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Team Nigeria gears up for motorsports debut

By Teo Kermeliotis and Stephanie Busari, CNN
updated 9:46 AM EDT, Thu August 2, 2012
Nigeria Racing Eagle will compete at major motor racing events over the next few months. Nigeria Racing Eagle will compete at major motor racing events over the next few months.
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Nigeria Racing Eagle
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nigeria Racing Eagle will soon compete at major car racing events, founders say
  • The team is setting up an academy to develop young Nigerian drivers
  • It is also working to create a development center to train mechanics and engineers
  • Owner Ribi Adeshokan says he wants Lagos to host an international race

(CNN) -- Could motorsports become a major industry in football-obsessed Nigeria? It will be if one Nigerian businessman has his way.

London-based entrepreneur Ribi Adeshokan has entered his country into the lavish and highly-competitive world of car racing and has ambitious plans to drive African motorsport and build a multi-million dollar racing industry on the continent.

Called Nigeria Racing Eagle (NRE), the team says it hopes to compete at major motor racing events over the next few months, including the FIA GT3 series and sports car endurance races.

"My philosophy is whatever I want to do, I go for the best," Adeshokan, team principal and owner of NRE said Monday, moments after unveiling a green and silver Audi R8 LMS as the team's car at the Africa Village, a London Olympics exhibition site designed to highlight the continent's cultural, artistic and sport assets.

Adeshokan says his team will proudly "fly the flag of Africa," being the first Nigerian racing team to represent the continent at world motorsports.

The biggest challenge is people believing in my dream.
Ribi Adeshokan, NRE

"The idea of a racing team called Nigeria Racing Eagle is to use African drivers and gradually develop African mechanics and engineers," he says.

"In the motorsport community I've been asked so many times, 'oh what if they are no good,' or 'you might be, maybe, the last on the grid,' and I say 'yes, I don't care, let's be the last on the grid but we are developing, we are growing,' so that's our main goal for this project."

See also: EasyJet founder to launch low-cost airline in Africa

An engineer by training, Adeshokan's association with motorsport first started as a hobby in early 2000. But he soon turned his passion into business and in 2007 he set up a racing company called GRC Motorsport.

Adeshokan initially put together a racing side to compete as "Team Nigeria" at the World Cup of Motorsport. But right before he was about to realize his dream, the World Cup series went bankrupt.

Determined Adeshokan devoted further time and money to create NRE. He says his business venture has been solely financed by himself and a few friends who had faith in his vision.

"The biggest challenge is people believing in my dream," he says. "I found out that people struggle to understand and most people never can imagine that motorsport can come to Africa or to Nigeria."

Adeshokan, who recently appointed veteran British motorsport executive John Wickham as team manager, says that right now there is a "50-50" chance for NRE to be ready for the GT3 race in Moscow in early September.

Yet, for Adeshokan and his team, competing at the international motorsport arena is only one part of their goal.

"One of the key pillars of this project is not just about putting together a racing team -- it's about introducing motorsport to West Africa and that means we have to create circuits, we have to create series and, most importantly, we have to create drivers," says Sam Collins, NRE's lead driver.

We have to create circuits, we have to create series and, most importantly, we have to create drivers.
Sam Collins, NRE driver

As a result, GRC is looking to develop a racing championship in Nigeria and is also setting up a domestic academy to develop young drivers and prepare them to compete at the global stage. It has also teamed up with Tiger Racing, a UK-based sports car manufacturer, to create a development center to train young mechanics and engineers in the West African country.

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In addition, Adeshokan says he's partnered with local authorities in Lagos to develop a "Monaco-style" circuit on the streets of the city's marina to host an international motorsport grand prix.

"That one to me is so exciting," says Adeshokan, adding that motorsport presents Nigeria with a huge business, marketing and networking potential that can create career opportunities for the country's youth and also attract foreign investors.

"Motorsport is the richest sport in the world -- it's a multi-billion dollar economy, so why don't we also tap into it."

Collins says that apart from South Africa, where there is a "reasonably good domestic scene of mostly white drivers," and some racing events held in Morocco, "there's not really any motorsport in Africa."

"We want to prove to the rest of Africa that this is a major sport and to be honest everybody knows, Nigerian, West African men love their cars."

Adeshokan believes Nigerians can emulate the successful example of British cycling -- which has become an international tour de force in recent years-- and dominate the world of motorsport in the future.

"In 10 years I'd be incredibly disappointed if we didn't have a Formula One driver and I'd be very disappointed if we didn't have a Formula One driver who is winning races," added Collins.

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