Indonesia may finally get the MotoGP race it has long desired. Carmelo Ezpeleta and Javier Alonso met with senior Indonesian politicians and the management of the Sentul International circuit, to talk about the possibility of staging a MotoGP race in the country from 2017 onwards. Though the meeting produced no concrete agreement, the two sides expressed their commitment to working together to make an Indonesian round of MotoGP happen.
Dorna and the manufacturers have been eyeing Indonesia for some time now. The populous Southeast Asian country is one of the biggest markets for motorcycles in the world, sales consisting mostly of small capacity scooters. The numbers are mind boggling, in the tens of millions of units in total. So the factories are very keen to get their riders in front of Indonesian fans and help promote their brands. The fact that the Indonesian distributors of both Honda and Yamaha are sponsors to the factory teams speaks volumes in this respect.
Dorna, too, are keen to capitalize on the opportunities presented by Indonesia. The country is a major source of internet traffic for most racing-related websites, and supplies a large proportion of followers on social media to racers, teams and journalists alike. With a growing economy and a fast-expanding middle class with expendable income, Dorna has its eyes on the TV market and on selling merchandise, video content and mobile apps to Indonesia.
Two problems have always faced any attempts to race in Indonesia. The first is the smaller of the two: the lack of a suitable venue. Facilities at the Sentul International circuit, where MotoGP last raced in 1997, have fallen into a state of disrepair, and the track is in no way capable of hosting a round of MotoGP as the track stands. There have been constant rumors of new tracks being built, but so far, nothing has come to fruition. During the meeting on Wednesday, Sentul director Tinton Soeprapto promised to work towards complying with all of the demands of the FIM, but also asked for their help.
The bigger issue in Indonesia is the corruption in the country. At Sepang, I spoke to one senior member of the paddock, who asked not to be named, who expressed both the great desire of all concerned to go to Indonesia, and the problems which corruption caused when putting on a race. The teams feared problems at every level: getting equipment in and out of the country, moving people in and out of the country, and even something as simple as getting into and out of the track, my source told me. Planning for a race was almost impossible if you could not be sure your equipment had made it through customs, been transported from the airport to the circuit, and deposited in the right place. Costs were impossible to estimate if each of these steps required bribes to be paid to various officials. The support of the police was vital, but that, too, was often subject to financial inducement, both at the highest level and at the level of individual police officers demanding money to let team staff past to enter the circuit.
Arranging a race in Indonesia is only possible with support from the highest levels of government. The presence of Indonesia's Minster of Tourism, Arief Yahya, was a very positive step in this regard. Though getting rid of corruption would be the best solution, that is beyond the remit of even Dorna. The subtext of Carmelo's Ezpeleta's visit seemed to be ensuring that Dorna have the backing of the Indonesian government before committing to holding a race.
Though Dorna expressed the hope that Indonesia will be able to host a race from 2017, there is clearly still a lot of work to be done to make it happen.