars and how is the race craft different from single seaters?
DW: I love racing in general – but for sure GT’s are something special. I like it because of the team environment – you can have multiple teammates, you are always helping them and getting help yourself, so when you win or get on the podium it feels pretty special. It is also different because in GT the car isn’t setup specifically to you all the time, the belts might not be perfect, the seat might not fit you 100%, the car handling might be setup for something you don’t prefer, but you just get on with the job and get the most out of what you have. In single seaters, everything is tailored 100% to you, and then you just hopefully put it on pole and drive away. In GT, you might come out behind other cars and have to overtake your way through etc depending on the circumstance.
MP: How competitive are the various series you have competing in?
DW: It depends! I’ve done some events where there are only 2 cars in the class, and others where you have 30+! When I did Japanese F3 and Macau F3, you had proper top drivers including Verstappen, Ocon, Matsushita and the like, and also Chinese F4 in Wuhan where we had top European drivers join us too. But then there are also some events which obviously don’t have the same depth of talent.
MP: How well is motorsport perceived in Asia as far as popularity and support?
DW: For sure in the last 5 years or so you can notice a big uptrend. What with Formula E in Hong Kong, China, the Macau GP of course still going strong every year, then with attempts such as the KL City Grand Prix, Wuhan Street Circuit etc, it is growing in popularity. There are so many race tracks being built in China at the moment it is crazy. The next 10-20 years will be very exciting for Asian motorsport.
MP: We are starting to see Asian drivers making their mark in Europe with Chinese driver Ye Yifei being the most recent example. At what stage is young driver development currently at in Asia? How long until we see a Chinese driver in F1?
DW: It is all about the grass roots. This is something which isn’t so strong compared to Europe – there isn’t the easy access to karting that Europeans enjoy so it is only natural that on percentages, there will be less top drivers. But as you say, there are top Chinese drivers now who wouldn’t be out of place at the top level. I’m sure we will see one in F1 within the next decade.
MP: After all these years racing in Asia, what do you most enjoy about it? Least?
DW: I love the travel, variety and seeing different cultures. You never get bored. On the downside, sometimes it can be difficult because there are so many parties involved and understanding the politics of it can take a lot of time.
MP: Budget is a major issue for young drivers and it seems every year it is getting more and more expensive to race. You have taken a very extensive and varied approach to raising your budget to race through a number of initiatives from coaching to hosting simulator and track events and I have to say you present a very positive and optimistic tone when describing how people can race and indeed partner with you. What do you feel is the most important thing to take into account when building up a budget and seeking out sponsorship?
DW: In the days where I needed to raise money for my earlier drives, I found the biggest thing is you need to understand that you aren’t a charity. There are better things to do with your money than sponsor you. So you have to find a business case, ideally tied in with someone who has a passion for sport or hard working individuals. At the end of the day, if you always wanted to do something, you would have found a way to do it. That’s what I believe. So if you currently think it’s not possible, or too hard, or that you have tried everything – ask yourself, have you? Of course you make a lot of mistakes on the way, and people may not be entirely happy, but you are young, you are learning and the only way to get there is to keep pushing and learning.
MP: It is obvious from your website that you both love racing and treat it as a business. How important is it to run your racing career as a business?
DW: The top people in business are also involved in motorsport. You need to show clients that you deliver value for money and provide a good service. If you don’t run it as a business, it won’t be long until you have nothing and you’ll be faced with the question of do you continue and try and keep pushing, or do you get a normal job. When managing budgets, you have to make sure that the client doesn’t have any nasty surprises, and that you do adequate due diligence to make sure you can deliver what you promise.
MP: Tell me a bit about your coaching services?
DW: I coach drivers from young karters, drivers starting their single seater careers, and then also enthusiastic individuals who want to improve. It is a really rewarding part of racing as you can share your experiences, and help them in their goals. When you see a driver learn and improve, it really puts a smile on your face.
MP: What other services do you offer?
DW: I also offer a one-stop solution for clients who don’t have the time, knowledge, or experience to manage their own racing. I manage the driver’s racing program, budgeting, negotiate contracts, and then also offer my services as a racer (if it’s a two-driver race for example) or as a coach. One invoice for the client, one point of contact, no matter what team or event. I also do video reviews of cars with Contempo Concept, have done commentary with the Formula E in Hong Kong, and anything in between…
MP: In your mind, what is the single most important thing a young driver and their parents should keep I mind when selecting a driver coach?
DW: Does your coach believe in the driver and their potential? Or is he more interested in the cash then seeing the driver improve.
MP: What do you feel is the most underappreciated part of the art of driving a racing car fast?
DW: The time spent outside of the car working on aspects other than physically driving the car.
MP: How are your plans for 2019 shaping up?
DW: Good. At the moment I have multiple events confirmed both racing and coaching, and even some co-driving on rallies, so it’s going to be a busy but very enjoyable 2019.
MP: Would you recommend a European or North American driver look to race in Asia? And if they do, how best would they deal with the culture change?
DW: For sure yes. The only thing to say here is have an open mind, don’t think Asia is easy, and don’t be arrogant.
You can find all of Dan’s contact information and details of his services on his Motorsport Prospects listing page here.