One of Malta’s few sporting successes on the international scene has been in drag racing, with a Maltese team winning the 2012 FIA drag racing championship.
Swede Leif Andreasson, a race promoter who has won four European championships in the funny car series, firmly believes that with some investment, the quarter-mile track in Hal-Far can host a round of the prestigious European championship.
“I have been living in Malta since 2001. I love this island, and the fact that it is English speaking makes it easy for us foreigners.
“I think with my help the quarter mile track in Malta can gain FIA certification. The track would have to be extended and the shutdown area needs to be improved. I have the people and the experience to do this. The only thing is that we need to raise some money to get it to that level.”
FIA certification is necessary in order for Malta to host a round of the European championships. The certification ensures that the track is up to international standards.
Keen interest from the Government
“There has been interest from the Maltese government. Obviously they are not giving away money, but they are willing to help bring some companies or investors to help out with sponsorship.”
“To get the track up to standard it will cost about €2 million.”
He says that facilities for both the racers and spectators need to be improved at the Hal Far track.
” You can rent the grandstands for the big races then buy used ones later one, it is easy to get them from a football field in Italy.”
“I think we could have the first officially sanction FIA race in 2016. You need to have the time to renovate the track and advertise. All the travelling companies in northern Europe would need to promote Malta as a holistic destination where you can watch drag racing, swim in the pool with your family and enjoy the weather.
“Malta’s mild climate makes it ideal for hosting motorsports events, he says.
“If it is 20 degrees it is fine for Northern Europeans. It is a huge, huge opportunity to do something positive for tourism in Malta during the winter months and it should not cost that much.”
“The European drag racing is very short in North Europe because of the weather. We start in the last week of May in England and it is always rained out. You end up spending a lot of money to come over from Scandinavia for nothing. It costs €2,000 alone just to get the lorry on the boat.
“Then we race till the first or second weekend of September, and that is the end of the season. What I want to do then is move it down to the Mediterranean. We can move it down to Malta first, because we already have a track here. They maybe we can do Spain and Turkey.
“We could have a Mediterranean championship just in Malta over the winter. All the race teams from Europe could park their lorries here and run out of Malta. This could be an official FIA championship.”
I would like to look into the possibility of having the finals done in Malta and the big prize giving galas at one of the casinos.”
Isolation is a disadvantage, competitors must be given an incentive
Motorsports are an expensive hobby, and the freight costs to Malta would further add to the burden. Mr Andreasson does think that Malta’s isolation is a disadvantage if teams are given enough incentive to come here.
“If the promoter raises sponsorship and helps out with the travelling expenses then this can help the teams. It can be the top five teams in each class or all of them, I don’t know right now but I’m sure we are going to raise sponsorship to get them down.
“People want to race and have fun. Granted, it is not like a race in Malta will draw a crowd of 100,000 people, but maybe 10,000-15,000 will come. People will start travelling to Malta and this will set off a whole tourism dynamic.
“It is crazy that there is just one flight to Malta a week from Scandinavia during the summer. That is something that really needs to be addressed if you want Scandinavian people coming down during winter.”
Malta’s success in motorsports not surprising
Mr Andreasson is not surprised by Malta’s success when it comes to motorsports when compared to the country’s poor showing in other international sporting events.
The 2012 European championship final race in the UK was a showdown between two Maltese teams, Mr Whippy and Kalanc, with the honours going to Mr Whippy and their driver Manty Bugeja.
“Maltese engineers and car mechanics are very, very good. The reason is they are used to working with their hands. The exhaust systems made here are some of the best ones I have ever seen. The two teams here Mr Whippy and Kalanc, they were top two teams in the European championship and they are among the top in the world.
“I know that if more guys could start doing this then there would be more top runners from Malta.”
Mr Andreasson believes that hosting a round of the European championship would be the ideal catalyst to improve local motorsport and attract young drivers to the sport.
“When you bring in a big race, it attracts a whole eco-system. You need to a series together for the lower-classes as well. This is what is done all over Europe.
“A company I founded back in 2006 called speed group changed the Nordic drag racing series to the European drag racing series.
“For us safety is a priority. We do everything under the same rules as the US. In Malta, the safety checks are not really up to standard.
The European drag racing championship is run in divisions, in Malta we could potentially have the south division.”
One piece of good news for motorsports enthusiasts in the 2015 budget was the announcement of an expression of interest to identify private investors interested in developing and managing a motorsport racetrack.
Mr Andreasson welcomes the idea, but warns that things must be done properly.
“It is an absolutely fantastic idea if you can afford to build one. It is very expensive to build because it needs to be done properly. If you do not do it properly it will not get certified by the FIA. If it is built the right way it will be a huge success because you will attract teams from all over Europe for testing.”
‘The whole country needs to be involved’
Mr Andreasson says unity is key in order to ensure that Malta is ready to host an FIA championship race by 2016.
“You need to get the whole country involved with this. If all the different local motorsports clubs do not work with the motorsport federation, it will never be an international venture. The clubs have to understand the need to be involved with the federation to get FIA certification in order to get the European championship.”
“It is about safety as well. FIA certification will ensure that certain standards are kept. Even just basic things like checking the car’s seat-belts and telling the team that it is time to buy new ones.
“Proper scrutineering does not take place in Malta. There are powerful cars and if accidents happen because of this then it destroys the whole business idea.”
Mr Andreasson, who was a guest speaker at the recent Mediterranean Tourism Forum organised by the MHRA, says that even ‘casual’ tourists to Malta can have their visit enhanced by the possibility or taking part in motorsports.
“Motorsports attract tourism. Even company conferences, those are big these days. They are coming here to Malta and they want to drive race cars. They want the whole package. You can even run licensing courses on a circuit track.
I cannot stress how perfect Malta’s climate is. In Scandinavia, winter time is winter time, you have to close all motorsports related activities down. Here you can run all year round. It is a huge opportunity, but unfortunately sometimes Malta does not see the forest because of the trees.”