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Super Trofeo Stories: Brian Changwoo Lee

15 Februar 2024

At the start of the 21st century, motorsport in Korea was still in its infancy. While its closest Asian neighbours in Japan and China were embracing it, barely 100 race cars even existed on the peninsula.

How times can change, however, and in the space of just over 20 years, Korea has become an increasingly important player in global motorsport spheres.

Business owner and social media influencer Changwoo “Brian” Lee is proof of the growing popularity of racing in his homeland. A petrolhead since his youth and an automotive professional in a country where the likes of Hyundai, Kia and SsangYong, Lee was always destined to race.

“I really wanted to be a driver when I was young, because I always had a passion for cars,” says Changwoo. “And my father worked in the motor industry as well and he sometimes brought me to his work in the Hyundai plant. I was amazed by it and was like: ‘wow, this is so cool, I really love the cars’, one of which was the Pony car.

“Motorsport in Korea is actually very, very small. It’s not that big, yet. So, a lot of Korean drivers don’t have that much experience racing abroad.

“And there are not so many Korean drivers either, so the pool is small, and the industry is also quite small. To give an example, I guess there were probably only around 100 race cars in Korea at the beginning of the 2000s, so the reach was small and the type of cars available was not so much either.

“We don’t have any Formula cars and only really touring and GT cars in Korea. And at that time as well, racing was not so popular, despite the automotive sector in Korea, with Hyundai and Kia. If someone took a road car and changed it to go racing, people would complain that it was too noisy and wonder what sort of car you were driving. Racing carried a bad reputation in Korea.”

That perception has changed over the past two decades, to the point where Korea has hosted various international categories, including Formula One. Now a staple of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia calendar, with its hugely popular annual visit to the Inje circuit in the north of the country, Korea is a burgeoning hotbed of motor racing interest.

Part of that surge in interest has come from Lee himself, through his company and racing team, SQDA GRIT Motorsport, which he founded in 2007 in order to go pursue his hobby and passion.

“GRIT is my company, and it stands for Growth, Resilience, Intrigue and Tenacity while the word ‘grit’ in English is synonymous with determination” he adds. “Working hard to achieve success is what motorsport is all about.

“It’s the case for everyone involved in motorsport that you need to spend a lot of money and when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of money.

“So, I only started racing in 2007, when I was 30 years old. I worked in some companies, earning the money to be able to go racing which was the only option for me. Then, I graduated in automotive engineering and got some experience in companies in Korea.

“I joined the GRIT Motorsport in 2004, and it was great because I was really interested in cars, in the mechanics and tuning of cars. And this is part of the reason why I started the motorsport team with GRIT at that time; I couldn’t be a driver at that time, because I didn’t have the money, so I worked with the company until I was able to make the move into time trialling in 2007.”

The SQDA-GRIT Motorsport Team is a subset of GRIT Motortainment, the company founded by Lee. By trade, GRIT is a specialist dealership which also delivers car event promotion, product education alongside the racing division.

Once he had made the step into competing, Lee made progress domestically, racing in a variety of Korea-based championships, including Radical Cup and SuperRace. For 2023, with the backing of the Lamborghini Seoul dealership, he entered Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia alongside the up-and-coming Korean racer Kwon Hyungjin (John).

The pair enjoyed a strong maiden season in the Am category, placing second in the final standings with four victories and never finishing off the podium. They also showed well against international competition in the traditional end-of-season World Finals at Vallelunga, starting from the front-row of the grid for the opening race of the weekend in Italy.

Having been introduced to cars by his father when he was a small boy, Lee never let his love for the automotive industry die out. Instead, he sought to drive wherever and whenever he could, even if that took him to slightly less glamourous machinery.

“I always thought that I would be working in the automotive industry, and I entered university to study that,” Lee explains.

“But as a Korean guy, I had to do my mandatory military service, and I volunteered to be a driver in the military, driving a bus.

“Once I finished the studies, I worked in the automotive industry as a trainer in vehicle maintenance, so my passion for cars is big but my passion for racing was even stronger.

“But the joy of driving and racing is so fantastic that it has become popular thankfully. And my thought was when I was studying automotive engineering, to really understand it, you need to do it as well. Because that is the extreme part of the industry, so I continued to study in motorsport as well.”

As is a common worry in motorsport, the future motorsport plans remain uncertain for Lee heading into the 2024 season. With the help of championship-winning team Absolute Racing and the significant funding from Lamborghini Seoul, Lee was able to make his first foray into the world of single-make Lamborghini racing last year.

The aim is to return for a crack at the title, but sponsorship and backing is required to make that dream a reality.

“Last year was my first time racing internationally and first time in a Lamborghini, which is such a powerful car and so much fun,” Lee said.

“Me and my team-mate were second in the championship, which was such a good result, and hopefully we gave some of the young Korean drivers some motivation to race in the future.

“I gradually grew as a driver from the first round to the World Final, which I am really happy about. I would love to come back in 2024, to become a champion in Lamborghini Super Trofeo Asia, but it all depends on the money and in Korea the motorsport market is so small and there are not so many sponsors.

“I spent a lot of money last year so hopefully with some big sponsor in 2024, I can come back. I really enjoy the championship so it would be nice to return.”

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