Ingo Matter is the co-founder and team director of Absolute Racing, a powerhouse of Asian motorsport. His cars race in the GT World Challenge Asia, Formula Three, Porsche Carrera Cup and more. It’s a job that involves a lot of travel in the region. With lockdowns being eased around the world, we catch up with him to see if things are starting to get back to normal in Asian motorsport.
How has coronavirus affected your racing season so far?
It affected us fairly early because we’re in Asia. The first races we did this year were Formula Three, but it feels like a year ago. We started in January in Dubai and raced the week after in Abu Dhabi. Then we went to Sepang in February, with Thailand the week after, but that’s where we had the first drivers from Europe not wanting to come any more. But at least we got those events in and we won one. And then we had Bathurst, but that was the last normal event. It was there that we went into emergency mode because of the situation in China getting worse. We were still testing until the middle of March. And then everything shut down. That was a problem for me because then I couldn’t go back to China.
Has it started to pick up again? Have you been able to race or test since?
Yes and no. Asia is not like Europe. We can’t get anyone into China. Even though my family is in China, and I have resident and working permits, they won’t allow us in. Our team is originally from China. We have a workshop in Shanghai and Zhuhai and then in the winter we’re in Sepang. Thankfully I have a good team in China and an engineer, mechanics and workshop manager who can do a lot of stuff by themselves, but we only have local drivers there. They’ve tested six days already and we are testing this week again. But it’s a challenge because you don’t have the people there who I would normally bring in.
Is it difficult managing this process?
It’s quite OK. We run so many championships and I have people in China who can operate these races. Often my partner and I can’t always be there anyway, and we split up what races we cover. The fact that the team in China have been doing everything for themselves for so long isn’t so common but we have a good system in general so I’m not too worried.
When do you think you’ll go racing again?
We are waiting to hear about the China GT, which should be the end of June but hasn’t been confirmed by the government. Then hopefully in July the China SportsCup is happening. And in Malaysia, I’m hoping international racing can start again in September. But, again, that hasn’t been confirmed yet. Everything is changing. In the beginning it changed hour by hour, then day by day and now week by week [laughs].
What’s everyone doing to keep busy?
For the engineers in Malaysia, they’ve been allowed back in the workshops for the past three weeks. As for the drivers, they train on the sims and do their usual workout routine. The ones in China are allowed to go testing, so it’s a normal routine almost. As I’m hearing from my team over there, China is almost back to normal. In Thailand, we were supposed to start the Thai SuperSeries with the Vietnam Grand Prix ,which obviously didn’t happen. We have a new workshop in Thailand, but it isn’t allowed to open yet. Our team in Thailand are busy organising things so that hopefully we can go racing there soon.
What will social distancing look like in motorsport?
To be fair, in Asia there’s a lot more cultural differences with the masks and so on, so that’s not a big difference. It’ll just be a lot more cleaning and we’ll space ourselves out a bit more. In China, it’s quite easy right now as the circuits and the facilities are huge so it’s easy to spread out. Also, with data, you can do that in the open because it’s nice weather, so our team sit in the garden behind the pits instead of in a small office.
Has this break in motorsport been an advantage or disadvantage for teams, in your opinion?
It’s more of a step back to be honest. All our cars were ready to go. They still are. Now it’s just fiddling around. We’re testing in China as I said, which is good, so at least something is happening, but it’s not with the driver pairing we will have in the championship.
Tell us about the cars you’re running
Our cars are predominately Audi, Porsche and Formula Three. And we still support some Bentleys in the Thai SuperSeries. From day one Audi and Porsche were the strongest in Asia. Porsche was there from 2003 and we ran from day one with them in the Carrera Cup. We were also the first team in Asia to have a GT3 from Audi in 2010. And we worked closely to develop the platform and grow bigger.