Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit is the only racetrack in the world to currently host Formula 1, MotoGP and World Superbike. spoke to Chief Executive Officer Dato Razlan Razali during the recent WorldSBK round - the first race since a complete resurfacing and corner re-profiling - to discuss the latest developments, plans for the future, the recent success of young Malaysians and more...
You've resurfaced the whole of the track, when was the work finished?

Dato Razlan Razali:
We completed it three weeks before the World Superbike event, giving it time to cure. Then we opened the circuit a week and a half before. We had two car track days and a number of motorsport-free track days, which is for cycling and so on.
How popular are the motorsport-free days?

Dato Razlan Razali:
There was a lot of interest in the track after we announced the resurfacing. So when we opened it we had more than 1,000 people here at one time! Families walking, rollerblading, skating... It's great. It's one way for us to get closer to the masses, with the objective of getting them interested in motorsports and buying tickets.
The World Superbike event was the first race since the track re-opened, has it gone smoothly?

Dato Razlan Razali:
The planning and management part is something I think we are good at now. Of course you cannot predict everything, so it's also about how you solve any problems as they arise and I think we've done that very well. Promoting and getting more people to come to the event, that is another story.

World Superbike race 1 action at Sepang.
I was here for the MotoGP event in October when the grandstands were full...

Dato Razlan Razali:
You're not the only one who is used to seeing big crowds here!
Why is there such a huge difference between the number of spectators for MotoGP and WorldSBK at Sepang?

Dato Razlan Razali:
I think we're a victim of our success with MotoGP to a certain extent, because it's become so big for the last 4-5 years.

F1 is a different animal, but we have two motorcycle events - MotoGP and World Superbike - and to be honest the appetite at the moment is just for one. And of the two, people would rather go for the 'big brother'.

So it's difficult for World Superbike to come even close to MotoGP, but it also takes time and I'm confident it can grow. It's just a matter of whether we want to grow it.
Which is my next question, this is the last year of the existing World Superbike contract. Is there a future for World Superbike at Sepang?

Dato Razlan Razali:
Discussions are ongoing with key stakeholders, especially Dorna. I think we want to position SBK as not so much a 'spectator event', compared to MotoGP and Formula 1.

We would like to position WorldSBK as an event and platform for young [Malaysian] riders to pry their talent into first before going into the MotoGP World Championship.

So if we can look at putting more than one Malaysian rider in the Supersport category in future, potentially that could work. Again it needs some further thinking and further review. We hope to announce our decision later in the year.

Zulfahmi Khairuddin celebrates his first WSS podium with second place at Sepang.
Zulfahmi Khairuddin is the only Malaysian in the World Superbike paddock at the moment, how did it feel seeing him fighting for victory in his first home Supersport race?

Dato Razlan Razali:
Of course it brought back the sweet memories of 2012 and Fahmi's first podium in Moto3 - and this time we were hoping for our National Anthem to be played.

There was some anxiety and tremendous excitement during the race for all local fans at the circuit and many more watching on television. Although all of us were disappointed that Fahmi did not win, coming second again in his first year in World Supersport is still a wonderful achievement.

So it's great that Fahmi is able to be competitive again and my advice to him is to be competitive all year around and not just one home race!

Adam Norrodin pushes his bike over the finish line in Argentina.
Speaking of young Malaysians, Khairul Idham Pawi won the Moto3 race in Argentina and another rookie Adam Norrodin - of the SIC Racing Team - was one corner from a podium. That will surely boost the MotoGP attendance even further this year...

Dato Razlan Razali:
Well it's great for a period of time, but sports fans - especially Malaysian sports fans - forget easily! The excitement and achievement by Pawi will slowly fade unless he continues his performance.

The funny thing is that when I was going around promoting World Superbike with the mainstream media, they always recall Adam Norrodin pushing the bike over the finish line after his accident.

That kind of incident, showing a never-give-up attitude and fighting spirit, seems to have stuck in the mind of the mainstream media here.

Both Malaysian riders have had some great performances in Moto3 this year, but again the difficult part is to keep up those performances. Nevertheless, ticket sales have gone through the roof.

