KWAN BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL FOR LE MANS
Hong Kong's greatest motor racing driver, Charles Kwan, is coming out of retirement to boost the SAR's pioneering Le Mans team.
The track legend has agreed to compete for Noble Group-GruppeM Racing if they are invited to the Le Mans 24 Hours in June.
Kwan, 42, retired after the 2004 Macau Grand Prix following an illustrious 20-year career in the sport.
But the lure of driving for Hong Kong's official team in the world's greatest sports car race has proved too strong.
"I had a great career and I'm happy in retirement, so it's fair to say Le Mans is the only race that can get me back behind the wheel," said Kwan.
"The Hong Kong Le Mans team is a fantastic project and, after giving it careful thought, I've agreed to be one of the drivers.
"I'll obviously need to do some testing and it's possible I may compete in a couple of races here in Asia as a warm-up, but I don't think it will take me long to get back to the level I was at."
Kwan was already an off-track advisor to Noble Group-GruppeM Racing but now, after months of intense lobbying from team spearhead and fellow driver Matthew Marsh, he has agreed to put on his racing suit once more.
"Matthew has been very persuasive!" laughed Kwan. "But, seriously, I've been following the team with interest and they've had some good results. I'm impressed by what they've achieved.
"Now, I'm looking forward to going to Le Mans and flying the flag for Hong Kong."
Kwan carved his name in Macau Grand Prix folklore in 1993 when he became the only driver in the event's history to win three races in the same weekend - the Macau Cup in a Group A BMW M3, the Supercar Race in a Porsche 911 Turbo and the Guia Race aboard a DTM BMW M3.
He capped his career by winning the inaugural Porsche Infineon Carrera Cup Asia series in 2003.
Marsh was delighted by Kwan's decision. "This is fantastic news," he said. "Charles is, quite simply, the finest driver Hong Kong has ever produced and to have him back behind the wheel for our team is a massive boost. When I conceived this project it was all about driving with Charles in the world's greatest race. This is not only the final piece of the jigsaw - it's the whole picture."
Noble Group-GruppeM Racing are attempting to become the first Hong Kong team to compete at Le Mans.
The team, which races a bauhinia-emblazoned Porsche GT3 RSR, was launched last June. Being unable then to lure Kwan from retirement, Marsh gave up-and-coming local racer Darryl O'Young the opportunity to share the driving with him in series of six-hour races in Europe as well as last October's three-hour FIA GT race at Zhuhai.
A two-man team is enough for six-hour races but three will be needed for the gruelling Le Mans 24 Hours. The identity of the third driver will be confirmed soon.
Marsh has just submitted the team's entry application to the Le Mans organisers, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), and will learn in March whether it has been accepted.
"In most cases, entry to Le Mans is by invitation only and is at the discretion of the ACO," he explained. "They take into account various factors, including results, organisation and capability, as well as what a team can bring to the race in terms of profile and publicity.
"Given our performances, the media interest we have generated and the fact that we would feature the first ever Chinese driver at Le Mans, we're quite hopeful."