Publisher sees magazine launch as means to promote car racing

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Publisher sees magazine launch as means to promote car racing

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A launch of a glossy license magazine in Korea may be nothing new, but to Pierre Cohen-Aknine, a Seoul-based French businessman, the inaugural issue of “F1 Racing” this month marks a big step toward his dream.
Published under his new media company, Cobalt Media Ltd., the U.K.-based magazine, available in 24 languages in 110 countries around the world, has now added a Korean language edition of 26,000 copies each month. About 90 percent of the content will be translation and only 10 percent created in Korea, but that will increase to 30 percent over the period of the company’s initial five-year contract.
Mr. Cohen-Aknine, who in Korea is best-known for importing Cuban cigars, once had a grand plan of bringing the Formula Renault race to Korea in 2000 but failed soon after his press conference. He says local politics and a lack of funding were the main causes. Over the years, though, the race has died down and eventually been replaced by Grand Prix 2. “Formula Renault used to be a path for drivers to enter Formula 3 and sometimes even directly Formula 1, but not anymore,” said Chung Jung-joon, chief editor of the Korean edition of “F1 Racing.”
The next big thing after the World Cup, according to Mr. Chun, will be A1 Grand Prix (www.a1gp.com), bringing 25 nations worldwide together. “If an international car race is introduced to Korea now, it should be A1 Grand Prix,” he said, adding that the race is designed for warm-weather countries, as its season starts in the fall and ends in the spring.
The hottest issue at the moment is the ongoing Formula 1 series (www.formula1.com), to be held in Montreal, Canada this weekend. F1 started in March in Bahrain; it will come to China and Japan in early October, before finishing in Brazil on Oct. 22.

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The IHT-JoongAng Daily spoke with the chief executive of “F1 Racing,” Mr. Cohen-Aknine, in his Namsan office about his challenge:

Q.Almost six years after failing to bring car racing to Korea, you are back with a car racing magazine. What’s on your mind?
A.After the World Cup, there will be a vacuum in national-scale sports events. Back when I was trying to bring in Formula Renault, it was the best formula-type car race for Korea.
For any driver in the world, competing in F1 is the ultimate ideal. Both Formula 1 and 3 are too expensive to stage. Shanghai paid $18 million just to get a permission to bring F1 to the city. But, the formula-type of car races in Korea will allow local championships, which are built upon tournaments of about eight to 10 races in a year. If you’re looking for excitement, quality, technology, entertainment or an ultimate sport event, a car race offers just that. My question is ― Who will be the courageous guy, with charisma, to start car racing in Korea?

Has Korea ever had a car racing scene?
Before 2000, Korea had Formula 1800, for which Hyundai supplied the engines of all participating cars. It is the most exciting race in Korea but it has almost died, with only two teams left. The Korea Grand Touring Car Championship still takes place at the Speedway track in Yongin [Gyeonggi province], but its main sponsor, British American Tobacco, has dropped out this year. Because there are not enough teams to compete, cars that belong to different categories, GT and touring, race all together!
Back in the mid-’90s, a Korean company planned to bring the original F1 race to Korea, but the company filed for bankruptcy during the Korean IMF crisis, so the plan fell through.
In Korea, there is the Korea Automobile Racing Association (KARA), a governing body for all car races in Korea, which is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The FIA finds and connects local organizations in all countries around the world to educate and promote car racing worldwide. Although events can go private, sponsors, of course, prefer to be part of big events with official permission, a license issued by “KARA/FIA.”
Above all, to start a decent industry, Korea needs a big, decent track around Seoul that meets international standards, approved by the FIA. There are three tracks in Korea: Taebaek, Asan and Yongin. Yongin is too small, too old and inadequate for safety issues. Asan went out of business. Taebaek is tangled with problems. The car racing industry can start with a simple idea ― Let’s have young skillful drivers who can go overseas like Korean golfers do. In car racing, nurturing and discovering skillful drivers begin with go-carts. Koreans perceive go-carts as a children’s pastime in theme parks.

What has kept Korean car racing from growing?
Vested interests in local politics have made it difficult [for the country] to achieve the international standard and to have an flourishing industry in Korea. Most cars in Korea are now by Kia and Hyundai. GM [of GM Daewoo] and Renault [of Renault Samsung] are already involved with car racing. Hyundai tried the Rally long time ago, but it dropped out because they believed that if you don’t win, the image of the company will be bad. You see, winning [in international car races] is not something you achieve overnight, but they don’t want to invest in something that will bring uncertain results. If Hyundai makes an investment in building a “Hyundai” team ― huge money over a long term ― in international races, it will gain huge visibility in the international market. Look at Japan. Japan has built big names, such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Subaru. An international car race in Korea will make Korean carmakers compete against all foreign cars, and I assume that’s not what short-sighted Korean companies want.

It sounds like car racing is the last remaining arena of sports entertainment that has been left out of Korea.
In all car races around the world, Korea has been left out. Even holding one Formula Renault race can change that. But, because of Korea’s own local politics and problems, the car racing industry itself has remained backward. Korea now stands as the world’s 10th largest economy. But it is crucially in need of a system built upon a track, drivers and teams, sponsors and sponsor money channels, and media coverage, like the way other large-scale sports events are organized. It’s a costly event for all participants, with huge potential for enormous commercial hype. Once you have all these, there still remains one important factor to make car racing happen in this country ― you need the hearts of people, a passion for car racing. Koreans are big on soccer, but stadiums all over the country are empty. Soccer in Korea is about nationalism, which is a unique phenomenon. When asked, 90 percent of fans don’t know the rules. They don’t care about soccer but only about winning against international teams. The difference with soccer is the element of passion. People will have to understand the sport and have interest in the rules, technology and psychology of car racing.

Is that the real purpose of your magazine?
I hope “F1” magazine can educate people on the rules, both technical and psychological, so car racing becomes a real hobby. Not a ‘Korea against another country’ thing anymore. If a Formula-type tournament happens in Korea, car racing will only get bigger [than any other sports events]. In England and Pakistan, people go mad over cricket. People have an affinity to the emotional aspect of a particular sport. Out of all the excitement car racing can offer, it has a tremendously combative element, which Koreans love. Once properly introduced, the universality of cars ― young boys start playing with toy cars ― and the prestige, luxury and glamour associated with car racing and racers will help shape the industry in Korea. Some day in the future, I’d like, humbly, to help shape the industry, perhaps, as a promoter ― a neutral body promoting the game.


by Ines Cho
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