The Malaysian Grand Prix weekend saw official confirmation that Sepang will stay on the MotoGP calendar for at least the next five years.

The new agreement was hardly a surprise given the ever-increasing crowd numbers, culminating in 95,000 race day fans and a best-yet weekend crowd of 161,553 at this year's event.

"Continuing with MotoGP is very important for our young rider development programme and for Malaysia," said Dat? Razlan Razali, CEO of the Sepang International Circuit.

And that rider development programme is one of the reasons behind MotoGP's booming popularity at Sepang. The other is the quality of the racing spectacle.

"Number one, MotoGP continues to be a fantastic product," Razali explained. "It's an event that is appealing and exciting to the masses, especially Malaysians. It offers 4-5 hours of great racing from Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP. I think that is a huge factor right now and helps make MotoGP, I think, the most exciting motorsport event.

"[Secondly] it is complimented by our Malaysian riders, that are doing very well this year. Khairul Idham Pawi has won two rounds already, as a rookie, in Moto3. Hafizh Syahrin is doing consistently well in Moto2 and we have a young boy Adam Norrodin trying to do as well as he can in his first year. This weekend we also have Hafiq Azmi as a wild-card in Moto3 and Ramdan Rosli in Moto2.

"The participation of the Malaysians is the next biggest contributing factor for the crowd we see today."

In the year 2000 Sepang spectator numbers sunk to a low of just 30,184 weekend fans.

The crowd remained under 60,000 until the biggest jump in the circuit's MotoGP history in 2009, attendance more than doubling to 102,255. It has continued to grow each year since.

So what happened in 2009? That was the year Team Malaysia made a wild-card entry in the 125cc class for its home event, with young local riders Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Elly Ilias.

"2009 started the ball rolling," Razlan confirmed.

SIC has expanded its young rider development programme ever since, including running its own full-time team in the Moto3 class.

"It shouldn't be the circuit that does all this. The circuit's objective is to run the circuit and run the event as a promoter, but then again someone needs to do the job because we realised that prior to our [rider development] programme the crowd was not there," Razali said.

"Now we have grown quite a lot and this is important. When I came here in 2008 [our target] was to grow MotoGP as big as Formula 1, now it seems to have been reversed! MotoGP has grown hugely and F1 is another story."

This year's Malaysian F1 race was moved to October, just a few weeks before the MotoGP event. It meant a punishing schedule for the SIC team.

"Our team are feeling the challenge of having the MotoGP just three weeks after F1. We are mentally strained, physically tired, but having the crowd coming in - over 90,000 [on race day for the MotoGP] - makes it all worthwhile. MotoGP gives us a tremendous feel-good factor.

"I'm already talking about what we are going to do next year; let's push the boundary to 100,000 [for race day]. We have around 50,000 grandstand seats and the rest are hillstands [which can be opened up]."

Grandstand ticket prices for the MotoGP were 250 ringgits (about 50 euros) for two days. Friday was free.

But while MotoGP's future at Sepang is secure, doubts have recently been raised over the F1 event and World Superbike will not return in 2017.

"Zulfahmi came second this year in the Supersport race, but I think the 'brother' of the event [MotoGP], is just too huge. Malaysians, with limited budget, can only choose one and they don't understand so much about the other. MotoGP is just too big in Malaysia for them to think about World Superbike."

This year has seen significant investments made at Sepang in the form of a complete resurfacing, plus new paddock buildings. What's next?

"I think the next project will compliment our daily business. That's important because F1 and MotoGP only race twice a year. So we need to look at elements that will push our daily revenue."

Malaysian MotoGP at Sepang: Weekend spectators
2016: 161,553
2015: 150,563
2014: 130,925
2013: 126,917
2012: 125,816
2011: 111,385
2010: 105,555
2009: 102,255
2008: 50,152
2007: 44,807
2006: 56,437
2005: 56,160
2004: 46,318
2003: 39,699
2002: 34,060
2001: 30,184
2000: 32,375
1999: 65,000

By Peter McLaren



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