The full exclusive interview with Sepang CEO Razlan Razali discussing the 2019 debut of the new Petronas Yamaha MotoGP team, plus the revised Moto2 and Moto3 line-up and MotoE entry with Bradley Smith

Razlan, 2018 began without a Malaysian MotoGP rider or Malaysian MotoGP team. Did you ever imagine you would have both by the end of the year?

Razlan Razali:

Like you say, who would have thought that by the Valencia test, not only would we have Hafizh Syahrin preparing for his second season in MotoGP, but also have a new, fully-fledged, Malaysian MotoGP team. It's amazing! I'm still very excited. The start of the Valencia test also coincided with my birthday and you couldn't ask for a better present!

You usually have a clear idea of where you want to take Sepang in terms of new projects, was that the case with the MotoGP team?

Razlan Razali:

Except for MotoGP! That was not clear. It's always been a career dream or, being honest, a childhood dream to have a MotoGP team. But I never thought it would be feasible or that there was any chance for us to do it. Because, number one, we are a circuit.

But we had to do motorsport development to promote MotoGP better in Malaysia. That's always been clear and I've never shifted my objectives on that since the very beginning. It's just that our rider development programme got bigger and bigger, and suddenly we got lucky and Hafizh Syahrin went into MotoGP and Petronas joined as our title partner for Moto3.

Then there was some paddock corridor talk with Carlos Ezpeleta, which led to a remote chance of us having a team slot in MotoGP… Then a further call to Petronas… Then a call from Carmelo confirming, 'yes, it's a possibility'.

When was that?

Razlan Razali:

That was at Barcelona, in June! So we had just six months to create a MotoGP team from a blank piece of paper. It's just unbelievable.

Unbelievable, some might say crazy, to try and make a MotoGP team from zero in such a short time. Where did you start?

Razlan Razali:

When we were very close to saying, 'hey, this could happen', my biggest worry was who could be the person running it.

I had a discussion with our Moto3 and Moto2 team manager Johan Stigefelt. Of course for Johan, also being an ex-rider, it was his dream to go to MotoGP as well. But we were also both realistic about the limits of his experience and decided we should find someone already very experienced in running a top MotoGP team to give that 'comfort' to our title partner and to Yamaha.

Johan asked around and he knew Wilco [Zeelenberg, rider coach for Maverick Vinales and former team manager in WorldSBK and MotoGP, including world titles with Jorge Lorenzo]. So the first new person I met for this project was Wilco.

We had a meeting with Wilco and he said it would be a new challenge for him after being at Yamaha for so long. He agreed in principal and then we went to speak to Lin Jarvis [Yamaha Racing managing director] and told him it was important for us to have Wilco, so Lin consented to the idea.

And then after that Ramon [Forcada, Yamaha crew chief for Vinales and previously Lorenzo] came into the picture as well.

So these two key guys, supported by Johan, gave me the comfort that it would be okay.

Of course for the first six months, up until now, Johan has been balancing the MotoGP planning with running Moto2 and Moto3, while Wilco could only come in on a Wednesday or Thursday of race week to contribute, before wearing his Yamaha shirt.

But after those key people were in place, it was just pick and chose, 'we want this guy, that guy'.

Did you all sit down together to decide on each person?

Razlan Razali:

I left it to Johan really. He knows better when it comes to this. He's been in the paddock long enough to know the right people.

What I especially like about this team is that it's multi-national - we have five different nationalities just among our riders in the three classes, but counting the team staff as well we have people from Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, America, Malaysia, UK, France, Italy… I think it's superb.

But Yamaha recognised the importance of this and it was tricky because after the race on Sunday [at Valencia] we had to shift everything, Tech3 had to move out, we had to move in and I've never seen so many Japanese staff in blue Yamaha shirts supporting us. It was unbelievable, they helped our guys and bang, we were out on the track!

So far, so good.

Will the team have a European base?

Razlan Razali:

Yes, we will be based in Belgium. That's central in terms of the European logistics. We've been audited by Yamaha, by Petronas. They are all happy. Everything is secure.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the Petronas Yamaha Sepang team?

Razlan Razali:

This is the beginning of a long-term relationship with Yamaha, Petronas and of course Dorna. We are not a fly-by-night company. I think we have solidified our position in the paddock as a serious team and we want to be here for a long time.

Of course, we have to take the targets year-by-year. In the first year, beginning with Fabio, it's every rookie's target to be Rookie of the Year. So that's what we want him to be.

With Frankie, we have very high hopes and expectations. He's a very serious and focussed rider. We want him to be the top Independent rider and we believe with the ['A-spec'] bike that he is getting he could also compete with the factory boys.

That would be a stretched target for year one, but certainly we are targeting for Frankie to be top Independent rider.

And the same for the team. I have a personal bet with Herve [Poncharal] from Tech3! Finally I'm on the MotoGP grid with him. So we'll be competitors on track, but try to remain friends off track.

Of course, there are many teams for us to try to beat, but we need to beat Herve first! This year I've been with Tech3 a lot, also going in and out of Hafizh Syahrin's pit box. Now I'll have to change my position a little bit and watch Hafizh more from pit lane!

The A-spec bike you've secured for Frankie is new ground for a satellite Yamaha team, was that always the plan?

Razlan Razali:

For us, we want to be competitive. We do not want to just make up the numbers and hence we made the decision and negotiated for one factory machine. Initially it was two, at that time - as you know - there were rumours going around that we were talking to Pedrosa, Lorenzo. So we thought, 'okay, two factory machines is what we want'.

But then one rider dropped off.

But Frankie was always an automatic choice. He was always in the equation whether the top rider would have been Pedrosa or Lorenzo. And we always planned for Frankie to have a factory bike.

But when we ran out of riders for the second bike of the calibre that would deserve a factory bike, then we thought let's look at a young rider. We didn't make that decision alone, we consulted Yamaha as well. A few names came in and we locked onto Quartararo.

Everyone was quite excited because we know what he's like, where he's comes from and how he's progressed. Yamaha liked it, Dorna liked it, the French Grand Prix guys like it. I think he has the potential and we're happy to give Fabio this chance.

How close did things get with Lorenzo and Pedrosa?

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