After last week's announcements from the Circuit of Wales and the Hungaroring, there comes news from two more circuits this week. Firstly, that the legendary Belgian Spa Francorchamps circuit is looking to host a MotoGP round. And secondly, that MSV has taken over the lease to run the Donington Park circuit, also possibly opening the door to a return for MotoGP.
The first news is perhaps the most exciting for MotoGP fans. In an interview with the Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure, Spa Francorchamps boss Nathalie Maillet, said she hoped to bring MotoGP back to the iconic Belgian circuit within the next few years. She had spent a day in Madrid speaking to Dorna bosses, Maillet told DH, discussing the possibility of staging a race. "Making the changes needed to host a motorcycle race is not impossible," Maillet told DH.
The modifications are all part of a wider upgrading of the circuit. The most important for the fans is to have free publicly accessible WiFi throughout the circuit. Maillet said that she wants to have fiber optic cable throughout the circuit, to ensure better connectivity everywhere. "Francorchamps must become the best connected circuit in the world," she told DH. Further moves will see LED advertising panels with rotating adverts, as are used at other sporting venues, improving use of the circuit all year round, including during the winter, and providing more facilities for tourism.
The earliest Spa could host MotoGP would be in 2020, Maillet told DH, but she was taking a long-term view. Former racer and now TV commentator Didier de Radiguès described that time frame as "very optimistic". There is some merit to that: while Spa Francorchamps is arguably the finest racetrack on the face of the planet, there are a lot of points around the track which are extremely dangerous for motorcycle racing, corners where bikes pass at very high speed with very little run off. And being set in a forest, creating run off would require cutting down a lot of trees, robbing the track of some of its charm.
A bigger issue in hosting a MotoGP race is the number of circuits with existing long-term contracts and candidate circuits hoping to join the schedule. Twelve circuits (Qatar, Austin, Le Mans, Barcelona, Assen, Sachsenring, Brno, Misano, Aragon, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia) have contracts until at least 2020. Of the six remaining tracks, only Jerez is uncertain of its place on the calendar in the long term. And of all eighteen tracks, nearly all are likely to extend their contracts at the end of them.
Then there is the list of candidates waiting in the wings. The Kymi Ring in Finland has a contract with Dorna to host a race from 2018. Last week, the Hungaroring expressed an interest in hosting MotoGP. Indonesia hopes to organize a race from 2018 or 2019. And there is talk of circuits in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and Kazakhstan. It is going to be almost impossible to fit another circuit in the existing schedule, and there are as many as nine potential candidates with a greater or less chance of securing a slot.
Another track which hosted MotoGP in the past was also in the news this week. Yesterday, MSV announced they had acquired the lease to run the Donington Park circuit from Kevin Wheatcroft, son of the man who first raised the circuit from the dead in the 1970s, Tom Wheatcroft.
The acquisition is undoubtedly good news for Donington Park. MSV, the group which owns Brands Hatch, Oulton Park, Snetterton, and Cadwell Park, also runs the British Superbike series BSB. Kevin Wheatcroft had saved Donington from going under when the company which formerly ran it, Donington Ventures Leisure, went bankrupt. But despite turning the circuit into a success, Wheatcroft lacked the financial clout to make the necessary upgrades to the circuit to bring it up to scratch for modern events.
MSV has that clout, and has already announced that further investment is to be made. In a press release announcing the deal, MSV boss Jonathan Palmer said "Donington is a good British circuit that deserves further investment, energy and expertise in order to make it truly outstanding, and MSV will provide this. We plan a great new era for Donington, with some exciting new events and much enhanced quality of experience for all of its customers, whether spectators, competitors and track day participants, together with even better value."
What those exciting new events are can only be guessed at, but with a few upgrades, Donington could easily be made fit for MotoGP. That would make life easier for the current rights holder to the British Grand Prix, the Circuit of Wales. If the FIM homologates Donington Park for MotoGP, then the Circuit of Wales would have an alternative to Silverstone to host the race until the Welsh track is built. Being able to play Donington off against Silverstone would allow them to negotiate a better deal.
The MSV deal does raise the question of control over the BSB series. With the acquisition of Donington Park, MSV now owns five of the nine circuits at which BSB holds rounds, as well as the rights to organize the series. Eight of BSB's twelve rounds are held at circuits owned by MSV. Of the circuits on the BSB calendar, only Assen, Silverstone, Knockhill and Thruxton are not owned by MSV.
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