The news that Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is on his way to Thailand to sign a contract with the Buriram circuit to host MotoGP from 2018 signals that the publication of a 2018 provisional MotoGP calendar is imminent. The Thai round of MotoGP is the final piece of the puzzle needed for putting together next year's Grand Prix schedule.
The 2018 calendar will consist of 19 races, with the Thai round being added to the Pacific flyaways held in October. The series kicks off on 18th March at Losail in Qatar, a week before the Formula 1 season opener in Australia. To prevent the risk of night dew forming and making the track surface treacherous, the race is to be moved a couple of hours earlier, with the race set to start at 7pm local time instead of 9pm.
The 2018 schedule will look very similar to this year's calendar, the races following much the same sequence. Thailand will be added to the three existing flyaway races in the Pacific region in October. The plan, MotoMatters.com understands, is to split the races up with a break of one weekend between the four races. It is still uncertain how the back-to-back weekends will be split up, whether the split will be three and one, or two and two.
Sepang has an agreement with Dorna to be the penultimate race on the calendar, and the last race of the flyaways. The Malaysian circuit is also believed to be keen not to be paired with Thailand on back-to-back weekends, as they fear that having the two events too close together will eat into their attendance figures. A similar effect has been seen at Brno, where ticket sales have fallen since being paired with the Austrian round at the Red Bull Ring, just 300 kilometers away.
There are still a few question marks left in the calendar. The locations of two races are yet to be confirmed. The demise of the Circuit of Wales project leaves the British Grand Prix without a definite home at the moment, though the choice will be between Silverstone and Donington Park. Silverstone is the current favorite to get the race, as the facilities at Donington are not up to hosting MotoGP. The paddock and garages are simply not large enough to house MotoGP's ever expanding trucks and hospitality units. However, Donington's new owners MSV are known to have an interest in hosting MotoGP.
The other unknown is the location of the German Grand Prix. The Sachsenring has historically been a very popular location for the event, with crowds regularly exceeding 90,000 on Sundays. But the circuit has struggled to make money, in part due to the high costs for erecting temporary grandstands around the circuit. Attempts to offset the costs by raising ticket prices caused attendance to fall sharply, dropping from 93,000 in 2016 to 77,000 in 2017. According to German-language publication Speedweek, the ADAC, who own the rights to the German Grand Prix, are considering a switch to the Nürburgring in western Germany. Attendance at that race was poor in the past, but that was during the 1990s, when the popularity of the sport was at a low. Crowd sizes everywhere have grown enormously, and with successful German riders like Jonas Folger in the sport, attendance should be greater.
Preseason testing kicks off on 28th January in Sepang, with two more tests set to take place before the first race in Qatar. There will be a test at Buriram in Thailand, to provide the teams and Michelin data for the track, and then the series will head to Qatar, for a final test ahead of the first race. With the season expanding to 19 races, at least one of the preseason tests is due to be dropped, but that will only take place once MotoGP has raced in Thailand.
Below is the press release from Dorna:
Thailand poised to join the MotoGP™ calendar
Contract set to be signed on Thursday in Bangkok
Thailand is poised to join the MotoGP™ calendar from 2018, with Sakon Wannapong, the Governor of Sport Authority of Thailand, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, Dorna Sports CEO, set to sign the contract on Thursday 31st August in a ceremony in Bangkok chaired by his excellency General Tanasak Patimapragorn, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand. Pongpanu Svetarundra, Ministry of Tourism and Sports, will also be in attendance for the historic occasion.
Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta will fly to Bangkok this week to finalise and sign the contract, with the Grand Prix to be held in Buriram from 2018 until 2020.