MOTOGP has become Sepang’s flagship race following the exclusion of F1. Sepang International Circuit chief executive officer Datuk Razlan Razali talks with Timesport about its future, including the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix and the local riders in the World Championships
QUESTION: Did this year's MotoGP race at Sepang live up to your expectations?
ANSWER: We sold out our grandstand tickets months ahead and over 97,000 fans came for the race on Sunday.
So it was a definitely a proud moment for myself and the team at SIC. It was very satisfying for us, that is the most accurate word to describe it.
Organising Formula One and MotoGP requires the same amount of effort and to see such numbers (for MotoGP) is very encouraging and definitely makes all our hard work worthwhile. We are already planning what to do to make the race even better for the fans next year.
Q: What about our Malaysian riders, were their performances acceptable?
A: Well, obviously we would have liked to see them finishing on the podium but competing in the World Championship is never easy.
I'd say our riders had mixed fortunes at Sepang. Adam Norrodin (SIC Racing Team) did really well for the first half of the Moto3 race but crashed when he was in fourth position.
He managed to rejoin the race and finished 11th, which is still a decent performance. You could see that he was really determined to win at Sepang.
It was a good learning experience for Adam who may need to be more patient. However, you can really see how far he has developed since his rookie season last year, he is maturing well.
He can compete with the front group in both the dry and the wet, which is what we need our riders to do and I believe he will continue to improve.
Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah (Petronas Raceline) also did well in a mixed weather race in Moto2, where he started from 11th and finished sixth.
Again, this is what we want. We cannot expect our riders to be just good in the wet. Our riders showed that they can do it here at Sepang and they need to do the same at other tracks as well. (Malaysia's two other riders Khairul Idham Pawi (Idemitsu Honda Team Asia, Moto2) and wild card rider Kasma Daniel Kasmayudin (Petronas Sprinta Racing, Moto3) crashed out of their races.)
Q: Hafizh will join Petronas Sprinta Racing (Moto2) next season which is managed by SIC. What are your expectations for him next year, especially as he is being groomed to race in the premier class in 2019?
A: I am looking forward to it, I believe we have a very good programme for next year. Hafizh is very talented but he will need to be focused to achieve the ambition of becoming the first Malaysian to compete in MotoGP in 2019. I believe he will continue to improve next as we will be providing him with a better bike and better mechanics.
We have set a target of seeing him in the top five in the overall Moto2 standings next year. To achieve this he will have to finish on the podium at least a few times.
Q: SIC announced that ticket prices for the MotoGP race at Sepang will go up for next year. Is that necessary?
A: The last time we increased ticket prices was three years ago and we have reached a point where we are unable to absorb the rising costs incurred in hosting the event.
Some people may not realise this but it takes a lot of manpower to organise a world championship race. Everytime we host Formula One or MotoGP we utilise roughly 1,000 volunteers. Although they are volunteers, they are still paid allowances and we also use a lot of vehicles during the events (logistics). All of these are going up in prices.
Q: So, what is in it for the fans?
A: We always look to improve the event each year and make it more exciting for the fans (through side events). The only way we are able to do that is by raising ticket prices slightly.
We feel that (increasing by) 10 percent is a reasonable amount which does not burden the fans. We also had a “Super Early Bird” promotion, so fans could still buy their tickets for 2018 at 2017 prices.(The last time SIC increased ticket prices was in 2014, when granstand tickets saw a 25 per cent price hike)
Q: Sepang previously enjoyed regional exclusivity, is there a possibility that the new MotoGP round in Buriram, Thailand which starts next year, could eat into Sepang's ticket sales?
A: Every year we have more than 90 vendors here at Sepang for MotoGP. It is like a big motorcycle expo, the fans come for the total experience, not just the racing and not just to support our local riders. For MotoGP the majority of our spectator base is Malaysian, so I do not believe Buriram will affect us.