Khairul Idham Pawi makes history for Malaysia with victory in Argentina.
How do the ticket sales compare with previous years?

Dato Razlan Razali:
For this point in time, it's the best we've had. Of course it helps when the big boys in the MotoGP class are putting on such great racing and the championship is wide open. Then, as well as Moto3, Hafizh Syahrin has been consistent in Moto2. So everything looks positive.
So you have no worries about the MotoGP event?

Dato Razlan Razali:
No, but I don't want to rest on our laurels and become complacent about it. I've reminded my team about that. We have to make sure that we push and push to achieve record crowds for each of our events.

Fans at the 2015 Sepang MotoGP round.
Talking of not resting on your laurels, can you tell us about the new development planned for the paddock area? It looks like you are going to replace the temporary buildings behind the pits...

Dato Razlan Razali:
Before we invest in a new facility, we want to make sure we make the right decision and can recoup our investment.

At first we worked on a really ad hoc basis, setting up marquees for F1 and MotoGP, but we needed to move on from that kind of set-up to remain at the level of other, newer circuits.

However, funds are limited. So we proposed the semi-permanent two-story buildings, which we saw for the last couple of years. We managed to not only generate revenue from F1 and MotoGP but other events as well, so we actually recouped our investment one year in advance.

With that in mind we decided that it's time for us to set-up a better, permanent structure. And now that both Formula 1 and MotoGP are later in the year, we have time to remove the old structures and build the new ones.

We're also recycling the old materials to the South Paddock, so we actually have two new facilities that we are building in time for the Formula 1 and MotoGP events.

Start of the 2015 Malaysian F1 Grand Prix.
You mention the date change for F1, which has moved from March to October. The same month as MotoGP. What will be the impact of that? Do the same fans attend both events?

Dato Razlan Razali:
We tend to believe that different fans come for F1 and MotoGP, although some do attend both, within Malaysia at least.

I think it's great for Formula 1 to be later in the year compared to the usual round two. We have a lot more time during the season to promote the event than usual and we also now have Malaysian drivers in GP2 and GP3. Of course the Mercedes AMG team is doing very well again and Petronas is the title sponsor of both the team and the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix.

So there are various factors that we can leverage a lot more, a lot more stories to tell, a lot more development and it's now one of the last races which adds another element if the championship is close.

And doing F1 back-to-back with MotoGP - the MotoGP race is still where it's been for the past few years. The championship is close. So far everything seems to be positive. I'm happy and we hope if everything goes well this year, we want the same dates for next year and beyond.

The Singapore F1 night race.
I know you visit other circuits around the world. Is that important in terms of new ideas for Sepang?

Dato Razlan Razali:
The best way to describe it is that we take bits and pieces from different circuits and customise it for Malaysia.

For example, when Singapore came onto the F1 calendar everybody immediately said we should do a night race as well. I thought we shouldn't. Every round has its own unique qualities. A street circuit is totally different. When Bahrain did it [night race] we didn't see much real impact.

In fact, we will be installing lights at Sepang next year, but primarily to rent our track after hours. Because we've utilised our track at nearly 100% of the year, for the past three years.

The interest in motorsport in Malaysia has grown tremendously. It's crazy! We're running out of days in the year and running out of hours in the day. So the only way to get that incremental new revenue is to get hours in the night.

As I say, in some ways we took ideas from Singapore and Bahrain in terms of lighting, but strictly for track days. Not for racing.

For other things, we like to benchmark with the Suzuka Circuit for example. We went there a few times. They came and visited and advised us as well. A lot of our designs and the paddock is based on Suzuka's set-up.

Our masterplan for Sepang is also based on Suzuka, in terms of hotels that we want to build and a dedicated motorsport amusement park we have planned for the next five years.

We cannot remain just as a motorsport facility. We have to cater for a wider range of audience, especially during the off-season.
Thanks Razlan.

Dato Razlan Razali:
No problem.

By Peter McLaren

Sepang International Circuit.


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