“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 and 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.
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 have 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.
With regular sunny days and temperatures not exceeding 33C and not dropping below 21C, tourists are flocking to Lombok as an alternative to Bali for its less crowded beaches, to dive in clear aquamarine oceans or surf its world-famous waves in this glorious untouched tropical paradise.
A Major Economic Hub
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.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo inaugurated the Mandalika Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in October 2017 with the specific aim of promoting tourism. Mandalika is 40 kilometres away from the provincial capital, Mataram, and is located near Kuta beach on its western side. The Special Economic Zone is expected to be different from the mainstream tourist destinations like Nusa Dua in Bali, which is famous for business meetings and exhibitions.
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.
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.
MotoGP is a premier road racing championship tournament. It has its roots in Europe where it came into being after FIM (Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme) imposed regulations for motorcycle racing for the first time in 1949.
The commercial rights now belong to Dorna Sports, with FIM acting as the governing body. There are four entities which make the Grand Prix commission comprising of International Road Racing Teams Association (IRTA) – who represent the teams; Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association (MSMA) – who represent the manufacturers; FIM and Dorna.
Racing events are categorized based on engine sizes and there are currently four racing classes in the championship which are Moto Grand Prix, Moto2 and Moto3 – utilizing four-stroke engines – and MotoE, which was introduced in 2019 and uses electric motors.
In the past, the classes facilitated motorcycles ranging from 50cc to 500cc. However, new regulations now permit the use of engines up to 1000cc.
The Grand Prix Championship is held annually with races being hosted in different, often exotic locations. Indonesia last hosted this mega event over two decades ago in 1996 and 1997.
1996-1997 Malboro Indonesian Grand Prix
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 the 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.
1996 Indonesian Grand Prix winners:
500cc Winner: Micheal Doohan
250cc Winner: Tetsuya Harada
125cc Winner: Masaki Tokudome
In 1997, MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi was among the winners. Honda dominated too, with winners in both the 250cc and 500cc categories:
500cc Winner: Tadayuki Okada
250cc Winner: Max Biaggi
125cc Winner: Valentino Rossi
Sentul International Circuit also hosts other events like Motorcross, Autocross and Go-Karting. It also houses 2000 hotel rooms, restaurants, a recreational centre, and an international golf course.
Unfortunately, this event did not happen again in the years since, and the true financial potential of Sentul International Circuit was never fully recognized.
Why MotoGP Championship Left Indonesia for Two Decades?
According to Lola Moenek, General Manager of Sentul International, MotoGP championship left Indonesia due to the worsening of Rupiah exchange rate against the US dollar during the 1996-1997 period. The Rupiah continued to depreciate with the rate rocketing from IDR2,383 to US$1 in 1996 to IDR11, 591 to US$1 in 1998.
This financial hurdle overwhelmed Sentul’s managers, who decided they could not continue to host the race. However, the CEO of Dorna, Carmelo Ezpeleta, and the director of Sentul, Tinton Soeprapto had previously signed a contract making Indonesia a venue for the MotoGP championship for five years.
“At that time, the dollar exchange rate was getting higher. When we held MotoGP in 1996-1997, the exchange rate was around IDR. 2,700. The MotoGP contract at that time between Carmelo Ezpeleta and Tinton Soeprapto for five years was abandoned. Why? Because the dollar strengthened. We were not brave at the time.” Lola was reported saying at 2015 Indonesian Touring Car Awards in Jakarta.
Return of MotoGP After Two Decades
The government have high hopes for the much-delayed return of MotoGP to Indonesia after 24 years. It is considered a massive boost for the country’s international profile and highlights how the economy has strengthened.
The Indonesian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) signed an agreement with Dorna Sports, MotoGP organizers, for a slot in the 2021 MotoGP season. The deal outlines the hosting of the race and development of the circuit. The competition will be hosted within a designated special economic zone for tourism, Mandalika.
Besides the MotoGP, Mandalika is also speculated to host a round of the World Superbike Championship (WSBK) and a Motocross World Championship event.
Indonesia was recently hosting to major sporting events in the past two years – the Asian Games and Asian Para Games. It has also placed a formal bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympics. Cabinet Secretary Pramono Agung said: “What the government is doing with MotoGP and the Olympics is a vision toward becoming a great nation, a winning nation,” adding that the MotoGP would give exposure to the Mandalika resort in south Lombok.
Construction of the circuit Mandalika
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.
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.
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.
Features Of The Circuit:
Benefits of Hosting MotoGP Lombok 2021 Championship
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.
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.
The indirect benefits are expected to generate over IDR2 trillion with the five day MotoGP event being broadcast to two hundred countries over 60 television channels. The MotoGP championship is a very popular sporting event among locals. It is hoped the event will inspire local racers, and many Indonesian racers are also expected to debut in the race.