Motorcycling: MotoGP set for Thailand debut in 2018

Bangkok (AFP) - Thailand's national sports authority says it has secured rights to host a MotoGP race next year, after years of lobbying to bring top motorcycle racing to the South-east Asian country.

The Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) said on its Facebook page that MotoGP owners Dorna Sports gave them the green light after talks on Saturday in Florence, Italy.

The motorcycling equivalent of Formula One will stage a Grand Prix in Buriram, a provincial Thai city in the impoverished north-east more known for its rice farming that has been transformed into a sporting hub.

"The talks took three hours and concluded with Dorna Sports being willing to give Thailand rights for three years beginning in 2018 up to 2020," said the statement which was published on Sunday.

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It stated the first race weekend would be held from October 5-7, 2018, but there has been no official confirmation of the deal from MotoGP or owners Dorna Sports yet.

The SAT said it expected to receive "written confirmation" shortly.

A Thai debut for MotoGP would be a personal coup for Newin Chidchob, a 58-year-old survivor of Thailand's bear-pit politics who has enticed deep-pocketed contacts into building sports facilities in his home town of Buriram.

In 2014, he unveiled the US$58.9 million (S$81.3 million) Formula One-certified circuit in the 30,000-population town.

The motorcycling extravaganza could pour millions of dollars into Buriram, a huge sum for a province that was once among Thailand's poorest.

Thailand's military junta has earmarked millions of dollars to win the hosting of MotoGP in partnership with private sponsors.

Thai sports authorities also want to stage Formula One, but political instability has so far hampered efforts to secure the motor sport jewel in the crown.