Future of Singapore motorsports in question

Cheryl Tay
Can Changi compete with billionaire Peter Lim's upcoming MotorSports City in JB? (Photo: Cheryl Tay)
Can Changi compete with billionaire Peter Lim's upcoming MotorSports City in JB? (Photo: Cheryl Tay)

COMMENT

The first question on everyone's lips when they first heard about billionaire Peter Lim investing in the Motorsports City in Nusajaya was – “Why Johor and not Singapore?”

Lim, a Singaporean billionaire, earned his money as a top remisier (he was once dubbed "Remisier King") before ploughing that cash back into high-profile investments in healthcare, real estate and sports cars.

The 59-year-old quit stockbroking and became a full-time investor in 1996, going on to invest in palm oil producer Wilmar, fashion distributor FJ Benjamin, Thomson Medical Centre and British sports car manufacturer McLaren.

A big fan of sports, he also owns a string of Manchester United FC-themed bars and clubs in Asia and almost bought over Liverpool FC in 2010.

His latest business venture sees him join hands with Malaysian state-owned UEM Land to build an integrated motorsports hub in Iskandar, Johor, of which he has a 70 per cent stake in, under his company FASTrack Autosports.

Estimated to cost about RM 3.5 billion (S$1.4 billion), the target is to have Motorsports City operationally ready by 2016. This announcement came shortly after he got approval to build Vantage Bay, a RM10 billion (S$4 billion) healthcare project in Iskandar too.

Taking 10 years for full completion, this waterfront project will have a medical campus, residential apartments, hotels, convention centres, shopping malls and commercial offices.

The thing about Lim is, he has quite an eye for making profitable investments.

So for him to turn down the opportunity to develop the much-troubled Changi Motorsports Hub and turn his eye to JB says a lot about the prospect of Singapore motorsports.

The S$330 million Changi Motorsports Hub was to be Singapore’s very own permanent racing facility. Situated on a massive 41-hectare space with a 30-year-land lease, the project fell through after the consortium that won the bid to build it ran into a whole load of issues including corruption.

Eventually it ran out of money and the contract was terminated.

At the moment, the Singapore Sports Council is conducting a market study to see if the Changi Motorsports Hub is worth reviving.

Singapore daily TODAY reported that Lim was approached during a Request for Information exercise but clearly, Lim was not interested in the Changi project.

At the official press conference unveiling the billion-dollar Motorsports City in JB, Lim was asked point-blank, “Why Johor and not Singapore?”

His reply was pretty straightforward – costs of doing business in Singapore are higher and the labour market in Malaysia is bigger.

There are probably a lot more factors involved, I feel.

Since Lim is already investing in the multi-billion healthcare project in Iskandar, why not add a Motorsports City at the same time?

Let’s also not forget that the Nusajaya land space for Motorsports City is 109 hectares with a freehold entitlement, while the Changi Motorsports Hub only covers 41 hectares and has a 30-year lease tagged to it.

Whatever the reasons, I think Lim passing on the Changi project is a big loss for Singapore.

At the same time, the question now remains how and if the currently-in-limbo Changi Motorsports Hub will be able to compete alongside the Motorsports City which is just 15 minutes from the Tuas second link?

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Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.