Sunday, September 27

MotoGP sees Asia expansion opportunities

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Singapore one of several possible venues under discussion

LONDON: MotoGP was looking to expand further into Asia but Singapore was just one of several possible venues under discussion, series boss Carmelo Ezpeleta said.

HUGE MARKET: Spanish rider Dani Pedrosa is pictured during a two-day testing at the Sepang circuit near Kuala Lumpur, in this Feb 26 file photo. — AFP photo

HUGE MARKET: Spanish rider Dani Pedrosa is pictured during a two-day testing at the Sepang circuit near Kuala Lumpur, in this Feb 26 file photo. — AFP photo

The Spaniard, chief executive of commercial rights holders Dorna, told Reuters ahead of this weekend’s season-opener in Qatar that talks were ongoing with various Asian countries and suggested Singapore was not necessarily top of the list.

Singapore, which already hosts a night-time Formula One Grand Prix on a street circuit, last month awarded a contract to build a permanent track near Changi airport.

“We are happy to be in Singapore if it is possible, but we are more happy if we can be in other countries covering different regions,” Ezpeleta said in a telephone interview.

“Asia is very big and in fact Singapore will be just 300km from Kuala Lumpur. It’s good but there are other possibilities for us and we are looking for them.”

Malaysia’s Sepang circuit, near Kuala Lumpur’s international airport, hosted the biggest race day crowd of the three Asian rounds last year including former world champion Casey Stoner’s home Australian Grand Prix.

According to Dorna figures, Malaysia’s total crowd of 102,255 over the three days compared to Australia’s 105,937 and Japan’s 65,332.

Sepang pulled in 59,206 on the Sunday compared to 50,094 at Phillip Island and 41,533 at Motegi.

There are no other grands prix in Asia at present, with the 18-race series heavily weighted towards its European roots with four rounds in Spain and two in Italy.

While Spain’s Jerez circuit drew a race day crowd of 123,340, the biggest of all was at Brno in the Czech Republic with 138,096.

Ezpeleta said MotoGP had not been a success in China and the series was unlikely to return there in the near future.

“But there are other countries in Asia where we are discussing and I think the next changes in the calendar will be because we will expand in the Asian region,” he added.

“Of course, these are preliminary discussions and we are not able to say which countries we are discussing with.”

SG Changi Private Limited has won the contract to build Singapore’s US$235 million circuit but Ezpeleta said nothing was fixed yet for a race there.

Asia, a massive market for motorcycle manufacturers and sponsors, was commercially extremely important for MotoGP but the main problem was the lack of suitable circuits, he said.

“Also, it’s very important that the interest of the promoter is to develop the business together,” added the Spaniard, sometimes described as the ‘Bernie Ecclestone of bikes’ in a reference to the Formula One supremo.

“We were in China for four years and there was not any impact,” he said. “The promoter was just making a race but nothing to impact commercially. The opposite is Malaysia, which is working very well and every year we have more spectators.”

The Spaniard said MotoGP was likely to stay with 18 races and that having four races in Spain was a temporary situation. The Motorland Aragon circuit had stepped in after Hungary withdrew due to financial reasons.

“We were surprised about the situation in Hungary,” said Ezpeleta. “They were trying to have a race in 2009 and it was not possible but they said of course we will do it for 2010.

“They started the work in time to have everything finished by 2010 and at a certain moment they stopped the work due to the economic situation.

“What is clear is that we will not put Hungary on the calendar again unless the circuit is really almost finished.” — Reuters