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Indonesia MotoGP popularity ‘astonishing’

“It is unbelievable the passion Indonesia has for MotoGP. They treat the riders like rock stars”
If MotoGP venues were determined by the sport's popularity within each country, Indonesia would be near the very top of the list for a grand prix.

That's without taking into consideration Indonesia's status as one of the biggest motorcycle markets in the world - with a population behind only China, India and the USA - resulting in Honda and Yamaha sending their MotoGP stars to Indonesia for marketing and PR events.

“We went to Indonesia with both riders and it is unbelievable the passion they have for MotoGP,” said Repsol Honda team manager Livio Suppo, referring to a recent visit by world champion Marc Marquez (pictured) and team-mate Dani Pedrosa. “They treat the riders like rock stars. It is a pity we don't race there.”

Fighting to overturn Honda's sales lead, Yamaha frequently flies Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to Indonesia. “As Livio said, Indonesia is incredible,” commented Yamaha racing managing director Lin Jarvis. “The popularity for me is just astonishing in Indonesia considering we don't even race there.”

The last Indonesian Grand Prix took place at Sentul in 1997 and - despite the obvious attraction - subsequent attempts to bring world championship motorcycling back to the country, most recently a planned World Superbike round in 2013, have all failed.

Indeed, the only MotoGP round currently held in South East Asia is the Malaysian event at Sepang, rapidly growing in popularity with a weekend attendance of 130,000 this year. That's almost twice the number of fans that visited the established Japanese and Australian rounds.

So where would the three official MotoGP manufacturers - Honda, Yamaha and Ducati - like to see races held in the future?

“We need to stay in Europe because of course it is very important, but on the other side if in the future we have less races in Spain and Italy for example and more races in countries like South America, or Indonesia, or Thailand it is more than welcome,” Suppo suggested.

“We have the same opinion at Yamaha,” Jarvis said. “The main focus to be here [in MotoGP] is really to promote the brand and support the sales and marketing. At the end of the day that is the main reason. Of course technical development is also very important, but if we didn't sell bikes we wouldn't be here.

“The big areas of business are especially Asia, and some parts of South America are developing very well. Also Chile for instance. I'm disappointed we don't go to Brazil yet but hopefully we will. Our management went to a circuit in Thailand, which is brand new and they were very, very impressed with that as well.”

The new Chang International Circuit in Buriram is already confirmed as hosting its first WSBK event next season. Should that prove successful MotoGP would be the next logical step. Chile is also close to a future WSBK agreement.

In terms of South America, MotoGP made its return to the continent this year courtesy of the new Termas de Rio Hondo round in Argentina. However Brazil was forced to abandon its comeback and is not even included on the provisional 2015 line-up.

Next year's 18-round calendar will instead be divided as follows: Europe 11 races, North America 2 then one race each in Australia, South East Asia (Malaysia), East Asia (Japan), South America (Argentina) and the Middle East (Qatar).

Of the European rounds, only Spain (4) and Italy (2) host more than one event. While Spain is the obvious target for any cutbacks, in terms of race attendance Jerez (229,416), Valencia (197,000) and Catalunya (163,045) were all in the top six most popular events of this year.

By that criterion, the fourth Spanish round at Aragon would be looking vulnerable. However its 112,331 weekend crowd was still more than Mugello, Misano, Phillip Island, Motegi and Losail.

“We've got to make sure that we keep the balance between the traditional European venues, which are the classic venues of the championship, but we also have to go to these overseas places. It is the future,” Jarvis explained.

It is rare to find an issue that all three manufacturers agree almost identically on, but Ducati Corse's sporting director Paolo Ciabatti cited the same key markets.

“Ducati is a smaller company but those markets like Asia and South America are also very important to us,” said the Italian. “This is why Ducati has a plant in Thailand which is providing all the bikes except the Panigale to the Asian countries and this is why we have an assembly plant in Brazil.

"Obviously for us keeping a good number of races in Europe is important, but it would be great if we could expand the championship more into Asia and South America.”

“Without expanding the number of races,” Jarvis added.

Despite such a persuasive case for more Asian and South American rounds, the latest country announced as joining the MotoGP calendar is… Austria. In 2016.

Tagged as: Indonesia

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