Giving F1 a two-wheel boost
Sepang International Circuit CEO believes Formula One can learn from MotoGP's success in M'sia
From his top floor office at Sepang International Circuit (SIC), chief executive officer Razlan Razali gets a commanding view of the circuit's Turn 1.
Admittedly, that is the best place to hear and see top racers in Formula One (F1), Motorcycle Grand Prix (MotoGP) and World Superbikes scrubbing away more than 300kmh of speed before gingerly banking right into Turn 1.
At the same office, where two top-spec race bicycles rest against a wall opposite two muddied pairs of cross trainers barely visible on a parapet, Mr Razlan plans and coordinates.
His mission is to make racing a thrilling prospect for those who visit SIC.
He tells Biker Boy that his priorities include F1- SIC will play host to the 2016 F1Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix at the end of this month.
Mr Razlan, 43, says: "We can't deny the fact that it is a problem getting the locals excited and to come watch the race... Without looking at the finances and revenues, when people watch both the Malaysian F1 and MotoGP on TV, the perception is that MotoGP seems to be more successful."
Last year, over 150,000 spectators attended the three-day MotoGP race weekend at SIC. People come to see big names like Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa jostle on the 5.54km track.
But they also come to watch local heroes competing against foreign talents.
Mr Razlan adds: "It is not rocket science. We're emulating what we see in football. When the English Premier League (EPL) teams come to Malaysia and play against our national team, you see the stadium full... So because of EPL, we Malaysians like to see our local talent compete in a world championship."
Embedded in MotoGP this year are full-time Malaysian riders such as Khairul Idham Pawi, Adam Norrodin and Jakub Kornfeil in Moto3 and Hafizh Syahrin in Moto2.
Getting support from Malaysia's Ministry of Youth and Sports and fans helps to boost interest in racing on the international stage, says Mr Razlan, who hopes to see Malaysians slingshot into the premier MotoGP class one day.
Surprisingly, success came early when Moto3 racer Khairul became the first Malaysian rider to take a Grand Prix victory in Argentina this year.
Riding a 250cc four-stroke bike for Honda Team Asia, Khairul also won the German round, again in a wet race.
Ultimately, fans follow riders from their rookie years to their debut in MotoGP, says Mr Razlan who cited Marquez's meteoric rise to stardom in MotoGP.
Mr Razlan, a self-professed biker whose face lights up when talking about his Ducati Desomosedici GP replica displayed in his office premises, feels strongly that F1 can learn from MotoGP's success.
Added MotoGP TV coverage keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, says Mr Razlan, who has taken to triathlons and is now 18kg trimmer.
Now, change is in the air for F1.
Having the Singapore F1 race two weeks before the F1 race in Malaysia is a logical step for both race teams and fans.
"Logically, back-to-back races should be cost-effective for the teams," says Mr Razlan.
"Rather than (racing) in Malaysia at the beginning of the year and six months later, you go to Singapore and then go to Japan... It is (now) all within the region."
Revving up local interest are Malaysian drivers Nabil Jeffri in GP2 and Akash Neil Nandy in GP3. They are charting their own course just like racing greats Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher, who had similarly worked their way up from GP2 and GP3.
As SIC is the first in Asia to include GP2 and GP3 in its F1 racing schedule, fans can now expect an additional day in racing coverage on the resurfaced circuit.
There is an F1 tour departing Singapore with pit stops in Johor, Malacca, Seremban and Kuala Lumpur, giving the public a chance to learn and experience the wonders behind F1 racing.
But where is the best seat in the house at SIC?
Mr Razlan recommends the F and South grandstands because those are the areas where you can see the cars live for several corners while taking reference from a giant screen.