Given its huge enthusiasm for motorcycle racing, Indonesia desperately deserves its long-awaited return to the MotoGP calendar. But as he explains in this opinion column, Simon Patterson thinks Indonesia deserves a better event than it’s actually going to get in 2022
With an absolutely crazed fan base quite unlike anywhere else on Earth, there’s absolutely no question at all that Indonesia deserves a MotoGP race of its very own – and as the series heads to the new Mandalika Bay circuit for the first time this weekend, it’s a shame that it’s been nearly 30 years since the championship last raced in the South East Asian country.
But, with multiple failed attempts in recent years to get to this point preceding something of a rushed job in the end to get this weekend’s race to happen, it feels very much like there’s a degree of hubris around the determination to return to Indonesia. That doesn’t quite spell disaster, but perhaps disappointment.
The new circuit, on the tourist island of Lombok, is – I think – the third or fourth attempt in the past 10 years to find a way to bring MotoGP back to Indonesia, with failed attempts both with other new green-field sites and with a proposed renovation of former venue Sentul – its 500cc era Indonesia home – all coming to nothing.
That’s a shame, because heading back there really should have been the first choice, even if the track needs extensive work to meet modern grand prix standards. It would have been worth it, though, thanks entirely to its location.
With Sentul located just outside the capital city of Jakarta, it’s not hard to imagine that a correctly promoted and managed race there could easily have challenged the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s record motorsport attendance of 400,000 people, such is the love for MotoGP in Indonesia.
Instead, the race will take place on the island of Lombok, two hours flying time from Jakarta and known predominantly as a Westerners’ resort, with even the small town of Kuta, located right next to the track, full of surf rentals and hipster coffee shops. It’s not regarded as especially accessible to local visitors and fans.
That, and the local shortage of accommodation, in turn has led to some rather insane price gouging that – even more than the location – could conspire to shut out the fans who most deserve to be able to attend the race. One of the travel agencies which provides hotel rooms to the paddock quoted me a rate of €205 a night for its cheapest room – and a quick check online showed it as being available next weekend for £21.
Then, of course, there are the issues with the track itself. It was something of a disaster when the series headed there for a test last month, with problems during the asphalting exposing themselves when faced with the 300-horsepower MotoGP bikes.
The bikes sucking the stones out of the surface turned the track into a firing range – and while a hastily-organised resurfacing of the venue may have fixed some of the issues, its surface is still likely to be the primary talking point of the weekend.
That’s on top of all the other issues that come from heading to a venue that’s still far from finished. Mandalika Bay has originally been pitched as the centrepiece to a whole new resort town, but none of that has yet been completed.
The promised hotels are still not even started, and during the test even the road into the track was unfinished, with the paddock travelling in on a dirt path.
Welcome to Kuta Lombok!
— Simon Patterson (@denkmit) February 12, 2022
That construction work in turn led to a filthy surface on the opening day of testing, and while it should be resolved for the race with an extensive cleaning programme planned for the days leading up to Friday’s first track action, it’s still far from a promising sign.
Should the forecast rain arrive during the race weekend, there’ll be a whole new set of problems to address, too. We’ve already seen the effects of heavy rainfall on the venue when November’s final round of the World Superbike season was hit with torrential downpours, forcing major schedule changes.
Of course, all of the issues with the track pale in comparison with the bigger issues surrounding the construction of the venue itself. Subject to a damning report by the UN Human Rights Commission which described locals being forced off their land without adequate compensation, it leaves a sour taste that the series is heading to race on what has been alleged as being ‘stolen’ land.
In fact, with some refusing to leave their property despite extensive government influence being exerted upon them, there were still families living inside the circuit perimeter during the WSB round in November; hardly a positive image for our sport.
The culmination of all those factors, in the end, is a feeling that while it’s great Indonesia is finally getting MotoGP back again, it’s not the race that it deserves. It could easily have been so much more than what it’s looking like it will become – and that’s not fair for the sport’s most dedicated and passionate fans.