The last year has been one of ups and downs for the Sepang International Circuit (SIC). The year proved challenging for SIC, which saw the decline of F1 spectator numbers, lower than expected fan support for the WSBK due to the Hari Raya period and FOREX losses following the depreciation of the ringgit. The implementation of GST also impacted ticket sales when consumers cut down on spending for non-essentials. While the haze nearly disrupted the MotoGP, it turned out well in the end with a record-breaking crowd and a thrilling race. Another plus point for SIC was receiving the rAWr award.
The Petronas Malaysia Formula One Grand Prix 2015, the first major international event of the year, was a challenge with the decline in overall spectator numbers, particularly local spectators. The impact was mitigated by an increase in international visitors, which saw a growth of 2.7%. Nevertheless, F1 remains a major event on Malaysia’s calendar that can be leveraged to position Malaysia as a top Asian destination. With the Government’s support, SIC is set to host the F1 until 2018, following successful negotiation with Formula One Management. The rescheduling of the 2016 F1 race in Malaysia to Round 16 on 30 September to 2 October 2016 also provides more time for SIC to better promote the event.
The F1 in Sepang nevertheless provided exposure to a new audience in 2015 when families of all ages converged on the circuit to enjoy the race and the F1 Carnival, while K-pop fans were out in full force, drawn by the post-race concert featuring South Korean pop groups SHINee and Girls Generation.
“On a positive note, we congratulate the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 team for their success in 2015 with a second back to back constructors’ trophy, with drivers Lewis Hamilton taking the World Champion title and Nico Rosberg coming in as the runner-up,” said Dato’ Razlan Razali, Chief Executive Officer of SIC.
The eni FIM World Superbike Championship 2015 (WSBK) Malaysia was also challenging for SIC, as spectator numbers did not meet targets, despite the participation of racing legend Max Biaggi as a wildcard entry – the biggest ever name to ride for SIC. The timing of the event, from 31 July to 2 August 2015 fell within the Hari Raya celebration period, when fans had other commitments. The slow sales also comes on the back of GST implementation, which sees all types of retailers, including SIC, struggling to meet sales targets. Consumers meanwhile have been cutting back on spending, citing extra expenses due to GST.
While British rider Jonathan Rea was crowned 2015 World Superbike Champion, taking 548 points on his Kawasaki ZX-10R, 2016 is set to offer strong local interest with a Malaysian rider being signed up for the full season in the Supersport category. Local fan passion has been key in the success of the Malaysia MotoGP, and SIC hopes to replicate this in the WSBK in the coming years. With the Malaysian race scheduled for 13 to 15 May 2016 on a newly resurfaced track, it will be good timing for Malaysian fans to consider coming over to Sepang to enjoy the race.
The Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix 2015 was a phenomenal success for SIC when all tickets in all categories were fully sold out for the first time in the race’s 25-year history. Despite the looming haze threatening to disrupt the event, the Malaysia MotoGP received overwhelming support from both local and international fans which led to a total of more than 150,000 spectators converging on the circuit over the three days. The dramatic competition between Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo contributed to great interest around the world, with the much talked about outcome further creating publicity for Malaysia’s home race. In 2016, the competition and interest is expected to be sustained, promising a positive impact for the Malaysia MotoGP.
Local support was high for the Malaysian riders, in the hopes of seeing a podium finish from the homegrown heroes, particularly following season’s best performances from the riders in Motegi, two races prior to the Malaysia MotoGP. However, hopes were crushed when Hafizh Syahrin was the only Malaysian rider to finish with points – with an eighth placing in Moto 2. The popular Zulfahmi Khairuddin of the SIC Racing Team did not finish the race.
SIC hosted the Shell Advance Asia Talent Cup (ATC) twice in 2015 – as a support event for both the WSBK Malaysia and the Malaysia MotoGP. Five young Malaysian riders – Shafiq Rasol, Adam Norrodin, Helmi Azman, Fakhrusy Syakirin Rostam and Azroy Anuar were in action this year, putting up an exciting challenge in a championship that features Asia’s brightest young talents in motorcycle racing. As a feeder championship, the ATC has been instrumental in the development of future champions on an international level and is supported by SIC and the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Malaysia.
The championship has revealed future stars with Adam Norrodin finishing eighth on the championship table with 105 points, having achieved second and third placing during the supporting races for WSBK and MotoGP in Sepang respectively, buoyed by local fan support. Fakhrusy Rostam too thrilled fans during the WSBK support race when he achieved a third placing.
“SIC continues to support the ATC as it is the best platform for young Malaysian talents to compete at a high level amongst nations such as Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. This is the most relevant and proper development championship with real racing machines, professional technical support and credible partners such as Dorna, Honda, Shell, AirAsia, Red Bull and many more,” Dato’ Razlan commented.
SIC too saw promising results from the SIC Racing Team, when it wrapped up its sterling first year with two podiums finishes courtesy of Jakub Kornfeil. Kornfeil, who finished 12th in Moto 3 with 89 points, came in second at the British MotoGP and third at the Valencia MotoGP. His teammate Zulfahmi Khairuddin collected 19 points overall. In 2016, there are high expectations for the SIC Racing Team with Kornfeil targeting a top 5 finish and newly-signed rookie rider Adam Norrodin aiming to become one of the top 3 rookies.
