The announcement of circuit contract extensions have been coming at regular intervals over the past few months. The latest in the batch were press releases detailing the extension of the Mugello circuit's contract with Dorna for another 5 years, ensuring that the Italian Grand Prix will be run at the spectacular Tuscan circuit, and a press release from Indianapolis Motor Speedway announcing the completion of the work to repave Indy's road course, the infield section that comprises most of the layout used by MotoGP when it visits the IMS facility for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP at the end of August.
The Mugello extension came very much as expected: the track is a huge favorite with the fans, riders and teams, its fast, flowing layout making it a challenge and a thrill to ride. It is also very popular with sponsors: in the heart of Tuscany - or "nestling in the Tuscan hills" as every press release previewing the event appears obliged to describe it - and just an hour north of the Renaissance splendor of Florence, it makes an ideal destination for taking sponsors for a spot of pampering, in an attempt to loosen up their wallets. It was almost inconceivable that Mugello would disappear from the calendar.
The announcement of Indy's repaving also points the way to a contract extension, likely to be announced over the weekend of the event itself. Having three - geographically well-distributed - MotoGP events in the USA has been a priority for Dorna, as the series promoter is keen to grow the sport in one of the key motorcycle markets. If Indy extends its contract - dependent mainly on sponsorship, in other words, whether Red Bull is prepared to pay for the event - then the US will have two MotoGP events in 2012, with the Austin circuit expected to be added to the calendar in 2013.
As contract extensions are announced, the outlines of the 2012 calendar are starting to appear. Previous expectations that the calendar could be radically revised for 2012 have been confounded, as Dorna's expansion plans have been either shelved or delayed, hitting a number of difficulties along the way. According to reports in MCN, the expected addition of Abu Dhabi to the calendar - expected to be run back-to-back with Qatar - has been dropped, the Yas Marina circuit unwilling to make the changes needed to make the track safe for MotoGP to race at. Anticipated expansion to South American has also been called off: despite visits to a new circuit being built in northeastern Argentina by Dorna Managing Director Javier Alonso, serious doubts remain about the financial viability of such a round, and whether the circuit can afford to provide the necessary facilities and the required level of safety to host a MotoGP event.
Dorna faces a giant quandary with respect to calendar expansion. The Spanish-based company is keen to expand its reach to South America, Africa and Southeast Asia, but it faces huge difficulties in finding circuits to race at. Both Argentina and Brazil are prime targets for the series, but neither has a track which is up to staging a MotoGP event. Though South Africa has a couple of circuits which would be capable of hosting a race, the series lacks support from local and regional governments, a prerequisite in running such an event. Even MotoGP-mad Indonesia - a country which is obsessed with MotoGP, and is a huge market for the Japanese manufacturers, especially in light of the growing middle class in the country - has neither a circuit, nor the political will to build the facilities required.
All this leaves the 2012 MotoGP calendar likely to be almost identical to the 2011 calendar. Most of the current circuits - with the exception of Brno and Estoril - either have contracts for the foreseeable future, or will be signing contract extensions in the next few months. Both Brno and the Sachsenring are in the process of negotiating with both Dorna and regional authorities about the size of the sanctioning fee charged by Dorna and the contribution from regional government towards organizing the races, but the outcome of those negotiations is expected to be positive.
Only two rounds remain in any real doubt. Although negotiations are still being held with the Estoril circuit, there are severe doubts whether the circuit will be able to raise the funds to run a MotoGP event at the track next year, regardless of the size of the Dorna sanctioning fee. The race is a big favorite with fans and the teams - the track is situated just west of Lisbon, and north of the upmarket holiday resort of Cascais, where many teams stay - as it makes a perfect combination with a city trip to Lisbon or a beach vacation near Cascais, or further north along the coast, but the state of the Portuguese economy and the disappointing attendances mean that finding cash to run the event is almost impossible. Replacing Estoril with Portimao faces similar problems, unless a sponsor can be found to fund the event.
The Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi faces a different problem. Fears - largely irrational, but felt nonetheless - of radiation and the situation at the severely damaged Fukushima nuclear plant have paralyzed the riders, the teams and a large part of the media, and very little support can be found for staging the MotoGP round at Motegi. That situation has already affected this year's Japanese Grand Prix, with still no confirmation that it will definitely be held, and it is likely to continue into next year. With the likely date of the 2012 Japanese Grand Prix some time in April, just six months after the October 2nd date of 2011 event, the situation is unlikely to change much. A return to Motegi is unlikely, and so a switch to Suzuka is one option, especially if the riders and teams refuse to go to Motegi, just 120km from the stricken Fukushima plant.
