Night Racing: The Next Big Thing

The success of the floodlit MotoGP season opener at Qatar, held at the dead of night local time, has opened up a whole host of new perspectives. After the race finished without incident, and generating some spectacular images, a host of race organizers around the world breathed a huge sigh of relief, and started work on their own plans.

The next candidate for a night race is of course Sepang. An announcement on the future of the race is expected in the next couple of days, with talks being held after the Formula 1 race run their this weekend. Dato Mokhzani Mahathir, chairman of the Sepang International Circuit, has denied that he has come under any pressure from Formula 1 supreme Bernie Ecclestone to run the race at night, to allow the race to be shown at prime time TV on Sunday afternoon in Europe, rather than the current unearthly hour of the morning. Unfortunately, such is Ecclestone's reputation that any denial that the F1 boss brought any pressure to bear in a decision is immediately taken as proof to the contrary.

The main problem for Sepang is the cost. The extra costs of running the Formula 1 race are estimated at around $5 million, with costs for a night MotoGP race expected to be broadly in line with this figure. However, Sepang has the good fortune to host both a Formula 1 race and a round of MotoGP, allowing the investment in infrastructure to be defrayed over several events. In addition, circuit officials hope to generate extra revenue from the track by hosting track days and other races at night.

But Sepang isn't the only candidate for a night race. The Dutch motorcycle racing site is reporting that the Australian Grand Prix could also be run at night. Although an appealing idea for European TV audiences, any such switch would have a massive downside: the night race would not be run at a floodlit Phillip Island - as Paul Dawson, a reader told us "it's bloody freezing at night", which, in combination with Phillip Island's rather unpredictable weather conditions would make planning any race at night very difficult indeed.

Instead, the race could be hosted in the much more hospitable climes of Queensland's Gold Coast, at a new track called i-METT, a planned integrated motorsports facility some 38 kilometers south of Brisbane, Australia. The site has already expressed an interest in luring the Formula 1 season opener away from Melbourne on Australia's south coast, as the regional government is refusing to run the race around the Albert Park street circuit at night, to suit those spoiled European F1 fans. Like Sepang, the Brisbane facility would find the costs easier to justify if they could score the double whammy of MotoGP and Formula 1 races, and Dorna, like Ecclestone, would be delighted to run the races at a time more amenable to Italian and Spanish TV audiences.

As if losing one of the finest tracks on the calendar in Phillip Island wasn't enough, the track which would theoretically replace it is to be designed by Hermann Tilke, the German architect and circuit designer. Responsible for the rather dull circuit at Sepang, and the absolute abomination of Shanghai, the thought of MotoGP running at yet another track designed especially for Formula 1 by Tilke strikes fear into the hearts of most motorcycle racing fans. We can only hope that should Tilke be granted the contract, and should the Australian MotoGP round move to the new facility, Tilke shows the same inspiration which gave us the glorious and much-missed track at Istanbul, rather than the sham of Shanghai.

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