WSBK is looking east for its future. Today, Infront Motor Sports, the organization that runs the World Superbike series, announced that the Sentul International Circuit will host a WSBK round from 2013 onwards. The deal, backed by the Indonesian government, will see the series race in Indonesia for the next five years, as part of a push to promote the World Superbike series in the crucial markets of Southeast Asia.
The backing of the Indonesian government is crucial to the deal. Facilities at the Sentul circuit are a long way from being ready to stage an international race - see, for example, this blog entry by a local Indonesian fan - with complaints about water runoff, problems with the track surface, and the location of the circuit. But the sport is growing massively in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia, with the standards of the local and regional series improving, and promotion being ramped up. Former Grand Prix racer Nobuatsu Aoki recently spent several days in Indonesia coaching riders from the Indoprix racing series, as part of Suzuki's promotional efforts in the region, and Yamaha factory riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies have both spent time in the country on promotional activities for the brand.
For as the Indonesian economy continues to grow, the number of people with sufficient disposable income to spend on motorcycles - either recreational or practical - is also increasing, with the size of the motorcycle market already over the 7 million units per year mark. With mature markets in Europe and the US in serious decline - especially in the key sportsbike segment - the importance of Southeast Asia and the surrounding region is growing, for both the manufacturers and for the sport.
Indonesia is just the first step into overseas markets, however. In the press release announcing the deal to race at Sentul, Infront also made public its desire to secure a deal with the Buddh International circuit in India, a track that is also high on the list of possible destinations for MotoGP. With Russia already on the World Superbike calendar for 2012, the series is making important steps in expanding eastwards.
There is a major risk attached to racing in both Russia and Indonesia, however. Although racing there will doubtless be financially rewarding, with both Indonesia and Russia suffering endemic problems with corruption (Indonesia is in 100th place on Transparency International's Corruptions Perception Index, while Russia is ranked a lowly 143rd), the series is at the whim of politicians and police. Should political support for staging the races in those countries disappear, then the contracts signed are likely to become almost worthless. Gaining greater exposure in Asia and Russia is hugely important to the sport of motorcycle racing, but the risks involved should not be underestimated.
Below is the press release issued by the Infront Motor Sports press office:
Indonesia’s Sentul Circuit joins FIM Superbike World Championship
Phillip Island (Australia), Tuesday 21 February 2012: Maurizio Flammini, President of Infront Motor Sports, signed a contract on February 15 to bring back the FIM Superbike World Championship to Indonesia, after a gap of 15 years, for five years starting in 2013. The contract was signed in the presence of Minister Dr. H.R. Agung Laksono (photo), who coordinates the work of five different ministries that include the Ministry of Sport, as well as numerous leading figures from the worlds of politics, sport and business.
The Indonesian Government will furthermore start up the promotion of the event by means of the creation of a government task force that will sustain the economic, logistical, promotion and administrative requirements of the organiser.
Maurizio Flammini declared: “We are proud of the growth of the Superbike calendar, which thanks to the inclusion of the latest rounds is obtaining a presence in countries of major importance for the development of our championship on a sporting and commercial level. After Russia, where Superbike has now arrived before any other world motorsport championship, thanks to more than two years of intense work in the Asian area, we have now been able to insert Indonesia, which has in the past already played host to a race of considerable success and appeal, in the calendar.
Indonesia today is a country with the largest growth factors: GDP is more than one trillion dollars, with a 2011 growth of more than 6%, and the sale of bikes widely exceeds 7 million units per year. The Superbike race will therefore be a great opportunity for the motorcycle manufacturers present in our championship.
We are also negotiating with the Buddh International Circuit in India, where the Formula 1 race was recently held, in order to complete a presence in Asia that in this case will be absolutely extraordinary”.
It should also be added that Superbike, together with its sponsors, teams and entrepreneurs, will be able to benefit from the agreements that Maurizio Flammini, as President of FEDERLAZIO and PMItalia, organisations that represent more than 30,000 Italian firms, has started with the Indonesian Government to set up close collaboration between the companies of the two continents and the creation of B2B opportunities.
The Sentul Circuit has its own particular fascination, both due to its natural environment in the middle of a tropical forest, and due to its technical and design features.
Indonesia also makes up an extraordinary market for bikes, with a total of 7,400,000 units sold in 2010 and an estimated 10% increase for 2011, a figure that will shortly be available. In addition the Government also provides subsidies for fuel used for circulation on two wheels.
The date for the Superbike round will be decided shortly. The two possibilities being considered are at the start of the championship together with Australia, or the final round of the season.
Paolo Flammini, CEO of Infront Motor Sports, declared: “The arrival of the Indonesian round in the Superbike World Championship calendar confirms the growing interest in our series and undoubtedly helps to complete a championship that touches all the world’s motorcycle markets and which continues to offer increasingly significant opportunities for the motorcycle industry, sponsors and media”.