Even as SIC sees sales and revenue targets for events like the F1 and WSBK fall short due to limited local support compounded by GST and the haze, the track itself continues to see a high number of bookings, hitting a consistent 98% for the past 5 years. SIC has also become more popular among new audiences, with an increase in non-motorsports sporting events such as the Viper Challenge, Music Run and much more. SIC itself has opened the track for non-motorsports events, such as the Motorsport Free Morning and the Night Cycling events, when the track was opened for cycling, running, walking, jogging, rollerblading and more. The events proved a hit as members of the public were thrilled to have access to a world-class racetrack, and allowed SIC to further engage with non-motorsports communities.
SIC’s efforts and successes did not go unnoticed. It received the Best Event Management Company Award for Excellence at the recent rAWr Awards 2015, recognising its efforts as the brand guardians in both bringing in and managing of the esteemed F1 event. The rAWr Awards which stands for Recognising Award Winning Results Awards was initiated by the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau (MyCEB) and the Malaysia Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (MACEOS). At the same event, SIC was also a finalist in the Best Event category, with a nomination for the Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix.
In 2015, SIC also received the Special Project Award at the Malaysian Construction Industry Excellence Awards, organised by the Construction Industry Development Board of Malaysia (CIDB), ISO 9001:2008 certification, and the Bronze Award in the Corporate Branding category at the Malaysia PR Awards 2014/15, for Rantau PR’s campaign ‘SIC More Than Just A Racing Circuit’.
On the local front, the popular Malaysia Super Series went through a rebranding, whereby the Cars championship was renamed the Malaysia Championship Series and the Bikes championship was renamed the Pirelli Malaysia Superbike Championship Series featuring the Superbike, Superstock, Supersport and Open 250 categories. The new Malaysia Championship Series saw the introduction of the Touring Production and Malaysian Touring Production categories for the competition. In the Pirelli Malaysia Superbike Championship Series, Rajini Krishnan of India emerged champion in the Superbike category, Steven Martin of Britain took the Superstock title, while Muhammad Farid Badrul Hisam clinched the Supersport title and Siti Norafizah Muhammad won the Open 250 title. In the Malaysia Championship Series, Mark Darwin emerged champion in the Touring Production category while James Veerapen and Farique Hairuman won in the Malaysian Touring Production category.
This year, in conjunction with the Sepang 1000km Endurance Race (S1K), SIC introduced the Independence Cup as a new category for the event, to inject more excitement into the seven-year-old race and encourage privateer teams to participate, following an increase in the number of factory teams. Aaron Lim won the S1K for the second time partnering former MMER champion Farriz Fauzy, while the Independence Cup went to 3-man Team Dream Chaser featuring Ong Chee Yong, Tom Goh and Jean Charles Dahout.
This year, SIC also sealed a partnership with renowned European endurance event organiser SRO Motorsports Group for the new Sepang 12 Hours endurance race, which was rebranded from the popular Malaysia Merdeka Endurance Race. The race, moved to December from August previously, saw the participation of top international teams and is set to grow with its inclusion into the Intercontinental GT Challenge beginning 2016. In the inaugural Sepang 12 Hours race, Audi ruled the race with a 1-2-3 finish led by Laurens Vanthoor, Stephane Ortelli and Stuart Leonard in a WRT Audi in first place.
Regardless of the event, SIC continues to hold to its mission to increase the number of participants, but with the economic climate and inflation, the numbers may be on the decline as some teams scale back on the investment required to maintain a race team.
Come 2016, SIC anticipates a demanding year and more challenges ahead, especially with reduced revenue following the track closure for three months for resurfacing and upgrading works. Nevertheless, there are indications of improvements in ticket sales and spectator numbers, with the WSBK taking place on a more conducive weekend and featuring a well-known local rider, and having more time to promote the F1 following a rescheduled race.
There will be changes to the racing calendar overall to accommodate the track closure, but the main change will be the F1, rescheduled for the first time in many years. Held from 30 September to 2 October 2016, the Petronas Malaysia F1 Grand Prix 2016 will share a month with the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix 2016 – making October 2016 a month to remember for motorsports fans.
With continued interest in the on-track rivalries, interest in the MotoGP remains strong, and SIC will continue to work hard to ensure that the Malaysia MotoGP maintains its track record of success. Additionally, SIC will work closely with the SRO Motorsports Group to ensure a good number of high quality entries in the Sepang 12 Hours, and also encourage strong local support.
Meanwhile, in the years to come, SIC will be expanding its scope beyond the track, with planned projects including a hotel and a specialised drivers’ education facility within SIC’s 300 hectare land bank.
“On behalf of the team, I would like to thank the passionate fans, our partners and the media for their unfailing support. We are definitely aiming to outdo ourselves to bring fans the best in motorsports and to add excitement to every event we host in creative and innovative ways. Your support has been invaluable and makes a world of difference to everything we do,” said Dato’ Razlan in closing.