Ho-Pin Tung wants to be Champ Car's first Chinese driver
by Mark Cipolloni

 August 29, 2006

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Ho-Pin Tung
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

Champ Car is going to race in China in 2007, but Champ Car is an unknown quantity in China so the race promoter doesn't have a lot to sell.  However, that could soon change if German F3 points leader Ho-Pin Tung is successful in getting Champ Car to give him a test drive.

Tung lives in Holland so he carries a Dutch citizenship, but he's also Chinese, which could make him a perfect fit for Champ Car's new races, soon to be announced, in Holland and China.

I caught up with Tung in Montreal this past weekend.

MARK CIPOLLONI:  Welcome to Montréal.

Ho-Pin Tung: Thank you.

Q. Ho-Pin is a Dutch-Chinese, Dutch citizenship, am I correct?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yes.

Q. Chinese ancestry.

Ho-Pin Tung: Correct.

Q.  I understand you've been driving in German F3 this year, is that correct?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, that's correct. Been racing there this year. Pretty successful. And so far I have won six races. With four races left, I'm leading the championship by 20 points. Hopefully next three races we can keep this pace and try to get the championship eventually.

Q. Before that you raced in Formula BMW, is that correct?

Ho-Pin Tung in Montreal
Mark Cipolloni/AutoRacing1.com

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, I did Formula BMW Asia in 2003. I won the championship. After that I got a chance to drive the BMW Williams Formula One car. This was in December 2003, which was a fantastic experience, of course.

Q. Ho-Pin, I understand that you didn't run a Dallara this year in F3, is that true?

Ho-Pin Tung: That's true. Dallara has been dominating Formula 3 in Europe the last couple years. I had to stick to one of the Lola chassis for European Formula 3. Lola, being a British manufacturer, set up a whole new project to try to fight into the Formula 3 competition in Europe.

It was, for me as a driver, really interesting to be so much involved in developing a car. Made myself a lot more complete as a racing driver. Learned how to give the proper feedback about the car. We did a little work together with Adam Airey, the designer of the Formula 3 car. He was attending a lot of the races.

I was being able to set the car, to make developments to the car, which suit me as a driver. That was a very interesting part for me of the season. I really learned a lot from that.

Q. I understand all the engines aren't equal in F3.

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, there's quite some changes in Formula 3 engine-wise the last couple of years. Before you had all the domestic championship, like Opel was dominating Germany, Honda was Britain. So you had all these championships.

Now you have Mercedes came into Formula 3 a couple years ago. They've been really, really strong the last few years. And you can really see it at the international races. They are dominating.

Q. So what kind of engine did you run?

Ho-Pin Tung: We run an Opel engine, yeah.

Q. There's a lot of Chinese in this world. There's a lot of Chinese in China, a lot of Chinese outside of China. Do you feel they would take an interest in the Chinese driver in a top level series like Champ Car? Would that excite the Chinese around the world?

Ho-Pin Tung: Well, for sure. I'm convinced that many -- of course, me being a European Chinese, being raised, grown -- born and raised in Holland, I think a lot of people would be able to identify themselves with me. There are many Chinese out of China.

Of course, besides that it's also great to see that even in China we are really -- I'm really closely watched by the big TV stations, by all the writing media. Yeah, that's a great response for me.

Q. So you live in The Netherlands?

Ho-Pin Tung: I do. I was born there. Raised over there. Yeah, it's my home.

Q. But your parents are Chinese, is that correct?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah. They emigrated I think like 28 years ago, something like that, from China to Holland. They were originally from Wenzhou, a city in the Zhejiang province in southern China.

Q. I understand you speak a number of languages, is that correct?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah. I speak Dutch, German, English, Chinese, French. My Mandarin, I'm still improving on that. Of course, I grew up in Holland, so it's a thing I have to work at. But I'm gradually improving.

Q. How did you learn all these languages?

Ho-Pin Tung: I've been to regular school in Holland, the pre-university college. Went to university to do law and economics. But my racing duties were taking so much time I couldn't finish that. So now I'm full-time focusing on my racing career.

