MotorGP racing zooms into rural Thailand

MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi leading early in Sunday's Italian GP. The 38- year-old raced in pain after a training accident and ended fourth, and Thai fans will hope he is still competing next year.
MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi leading early in Sunday's Italian GP. The 38- year-old raced in pain after a training accident and ended fourth, and Thai fans will hope he is still competing next year.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BANGKOK • MotoGP fans in South-east Asia can look forward to another stop on the sport's calendar next year, after Thailand's sports authority said it had secured rights to host a race.

Following years of lobbying to bring top motorcycle racing to the kingdom, 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 rice farming north-east 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.

It stated the first race weekend would be held from Oct 5 to 7 next year 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, which borders Cambodia on its south-east.

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

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

Sepang in Malaysia will be on the MotoGP calendar up till 2021 at least. The country has been the only stop in South-east Asia on the calendar since its debut in 1991, except for 1996 and 1997 when Indonesia held a race.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'MotorGP racing zooms into rural Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe