“What a unique project this will be: Having an urban, world-class circuit in a country where MotoGP has such a huge following… Indonesia is a key market for us, with a considerable percentage of motorsport fans living here. The MotoGP atmosphere will be even stronger once the circuit is complete.” — Carmelo Ezpeleta, Dorna MotoGP CEO
Almost a quarter of a century after the country hosted its last MotoGP race, Indonesia is expected to return to the elite motor-racing calendar in 2021. Lombok’s Mandalika International Street Circuit, which remains under construction, has been named on the provisional 20-race calendar’s reserve list while the sport’s organisers await its completion. All going to plan, there is an expectation it will be included when the list of venues is confirmed early in the year with the island’s inaugural race slated for October or November.
Twenty-Four Years in The Making
The inclusion will represent a giant leap for Lombok, which is located in West Nusa Tenggara and has been identified by the Indonesian Government as a key focal point for economic growth through tourism and property investment. Already attracting hundreds of investors each year, the hope is major international events such as the MotoGP – and Formula One has not been ruled out for the future too – can turn Lombok into a year-round sporting destination.
The Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) signed a deal with Dorna Sports for MotoGP hosting rights in 2018, marking a historic breakthrough both for Lombok and the sport. With a population close to 270 million, the country famously boasts the largest motor-racing fanbase in the world, yet has hosted a race just twice in history and been absent from the racing calendar for more than two decades.
The 1996 and 1997 Marlboro Indonesian Grands Prix were both held at Sentul International Circuit in Bogor, West Java, and with the MotoGP era only starting in 2002, featured three different racing classes: 125cc, 250cc and the MotoGP equivalent 500cc. Watched on by around 50,000 spectators, Mike Doohan won the inaugural race before Tadayuki Okada took top spot on the podium a year later. Notably, an 18-year-old Valentino Rossi, who would go on to win seven MotoGP world championships, triumphed in the 125cc category in 1997.
That same year, a financial crisis across Asia prompted the race to be dropped from the 1998 calendar and it never returned as the likes of Thailand, China and Malaysia’s Sepang Circuit jumping ahead. Yet with the financial situation of the country strengthening, Indonesia is firmly back in the sports tourism sector. In 2018, it hosted the Asian Games, a year later held the ASEAN School Games, and has formally bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics.
A Trillion In One
Part of the MotoGP deal between ITDC and Dorna included a commitment to construct a custom-made racing circuit. The contract was eventually given to VINCI Construction Grand Projets, the French firm responsible for the Stade de France that hosted the 1998 Fifa World Cup final, and the “Bird’s Nest” Olympic Stadium in Beijing.
Once the Mandalika International Street Circuit and its surrounding infrastructure is complete later this year, it is expected to host various other motorsports events, including the World Superbikes Championship, as well as conferences, congresses and business summits. When not in use, it will be open for the public and the objective is to create an ideal environment for external investment that can boost the island’s economic and international status. Officials estimate that MotoGP alone can generate around 1 trillion IDR (US$71 million) for the Indonesian economy.
According to government and tourism officials, the MotoGP world championship race is going to bring not only much-awaited international exposure to the country, but also more opportunities to its people. As race teams eye the 2021 calendar, local riders may find themselves with testing opportunities as marques look to align with Indonesia in a bid to increase marketing exposure. Any participation would presumably inspire future generations to chase the same dream, creating a long-lasting impact on the country’s economic well-being.
Exposure On and Off Track
Although there are no Indonesian riders in MotoGP this year, 28-year-old Dimas Ekky Pratama from West Java and 23-year-old Andi Farid Izdihar from South Sulawesi both raced in Moto2 last season. While Izdihar will compete in Moto3 this year for Honda Team Asia, Pratama is expected to be the face of the new Pertamina Mandalika SAG Team. Meanwhile MP1, an Indonesian company operating in events and sports management, has partnered with Gresini Racing through a multiple-year partnership agreement that covers all four categories: MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3, and MotoE. More tie-ups are expected.
The Mandalika International Street Circuit may not be a true street circuit in the sense of Monaco or Singapore, but the permanent design does incorporate public roads. Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), the company responsible for the venue and its surroundings, believe the 4.32km track will be one of the fastest in the championship. It is expected to cater to 150,000 spectators and with a 10-year contract promising to broadcast Lombok into 428 million homes across 200 countries, continual exposure of the island is guaranteed for at least the next decade.
Lombok: Indonesia’s Hidden Treasure
Located just a half-hour from Bali, Lombok is far less developed and thus offers a more tranquil escape. Though the past few years has seen visitor numbers increase considerably, the tourism market is focused more on sustainable, responsible travel unlike other popular tourist spots in Asia. The island’s clear blue waters are filled with a wide range of marine life, including giant turtles, stingrays and schools of tropical fish, while it is also home to Desert Point, one of the best surf spots in all of Asia.
Mandalika is thus designed as an ecotourism destination. The entire US$3bn project is spread across 1,175 hectares and includes 16km of coastline, condotels, beach clubs, shopping malls, leisure facilities, a golf course, and various other commercial entities. The circuit itself minimises its carbon footprint by incorporating public roads into the design and using clean energy to sustain the majority of support facilities. Likewise, solar power, a water desalination plant, and a promise to retain 51 percent of the area as open green space are all part of the plan to protect the region’s natural beauty and enhance local culture.
With construction well underway, the Mandalika Beach Club set to open its doors in early 2021, and the racing circuit to be ratified soon after, the ambitious project is undoubtedly going to increase tourism on the island. The idea of Lombok eclipsing Bali as Indonesia’s top tourist attraction is not yet on the agenda, but merely joining its neighbouring island at the top table of Asian holiday destinations will be a massive success.