The Race of Champions event, held at Wembley for the last two years, is taking a trip to China in November.
It will be the first international sporting event to be held in the Beijing National Stadium (also known as the Birds’ Nest Stadium) since last year’s Olympic games.
The stadium’s future as a sporting venue is uncertain; it has largely failed to attract sports and concert bookings and plans have reportedly been drawn up to turn it into a shopping and entertainment venue within five years.
After two years in London, during which ticket sales could fairly be described as unspectacular, it is no surprise that the event is moving on from Wembley.
But the sheer distance will come as a disappointment to many fans who had relished the chance to see some of motorsport’s top talents compete against each other practically on their doorsteps.
Last year’s event in particular ended with a thriller, with David Coulthard coming within a hair’s breadth of crowning his F1 career with a Race of Champions win. He was narrowly defeated by World Rally Champion Sebastien Loeb.
However attempts to fit in a last-minute appearance by Lewis Hamilton after his World Championship win led to a poorly-thought-out car-against-bike race with Olympic medallist Chris Hoy that had to be cancelled thanks to bad weather and safety concerns.
The Chinese Grand Prix, held in Shanghai, is one of the less well-attended events on motorsport’s international calendar. And a bid to ensure that this year’s GP2 Asia series had at least half non-European drivers was, to put it frankly, a failure.
RoC is essentially a crowd-pleaser with fans drawn by the chance to see familiar faces competing in unfamiliar vehicles and with opponents they would never normally meet. Is there honestly enough interest in motorsport in China to fully exploit the format?
The 2009 event is due to take place on November 3 and 4 – immediately after the conclusion of the Formula One season in Abu Dhabi. It will take place midweek instead of at a weekend for the first time.
The RoC Nations Cup will take place on the first day and the Race of Champions on the second, to offer spectators, as the organisers put it: “a more extensive exhibitions line-up, plus the possibility of more competitors and teams than ever before.”
Fredrik Johnsson, event organiser said: “We received exciting proposals from five world-class stadia, but after the incredible Olympics last year, Beijing’s candidacy was difficult to ignore.
“The Bird’s Nest venue is awesome and having spent the last five years at two of Europe’s biggest stadiums, we were thrilled about the opportunity to take The Race of Champions to Asia for the first time, to another of the world’s most iconic sporting arenas.
“I would like to say thank you to Wembley for the past two years. The people there were great to work with and helped us put on two fantastic events. This year will be the Race of Champions’ first year outside of Europe, but we will definitely be back soon.”
Mr Li Jianyi, of the Bird’s Nest management company, said of the agreement: “Following last year’s Olympics, we now possess one of the world’s best sporting stadia and will continue to stage elite international sporting competition in Beijing.
“We are very excited about The Race of Champions coming. The stadium has already hosted the world’s fastest athletes; now it will host the world’s fastest racers.”