Q. So what brings you here to Montréal?

Ho-Pin Tung: Well, of course, I've been to a Champ Car race in Denver last year. That was a great experience. To be here in Montréal again to visit Champ Car is great. It's a fantastic race. I enjoyed it very much last year. I enjoy it again now.

Q. You may win an F3 championship this year the way it looks. What's your next step? Where are you looking forward to going next?

Ho-Pin Tung: Well, obviously I really am very keen to make a step up. Champ Car is a very interesting series. Of course, there are many options available.

I think GP2 would be great. DTM is an option. Champ Car would be fantastic. Yeah, we have to see what's the best option for me.

Q. There's some strong rumors of a possible race in Assen, as well as in China, next year for the Champ Car. You being Dutch and Chinese, would that help you if they have races in those locations to find sponsorship to help you move up?

Ho-Pin Tung: Well, it would surely be very interesting. That's a very interesting point about Champ Car. It's a great series. They've got new cars next year coming up. It looks very promising. And the future for the series with Assen and China, you know, it can work on both sides for me. It would be great to be competing in both countries.

In Holland we get a lot of support from the media, also from China. Last week at the German F3 race there were eight journalists from China who came over, including China Central Television, CCT. Yeah, that would be a fantastic opportunity to be one of the representatives for both of the races, of course.

Q. There's been a number of drivers recently who have made a step up from Formula 3 level horsepower car up to Formula One even. Sebastien Vettel most recently this past weekend stepped right in and was fastest on Friday in the BMW Sauber.

These Champ Cars here are 750 to 800 horsepower. What is an F3 car? How much horsepower?

Ho-Pin Tung: It's 210, 216.

Q. That's a big jump, an almost 600-horsepower jump. Do you feel you can do something like that?

Ho-Pin Tung: Well, basically I feel I'm ready for that. In Formula 3, you really learn to get -- to drive the car which has a lot of downforce. Also engine power is something you get used to, I'd say, pretty easily.

Formula 3 is extremely competitive in Europe. You really learn to race, how to race a proper racing car. You can see, like you said, with Vettel, who jumped straight from Formula 3 to Formula One. You have Hamilton, Rosberg who are breaking into F1 from GP2. I think it's a very good step up. Really a good basis to step up to a quicker series.

Q. Very interesting. So is your goal to try to get a test in Champ Car? 

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, that would be a fantastic opportunity I think, especially looking at the fact that Champ Car will be competing in Assen and China next year. For me, it makes it even more interesting, of course.

It's a great series and got a very nice future with all the technological improvements. Yeah, that would be fantastic.

Q. Where do you live in The Netherlands? Amsterdam?

Ho-Pin Tung: No, it's about 100 kilometers from Amsterdam, quite near the German border. For me it's quite convenient for me doing the German championship, of course. But it's nice.

Q. Have you driven the Assen track?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, we recently raced there. Somehow, I never have had much luck at Assen. I'm always quick over there, but couldn't translate it into a good result. But, yeah, it's a nice venue.

Of course, everybody knows it from MotoGP. But they recently made quite some improvements on the track to make it more suitable for cars as well. I think they succeeded in that.

Surely for a Champ Car it would be pretty quick, I think, and with a lot of high-speed corners so very exciting.

Q. I understand some of the corners are superelevated, banked.

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah. There's one corner called Stekkenwal, which in Formula 3 in fifth gear -- I don't know exactly the speed, but 170 kilometers per hour. Champ Car would probably be faster. Yeah, they've got some quite exciting corners.

The one before the chicane for start/finish is also flat out in sixth gear, 230 clicks in Formula 3 already. Imagine arriving with a Champ Car with 800 horsepower, that would be...

Q. Interesting. And have you seen the Zhuhai track?

Ho-Pin Tung: Yeah, I've been there a couple of times. Did some events there. Drove there around with some racing cars, different racing cars. Yeah, it's a very big and nice venue.

I think with some minor adjustments, it would definitely be suitable for Champ Car, as well. They got all the facilities over there. Yeah, I think it would be really nice if Champ Car as well to be in China.

Q. Very good. Thank you very much if your time today. I wish you a lot of luck with your future.

Ho-Pin Tung: Thanks a lot.

Q. Hopefully we'll see you in Champ Car here someday.

Ho-Pin Tung: I hope so soon.

Q. Thank you.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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