Circuit type: Permanent road course
What do you do if you own a steel factory in an area which has decided it wants to turn its back on heavy industry and focus instead on leisure and tourism? Well, in the case of the Shougang Shouqin Company, the answer was to close the factory and within a matter of months reopen the facility as multi-purpose automotive sports, research and development complex, with a FIA Grade 2 circuit at its heart, winding through the old factory buildings.
The end result is the Shougang Motorsport Valley (Chinese: 首钢赛车谷), one of a whole slew of new tracks cropping up across China, but surely also its most surreal. Using some of the original factory roads linked by nearly 2km of newly-constructed asphalt, the circuit has the feel of a part-permanent track, part-temporary street course, the sort of wacky complex that might exist in a computer game but surely couldn't in real life.
Worldwide the former Fundidora Park circuit in Mexico is probably the only comparator, but that had long since ceased to function for industry and was converted to public parkland long before racing cars ever ran round it. Shougang Racing Valley is stranger still, with the old foundry buildings, steel mills and heavy infrastructure still very much present and close by, indeed the circuit makes a feature of weaving between the buildings and machinery.
The decision to close the steel factory was taken in 2017, as local officials encouraged the creation of a beach resort to take advantage of Chinese people's newly-discovered passion for sea bathing. A large, polluting factory between the sandy beaches and mountain range behind did not quite fit this image and, in a way probably only possible in a planned economy such as China's, the death knell sounded for steelmaking.
Ironically it was the second time that the Shougang Group had been forced to re-locate; the factory was originally in Beijing until it was encouraged to move to Qinhuangdao to clear up the city's air in time for the 2008 Olympic Games.
The circuit was built in almost indecent haste, with the factory falling silent in June 2018 and the circuit up and running in October 2018, with only a few facilities still to be completed, including around half of the pit garages and associated buildings. The 3.8km course has been designed by Dr. Yao Qiming, the only track designer in China who has obtained the FIA certification.
The circuit was inaugurated in November 2018, with the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei Racing Festival and the Qinhuangdao GT Carnival, for locally-entered machinery. A crowd of 9,000 turned up for the first event, which is not a bad return considering there has been almost zero motorsport activity in the area before.
Plans for the whole site continue to advance, with future 'zones' to include and amusement park, an automobile museum, and a technopark with facilities designed to attract top Chinese racing teams.
Ambitions for the circuit itself are no smaller - its owner's are targeting capturing international standard racing categories such as Blancpain GT Asia, as well as domestic championships in future years. It hosts the Chinese F4 Championship for the first time in August 2019.
Shougang Motorsport Valley is located in Qinhuangdao, in Hebei province in north-eastern China. The nearest international airports are in Beijing. Tianjin Binhai International Airport is around three hour's drive away, while Beijing Capital International Airport is a further 30 minutes away.
The circuit is located to the north of Qinhuangdao city, in the foothills of the Hebei Qinhuangdao National Geology Park. Take S251 north out of Qinhuangdao and follow signs for the circuit.