And so the 2012 MotoGP calendar is likely to look remarkably similar to 2011: Kicking off in Qatar in mid-March, before heading to Jerez, Japan and (unfortunately) Le Mans, with rounds at Barcelona, Mugello, Silverstone, Assen, the Sachsenring and Laguna Seca in June and July, followed by Brno in mid-August, then Indy, Misano, Aragon from early August to mid September, before the flyaways to Sepang and Phillip Island (which looks stuck in October, and no chance of moving to March), before finally winding up at Valencia, for the traditional season finale. Where Portugal, or a replacement race for Portugal, might fit in is as yet unknown, and circuits that could take the place of Estoril are few and far between. A provisional calendar should be announced at Brno, or possibly after Indianapolis, with a final version fixed once the Formula One calendar has been finalized later in the year.
Below are the press releases announcing the Mugello deal and underneath, the repaving of Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road circuit:
Mugello extends MotoGP deal
Dorna Sports S.L and the Mugello circuit have reached agreement on a new five-year deal, meaning the Italian Grand Prix will continue to be held at the Tuscan circuit until at least 2016.
The circuit, which first featured on the World Championship calendar in 1976 and has held a Grand Prix event continually since 1991, has become one of the landmark features on the MotoGP schedule and welcomed the 2011 Gran Premio d'Italia with a brand new grandstand and resurfaced track.
Having hosted a GP event every year since the introduction of the four-stroke MotoGP formula in 2002, Mugello will also play host to the new 1000cc capacity prototypes which will make up the MotoGP grid in 2012.
Speaking about the new deal, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta said: "It's fantastic news to be able to announce this contract renewal with Mugello, which will see the circuit host the Gran Premio d'Italia for a further five years. This is an amazing facility which will have a place on the MotoGP World Championship schedule until at least 2016. The organisation of this race is very professional and the improvements we've found this year have done nothing but raise the circuit's already extremely high standards. The new grandstand on the start/finish straight, the relaying of the asphalt which all riders from each of the three categories have praised, and the environment at Mugello make it a very special race which, fortunately, continues to be a mainstay in MotoGP."
Paolo Poli, Chief Executive of the Mugello Circuit, commented: "We're very pleased to announce the renewal of the agreement which confirms Mugello will continue to be a MotoGP venue. This also ensures that the Italian Grand Prix will remain the most important event of our sporting calendar in years to come. In addition we will also continue our positive relationship with Dorna, whose professionalism has allowed motorcycle racing to be more successful and popular than ever."
Stefano Domenicali, Ferrari Team Principal, added: "The Autrodromo Internazionale del Mugello has become more and more important within our company, and this new deal is a great tribute to the Mugello circuit, its staff and the work that has been done here in the past few years."
REPAVING OF INFIELD SECTION OF IMS ROAD COURSE COMPLETED
World's best riders to race on new surface Aug. 26-28 during Red Bull Indianapolis GP
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, July 8, 2011 - The repaving of the infield section of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course is complete, as the smooth, new surface awaits the world's best motorcycle racers at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP race Aug. 26-28.
Crews repaved 1.5 miles of the circuit from Turn 5 through Turn 16. The existing asphalt was ground and then repaved with fresh asphalt to create a surface consistent with the other sections of the course.
"It's always great when the track is investing and making the surface better for the riders," American MotoGP star Ben Spies said. "I'm much happier that it's been repaved, and I'm very much appreciative of Indy doing that. It will make it a little more consistent for us riders."
Turn 5 is where the course leaves the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 of the oval. Turn 16 is where the circuit leaves the infield near the start of the front straightaway at the exit of Turn 4 of the oval.
It's the first time this section of the course was resurfaced since it was built in 2000. Turns 1 through 4 of the 2.621-mile circuit - located inside Turn 1 of the oval - were created in 2008 for the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis GP and were not repaved during this project.
The FIM, the worldwide sanctioning body of motorcycling, inspected the repaved section of the circuit July 7. FIM Road Racing Commission President Claude Danis, who led the inspection, praised the new asphalt.
"It looks very, very good," Danis said. "I see a very big improvement compared to years before. The track is fast, and the grip looks good. I'm very happy with the work they did."
2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP tickets: 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP tickets are on sale now.
To buy tickets, visit www.imstix.com, call the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area or visit the ticket office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street. Ticket office and phone hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.
The 2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP is scheduled for Aug. 26-28 at IMS.
Race Day general admission tickets cost $40, with Friday general admission $10 and Saturday general admission $20. A three-day general admission ticket is $60. A Friday-Saturday general admission ticket is $25.
Children ages 12 and under will be admitted free any of the three days of the event when accompanied by an adult with a general admission ticket.
Race Day reserved seat prices will start at $70.