Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - F1 next for Thailand after MotoGP?

F1 next for Thailand after MotoGP?

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Movistar Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi takes part in winter testing at the Chang International Circuit in the northeastern Thai province of Buriram on February 16. AFP

F1 next for Thailand after MotoGP?

A sleepy Thai town with dreams of reinventing itself as a global sports hub faces its first test this week when it hosts the country’s first MotoGP.

Tens of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to Buriram, the main settlement of a steamy rice-farming area playing the unlikely host to the Thailand Grand Prix.

Organising a MotoGP, the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, is already a victory – but there is speculation that Formula One could be next in the sights of Buriram, whose track is F1-certified.

With a population of just 30,000, Buriram has boomed in recent years on the back of multimillion-dollar investment in sports infrastructure.

In 2011 came the “Thunder Castle”, a 32,600-capacity stadium for Thai Premier League football champions Buriram United.

Three years later followed the $60 million, Hermann Tilke-designed Chang International Circuit, which will now host one of the biggest sports events in Thai history.

Buriram got the nod for MotoGP after Bangkok scrapped moves towards a suggested Formula One night race on the streets of the Thai capital.

The MotoGP, which starts with practice sessions on Friday and culminates on Sunday, represents a step into the international limelight for the rural backwater.

Thailand has paid about $3 million a year for the rights to hold the race for three years, according to local media.

Some riders have already grumbled about the track being less exciting than others and about the addition of an extra leg, extending the season to 19 races.

Humidity and possible heavy rains, which are common in the Southeast Asian country at this time of year, could be a worry as well.

The ‘Baron of Buriram’

The season, now in its 15th race, is reaching its endgame with Marc Marquez closing in on a fifth MotoGP world title, with a 72-point lead in the standings.

“Thailand promises to be unpredictable,” Jamie Klein, UK editor of Motorsport.com, told AFP.

“Nobody can be totally sure what to expect, which opens up the possibility of a surprise winner or an upset.”

Marquez said he felt confident but he admitted that the weather may be a factor.

“The test has been good, we were very, very fast, but now they told me that it’s rainy season and everything can happen,” he said.

The burden of arranging a world-class event requires levels of manpower and organisation previously unseen in Buriram.

Nearly 1,700 police officers will be on duty, hotels with 60 rooms or more are fully booked, and only small resorts outside of the provincial city or on Airbnb are available.

Campsites have also sprung up on online travel sites like Booking.com.

Securing the race is another feather in the cap for Newin Chidchob, an ex-politician-turned-sports mogul dubbed the “Baron of Buriram” whose rural power base has made him a key political broker.

Newin is eyeing a complete transformation of his hometown from an up-country pit stop to a hub which will draw three million people a year.

Thousands of jobs, hotel rooms and hundreds of restaurants have already followed in the wake of the stadium’s construction.

For the money spent on the MotoGP, the payback is expected to run into tens of millions of dollars.

Big-name sponsors include duty-free giant King Power – which also owns Leicester City Football Club – Thai beer company Chang, energy and banking firms as well as Southeast Asia’s ride-hailing app Grab.

After MotoGP, there is much talk that Newin may try to entice the much bigger and higher-profile F1, fulfilling a long-held aspiration in Thai tourism and sports.

The mix of small towns and F1 has not always been successful, however. The Korean Grand Prix was dropped from the F1 calendar only three years after it was unveiled in the rural county of Yeongam in 2010.

For now it is a guessing game as to whether Thais will show up in numbers. In a country where the daily minimum wage is about $10, tickets start at $60 for a seat in the stands and creep into the hundreds for VIP areas.

However, the early signs are good as tickets from the official MotoGP site are sold out.

“We have to evaluate after this first-year event,” said Wandee Tiansawatkit, an advisor to the Buriram Hotel Club, adding that sentiment was “upbeat” about the race.

MOST VIEWED

  • PM to vet NY holiday dates

    The Ministry of Economy and Finance submitted a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking him to formally set a five-day national holiday from August 17-21 to make up for the Khmer New Year holiday in April that was postponed. Finance minister Aun Pornmoniroth sent

  • Cambodia rejects UN rights claim

    Cambodia's Permanent Mission to the UN Office in Geneva on Friday hit back at David Kaye, the UN special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression after he raised concerns over the repression of free speech and

  • Snaring may spawn diseases

    The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has warned that snaring of animals has become a crisis that poses a serious risk to wildlife in Southeast Asia and could spawn the transmission of zoonotic diseases to humans. Its July 9 report entitled Silence of the Snares: Southeast Asia’

  • Ex-party leader, gov’t critic named as secretary of state

    A former political party leader known for being critical of the government has been appointed secretary of state at the Ministry of Rural Development, a royal decree dated July 9 said. Sourn Serey Ratha, the former president of the Khmer Power Party (KPP), told The Post

  • Residence cards set for over 80,000 immigrants

    The Ministry of Interior plans to grant residence cards to more than 80,000 immigrants to better keep track of them. The ministry announced the plan on July 10, following the results of an immigration census. “An inter-ministerial committee and many operational working groups have been set up

  • Kingdom produces PPE gear

    Medical supplies from Cambodia have been donated to member countries of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to assist in the fight against Covid-19, said an ADB report published on July 9. The report stated that the supplies were donated as a response to global efforts to

  • Kingdom, US vow stronger ties

    At an academic forum on Saturday to celebrate 70 years of Cambodia-US diplomatic ties, Cambodian researchers and officials expressed hope of encouraging US investments and for that country to deepen and improve its bilateral relations. Held at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, it reviewed the past 70

  • Fifteen Cambodians from Saudi get Covid-19

    The Ministry of Health on Sunday confirmed 15 more imported cases of Covid. The 15 men ‒ all Cambodian aged 21 to 33 ‒ arrived from Saudi Arabia on Friday via a connecting flight in Malaysia. They were travelling with 79 other passengers, three of them women. The ministry said 80 of the

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea