Published on January 7th, 2016 | by Subhash Nair0
Sepang Looks Back on 2015’s Milestones and Looks Forward to 2016’s Challenges
The last year has been one of ups and downs for the Sepang International Circuit (SIC). The year proved challenging for SIC, which saw the decline of F1 spectator numbers, lower than expected fan support for the WSBK due to the Hari Raya period and FOREX losses following the depreciation of the ringgit. The implementation of GST also impacted ticket sales when consumers cut down on spending for non-essentials.
While the haze nearly disrupted the MotoGP, it turned out well in the end with a record-breaking crowd and a thrilling race. Another plus point for SIC was receiving the rAWr award. The Petronas Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix 2015, the first major international event of the year, was a challenge with the decline in overall spectator numbers, particularly local spectators. The impact was mitigated by an increase in international visitors, which saw a growth of 2.7%. Nevertheless, F1 remains a major event on Malaysia’s calendar that can be leveraged to position Malaysia as a top Asian destination. With the Government’s support, SIC is set to host the F1 until 2018, following successful negotiation with Formula One Management.
The rescheduling of the 2016 F1 race in Malaysia to Round 16 on 30 September to 2 October 2016 also provides more time for SIC to better promote the event. The F1 in Sepang nevertheless provided exposure to a new audience in 2015 when families of all ages converged on the circuit to enjoy the race and the F1 Carnival, while K-pop fans were out in full force, drawn by the post-race concert featuring South Korean pop groups SHINee and Girls Generation.
The eni FIM World Superbike Championship 2015 (WSBK) Malaysia was also challenging for SIC, as spectator numbers did not meet targets, despite the participation of racing legend Max Biaggi as a wildcard entry – the biggest ever name to ride for SIC. The timing of the event, from 31 July to 2 August 2015 fell within the Hari Raya celebration period, when fans had other commitments. The slow sales also comes on the back of GST implementation, which sees all types of retailers, including SIC, struggling to meet sales targets. Consumers meanwhile have been cutting back on spending, citing extra expenses due to GST.
While British rider Jonathan Rea was crowned 2015 World Superbike Champion, taking 548 points on his Kawasaki ZX-10R, 2016 is set to offer strong local interest with a Malaysian rider being signed up for the full season in the Supersport category. Local fan passion has been key in the success of the Malaysia MotoGP, and SIC hopes to replicate this in the WSBK in the coming years. With the Malaysian race scheduled for 13 to 15 May 2016 on a newly resurfaced track, it will be good timing for Malaysian fans to consider coming over to Sepang to enjoy the race.
The Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix 2015 was a phenomenal success for SIC when all tickets in all categories were fully sold out for the first time in the race’s 25-year history. Despite the looming haze threatening to disrupt the event, the Malaysia MotoGP received overwhelming support from both local and international fans which led to a total of more than 150,000 spectators converging on the circuit over the three days. The dramatic competition between Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo contributed to great interest around the world, with the much talked about outcome further creating publicity for Malaysia’s home race.
In 2016, the competition and interest is expected to be sustained, promising a positive impact for the Malaysia MotoGP. Local support was high for the Malaysian riders, in the hopes of seeing a podium finish from the homegrown heroes, particularly following season’s best performances from the riders in Motegi, two races prior to the Malaysia MotoGP. However, hopes were crushed when Hafizh Syahrin was the only Malaysian rider to finish with points – with an eighth placing in Moto 2. The popular Zulfahmi Khairuddin of the SIC Racing Team did not finish the race.
SIC hosted the Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup (ATC) twice in 2015 – as a support event for both the WSBK Malaysia and the Malaysia MotoGP. Five young Malaysian riders – Shafiq Rasol, Adam Norrodin, Helmi Azman, Fakhrusy Syakirin Rostam and Azroy Anuar were in action this year, putting up an exciting challenge in a championship that features Asia’s brightest young talents in motorcycle racing. As a feeder championship, the ATC has been instrumental in the development of future champions on an international level and is supported by SIC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Malaysia.
The championship has revealed future stars with Adam Norrodin finishing eighth on the championship table with 105 points, having achieved second and third placing during the supporting races for WSBK and MotoGP in Sepang respectively, buoyed by local fan support.
Regardless of the event, SIC continues to hold to its mission to increase the number of participants, but with the economic climate and inflation, the numbers may be on the decline as some teams scale back on the investment required to maintain a race team. Come 2016, SIC anticipates a demanding year and more challenges ahead, especially with reduced revenue following the track closure for three months for resurfacing and upgrading works.
Nevertheless, there are indications of improvements in ticket sales and spectator numbers, with the WSBK taking place on a more conducive weekend and featuring a well-known local rider, and having more time to promote the F1 following a rescheduled race. There will be changes to the racing calendar overall to accommodate the track closure, but the main change will be the F1, rescheduled for the first time in many years.
Held from 30 September to 2 October 2016, the Petronas Malaysia F1 Grand Prix 2016 will share a month with the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix 2016 – making October 2016 a month to remember for motorsports fans.
With continued interest in the on-track rivalries, interest in the MotoGP remains strong, and SIC will continue to work hard to ensure that the Malaysia MotoGP maintains its track record of success. Additionally, SIC will work closely with the SRO Motorsports Group to ensure a good number of high quality entries in the Sepang 12 Hours, and also encourage strong local support.
Meanwhile, in the years to come, SIC will be expanding its scope beyond the track, with planned projects including a hotel and a specialised drivers’ education facility within SIC’s 300 hectare land bank.