That the Motorland Aragon circuit would be such a huge hit with both the fans and riders of MotoGP was barely a surprise. The track is spectacular, interesting and cleverly designed to allow decent racing. Its only downside is its location: Though located close to some of the more spectacular parts of Spain, accommodation in and around the town of Alcaniz, where the track is located, is limited, making finding lodgings a tricky affair. Despite such complications, over 70,000 spectators turned up for the inaugural Aragon round of MotoGP, and the race was awarded the prize for the best Grand Prix from IRTA, the teams assocation.
An attendance of 70,000 is even more remarkable given the dire state of the Spanish economy (with unemployment running at around the 20% mark), and the fact that the Aragon race was one of four hosted in Spain, and one of five run on the Iberian peninsula. Whatever money Spaniards still have in their pocket, they remain happy to spend it on attending motorcycle racing.
For this, and several other reasons, Dorna has extended the contract with the Motorland Aragon circuit to race there until at least 2016. Originally scheduled as a last-minute replacement for the canceled Hungarian round at the as-yet-unfinished Balatonring (some pictures of the state of the Hungarian track as of September last year can be found here), the facilities and the organization made an immediate impression on the MotoGP paddock, securing the extension into the foreseeable future.
Another important factor for Dorna is the financial stability of the project. The Motorland Aragon has the backing of the Aragon autonomous community (the Spanish equivalent of a state in their federal system), but it also has a highly ambitious business program surrounding the track. The circuit itself is already operating at near full capacity, with motorcycle and car racing at every level using the facility, as well as being used for a range of testing activities. The circuit is also surrounded by a host of other facilities, including a kart track, an offroad course and even a TT dirt track circuit, laid out at the behest and under the supervision of FOGI-BQR Moto2 racer (and former dirt tracker) Kenny Noyes. The circuit also has a technology park associated with it, though the units there are proving harder to fill during the deep recession Spain is suffering.
While Aragon's success is to be lauded, a warning comes from the other end of Spain. The Jerez circuit - home of the Spanish Grand Prix and scene of the official Moto2 and 125 IRTA test from Thursday February 3rd - is in serious financial difficulty. CIRJESA, the company that owns the circuit, has had its assets frozen by the Spanish courts over non-payment of fees to FCC and Serviobras, the consortium that carried out extensive safety alterations to the circuit in 2005. CIRJESA had failed to pay some 2.5 million euros owed to Serviobras, at which point the court ordered the seizure of nearly 18 million euros in assets. The seizure followed a failed attempt at conciliation between the city council of Jerez, CIRJESA and FCC/Serviobras, which saw an attempt to reschedule payments fail, FCC / Serviobras complaining that the city council and the circuit had not made any serious progress in making acceptable proposals.
The seizure includes the land surrounding the track, for which the city council had changed the zoning designation to allow hotels, commercial and residential property to be built at the site. The court also ordered the court and Dorna to provide details of the commercial rights for the Spanish Grand Prix, including TV and advertising rights. The fees involved with those rights could also be subject to the court order, if, as seems likely, the circuit is unable to fulfil its financial obligations towards the FCC / Serviobras consortium.
The 2011 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez is unlikely to be affected by the seizure, as it is such a pivotal part of the MotoGP calendar. The Jerez race always has the highest attendance - officially over 120,000, though the real figures are probably 10% or 20% higher than that - and marks the return to Europe and the kick-off of the European part of the MotoGP season. The race also provides a huge financial boost to an otherwise poor region, though arguments in Jerez' city council are being waged over just how much of that benefit flows directly into the city's account, and how much is lost to the surrounding region.
In normal circumstances - though given the nature of Spain's overheated construction boom of the last 15 years, such circumstances were probably never realistic - local and regional governments would have stepped in to pick up the tab. Given the severe budgetary constraints government at all levels in Spain is facing to cut down its enormous budget deficit (currently running at over 11% of GDP), such a bailout is now extremely difficult to either justify or achieve. Given the overwhelming popularity of MotoGP in Spain, and the importance of the race to the local economy, there can be no doubt that everything is being done to ensure the long-term future of the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez. But the circuit faces a rocky road and many difficulties before it can face the future with any kind of certainty.