As I wrote on Thursday, if there is one nation which deserves a MotoGP race, it is Indonesia. The fact that the President himself turned up for the race, (and actually hung around for the MotoGP race, rather than disappearing once the formalities had been handled) says plenty about the central role which the sport plays in Indonesia.
Indonesia may deserve a MotoGP round, but they deserve better than they got at Mandalika. Despite the fact that we had three races at the track, with three deserving winners, including an Indonesian rider on the front row in Moto3 and the first ever Thai winner of a grand prix, with Somkiat Chantra's victory in Moto2, MotoGP got through the event by the skin of its teeth.
Starting with the crowds. The fans who turned up were fantastic, enthusiastic and clearly reveling in the fact that they had a race in their home country at last. The official attendance figure was 62,923, but to paraphrase a popularly misattributed aphorism, there are lies, damned lies, and official sporting event attendance numbers.
But the event was wildly overpriced – more expensive than F1 at Sepang, local fans said – and way too expensive for most locals to attend. Getting to Lombok was expensive and difficult for anyone not on the island. There were plenty of locals at the race, but they were stood outside the fence and on the hillsides surrounding the circuit.
Of course, the circuit has to recoup the massive investment being made to build the facilities, and the cost of hosting the event. That may go some way to explaining the pricing. Another factor may be, as an Australian follower pointed out to me on Twitter, that Bali and Lombok are very popular vacation destinations for Australians, and once the hotel complexes are completed around Mandalika, they are likely to be packed with Australians during the grand prix weekend, giving Australia a third GP, after Phillip Island and Sepang.
Having the circuit packed with visiting Australians doesn't make the Mandalika GP particularly Indonesian, of course. Then again, the same could be said of the Assen round of WorldSBK 20 years ago, when the Dutch circuit was packed with British fans who had taken the boat to watch the races.
Rip it up
Indonesia deserves a better circuit too. Or rather, a better surface. The track layout is excellent, minor quibbles over the nature of the last corner apart. The runoff is superb, and it is a very safe track in every respect, other than the surface. Despite the track being resurfaced from Turns 17 through 5, the new surface was coming apart at Turn 2, Turn 3, and the final corner. Riders and senior staff were commenting that they feared that Turn 17, in particular, would not last race distance, even after Race Direction had shortened the Moto2 race to 16 laps and MotoGP to 20 laps.
What was the problem? Riding on a freshly laid surface was always going to be a risk. With little time to settle and bed in, and searing tropical heat softening tarmac, parts of the track coming up where it was particularly heavily stressed was to be expected.
Torrential rain saved the circuit for the MotoGP class. The start of the race was delayed by an hour and quarter, but it allowed the race to be run in fully wet and relatively safe conditions. Even then, the track was still coming up in places.
"In the wet, we felt the asphalt hitting into our body from the rider in front, so imagine in the dry conditions," Alex Rins said after the race. "In the last corner, the tarmac was starting to come out. Five minutes ago, I still had my leather suit on, and now I was in the office, I took off my leathers and I had my chest full of black stones. So for the track condition, better like this than in dry."
Others were a little more optimistic, despite the track coming apart. "I could see why they shortened it," Jack Miller said. "Where the asphalt had been copping a hiding all weekend you crank it over right on the apex there and it was… The asphalt was only finished last weekend. Generally it needs a month or two to set in. So I think under the circumstances the race would have happened no problem and I'm sure it would have been fine. We had a grand prix and better not to look at the negative side but the positive, that we had a great day's racing and got to give the fans a show here and I think they were all pretty happy. There were a lot of fans out there."
Whatever happens, the circuit will have to be resurfaced before MotoGP returns. The riders were under the impression that this was a condition for returning, and most likely, it will happen with plenty of time to spare before WorldSBK returns to the track in Indonesia. And as development of the tourist resort surrounding the circuit progresses, that should also mean less dust, mud, and dirt to get on track and make it slippery and slick.
Indonesia probably deserves a better schedule for its MotoGP round as well. Like other rounds held in Asia and Australia, the time schedule of the weekend is shifted to better suit European TV times. Understandable, perhaps, given TV contributes roughly a third of Dorna's budget, and most of that comes from Spain, Italy, and the UK. But that also means that the race takes place a little later in the afternoon, and at Mandalika, around 3pm. In the tropics, heavy rains usually start toward the end of the afternoon, and so the later the race, the greater the chance of rain.
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