New Grandstands At Assen, And The Economic Impact Of A MotoGP Race

"If it wasn't for the Dutch TT race, I would have to close my business." Those were the words of the taxi driver who took me from Assen train station to the circuit, for a presentation on the plans for major upgrades to their spectator facilities over the next three years and beyond.

It offered an insight into the importance of the MotoGP race at Assen, and by extension, the importance of circuits and MotoGP events around the world. My taxi driver explained that over the week surrounding the Assen race, he was kept so busy that the money he made during that period was the difference between ending the year with a profit and the ability to invest in the future of the business, or just about breaking even.

Chatting to an official of the provincial government, who had grown up in the city and worked in bars there during his college years, he confirmed that experience. The bars back then were so busy during the race weekend that it was the difference between survival and failure. The same is true for many businesses and hotels around the region, as anyone who has ever tried to book accommodation in the weeks before the race can attest.

The economics of racing

The economic impact of a MotoGP race is huge. A 2012 research paper by Maria Luisa Martí Selva and Rosa Puertas Medina, published in the Spanish Estudios de Economia Applicada, calculated the economic benefit of the final MotoGP round of 2010 at Valencia. The 80,774 fans who officially attended the race (about 30,000 less than attended this year's race) paid just over €5 million in tickets, and spent nearly €14,5 million in the region on accommodation, food, transport, entertainment, and merchandising. Over €8 million of that went on accommodation, food, and entertainment.

The Valencia race alone generates 0.24% of the GDP of the Valencia Autonomous Community, a region which contains some of the most popular tourist destinations in Eastern Spain. That explains why so many regions are prepared to invest in circuits, and in many cases, financially subsidize the sanctioning fee for the event.

The Dutch TT at Assen does not receive direct subsidy for the race, the circuit pays the sanctioning fee entirely out of its own pocket. But, circuit president Arjan Bos told us, they had reached agreement with the Province of Drenthe (which is home to the circuit) to invest in upgrading the spectator facilities at the circuit. In the period through 2021, facilities are to be improved around the track, with new grandstands being built, more catering options added, entertainment areas created, and roads inside the car parking areas and track paved. All of the changes will benefit spectators, with the track remaining unchanged.

Improving Turn 1

The operation is to take place in two stages. The first phase, already started and due to last until 2019, will see the grandstands at the Haarbocht (Turn 1), Stekkenwal (Turn 8), De Bult (Turn 9), and Winterdijk (the section between the Ramshoek and final GT Chicane) replaced, as well as paving interior roads and creating entertainment areas. The total cost of the first phase is €8 million, with the Province of Drenthe contributing half of that.

The first and most significant upgrade will be the new grandstand being built at the Haarbocht. Currently, the seating there consists of plastic bucket seats on an earth bank. The new grandstand will have approximately the same capacity, of 9700 spectators. But the seating will be more comfortable and more spacious, and raised up higher on a steel and concrete custom-made grandstand. Lifts and stairs will provide access to the grandstand, and there will be catering spaces underneath it, serving both at the front and the rear, so fans can buy food and drinks while bikes are on track without missing out on the action.

The good news for fans is that despite the new grandstand being a major upgrade in terms of comfort, prices for seats there will not be raised to cover the costs. "This is all about customer loyalty,"circuit director Peter Oosterbaan told me. "I want to make sure that the fans have such a great day out that they will want to come back again the following year. I have a waiting list for the main grandstands and the GT grandstand. I want a waiting list for this grandstand too," he said.

Improving the view

The Haarbocht grandstand will not be covered, but the top deck will house a special VIP area, where companies can entertain guests. The top deck offers a fantastic view, as I experienced when handed a VR headset provided by LG Architects, the firm who are building the grandstand. From the top deck, fans can see all of Assen's North Loop, from the front straight, around the Haarbocht to the Strubben, and out onto the Veenslang. Fans sitting in the grandstand will have a similar view, with more visible the higher up they sit.

The increased height of the grandstand will also help reduce noise from the circuit. The architects have modeled the effect of the grandstand on noise, and because the new grandstand is taller, more noise is directed upwards, rather than north towards residential estates near Assen. The reduction is small, of course, but with noise around circuits such a sensitive subject, even small reductions are a welcome effect.

Work on the grandstand had already started when I visited on 6th December, and the aim is to have the grandstand finished by the start of June, in time for the MotoGP race on 25th June. Fans attending the WorldSBK round on 30th April are likely to have to wait another year.

Phase 2

Once the Haarbocht grandstand is finished, work will start on the next grandstands, at Winterdijk, De Bult, and Stekkenwal. These projects will take place in 2018 and 2019, but the design and planning work has not yet started. That will commence some time in 2017, with designs being based on the Haarbocht.

Another part of the project is the creation of entertainment areas behind the grandstands. The idea is to give fans something extra to do when the riders are not on track. There are already a few sections like that at Assen, but this is to be expanded and greatly improved. This, along with all of the other changes, is aimed at improving the visitor experience at the track.

Traditionalists may fear that all these changes will detract from the traditional character of the circuit. Assen's grass banks are a fundamental part of the experience, and a great place to view the action from. Circuit director Peter Oosterbaan insisted they won't be removed. "I always used to sit on the grass banks when I came as a fan many years ago," he told me. They are part of the history of Assen, and will remain so.

All of these changes were only made possible due to the long-term commitment which the Assen circuit has from Dorna. At this year's MotoGP race, Dorna and the TT Circuit announced an extension of the contract through 2026. The importance of the race cannot be overstated. "The board always have one primary objective," circuit president Arjan Bos told us, "to keep the MotoGP race in Assen." But the event is just as important for Dorna, as it is the circuit to have appeared uninterrupted on the calendar since the start of the championship in 1949. "They tell us that for the sake of history, this Grand Prix can never disappear from the calendar."

Below are a selection of design sketches of the new grandstand, from the architects.

Haarbocht grandstand, front view
Haarbocht grandstand, front view

Haarbocht grandstand, view from the stands
Haarbocht grandstand, view from the stands

Haarbocht grandstands, looking north
Haarbocht grandstands, looking north

Haarbocht grandstand, rear view
Haarbocht grandstand, rear view

Haarbocht grandstand, next to the main grandstand
Haarbocht grandstand, next to the main grandstand

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Thanks for this article David. To me it's a miracle the circuit has survived so far, you touched briefly on the noise but that has been an incredible problem for a long time. Assen is only allowed to have racing activities for a set amount of days per year, about 12 I believe. Absolutely ludicrous for a clearly world class facility, but it's what they have to deal with. Assen is a little town in the middle of the least populated province of the Netherlands and over the years more and more older people from the heavily populated western provinces come there to 'enjoy' retirement. The best way they can think of doing that is to complain about the noise coming from the racetrack that has existed almost as long or longer as they have...

Assen has 12 "noise" days a year - days on which the track can exceed the normal sound levels. But the track actually has activities going on for 200 days a year. Most of those are track days, or some form of instruction, where the track is limited to very low noise levels. Of course, the biggest problem for the circuit is that the Strubben and Veenslang face south. So the hardest acceleration point on the circuit has the bikes throwing their exhaust noise to the north, right at Assen and its inhabitants.

(Incidentally, this is a perfect example of why the argument that "loud pipes save lives" is such nonsense. The vast majority of the noise of a motorcycle exhaust disappears to the rear of the bike, with only a small amount preceding it forwards. So the amount of warning an exhaust pipe generates for traffic ahead of the motorcycle - which is where the danger is - is very limited indeed.)

as much as they wanted to update pits and infield to support more classes (read garages) they didn't have enough Noise days on the calendar schedule enough events to cover the improvements. A good example being AMA superbikes having to piggy back/bump WSBK & MotoGP support classes off the calendar so they could get their weekend too.

Glad someone is seeing the value of a MotoGP weekend and investing in it.

Is to remove the previous upgrades, i.e. shortening the track. #BringBackTheNorthernLoop  When they trashed the track the last time it was supposed to be "upgraded with an amusement park and a hotel.

The most effective way to reduce noise complaints at a track?

Green walls?

acoustic baffles?

re-model the whole circuit?


None of the above.   Bring back 2 strokes, whilst the noise output at the tip of the exhaust is louder, the higher frequency output pulses dissipate a lot quicker the the low end bass resonance of a 4 stroke.

2 strokes, you know it makes sense.  :)

- Great to see the TT-track being upgraded like this, but I think they are looking to the MotoGP a bit too much. The rest of the year these enormous stands look like an East-German military complex. Every event apart from the Dutch TT feels 'empty' with all those empty seats, even 10.000 spectators are completely lost. Maybe add some colours or 'fake persons' or drapes or whatever to make it not look so Silverstone.

- The TT-track should really start investing in noise blocking. This new grandstand doesn't look very "soundproof" but more like a megaphone, just like the ones in Spielberg. TT-track has had loads of noiseproblems with other changes; turned out they resulted in higher noise levels on the static measuring device. Now all trackdays have serious noise issues, with loads of streetlegal (!) motorcycles being blackflagged, national races being cut short and complete classes being cancelled. This is killing the national sport, which eventually will hurt numbers of visitors for the big events. 

If otherwise legal bikes are being flagged for noise because of surroundings like grandstands they should change how they test. 

Ignorance isn't an excuse in almost every facet of rule abiding life and yet idiots who move next to historic or important motorsport venues can lay down enormous pressure to councils that are desperately greedy who then transfer it directly to facilities that are more good than bad in almost any part of the world. 

If someone is stupid enough to not do the most basic of research (tracks are usually on maps, no?) before moving within earshot of a race track they should have no power to complain. I've said it before but look at Goodwood. How can a place which has been there for so long have to pander to a handful of idiots?! 

The world is full of broken systems and this sort of thing is just another example of how certain people shouldn't be allowed any power. The common thread is usually ignorance and selfishness. 

Even if people don't like or know much about motorsport can they not see the benefit and fun to it? Let's not enjoy some new local entertainment or tolerate what probably amounts to mildly agressive traffic noise. Let's complain and make sure no one has fun because we aren't. 

This kind of crap really winds me up. 

David, As a trackday rider i onderstand the noise problem. Why dont they work on the problem area's instead ? With so many trackdays and zac/owcup local amateur classes. I fear the word.. baggelhuizen