THIS coming week will be a highly anticipated one for the madly passionate Indonesian bike enthusiasts as their nation is back as a MotoGP host again after 25 years.
The last Indonesian Grand Prix was held in 1997 at the Sentul International Circuit in Bogor, West Java.
Valentino Rossi won in the 125cc category that year. But the Asian economic crisis affected the country so badly that they never returned to the race calendar as Malaysia stepped in with the newly built Sepang International Circuit in 1999.
But since then, Indonesia has successfully hosted the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta and is intent on making a serious bid for the 2036 Olympics and will be the proud host of the second round of the MotoGP World Championship in the amazingly beautiful Lombok Island next weekend.
In the meantime, it also helps a lot that Indonesian President Joko Widodo is an avid biker himself.
Popularly known as Jokowi, he will kick off the festivities on Wednesday when he welcomes a 20-strong line-up of MotoGP riders at the Palace.
He will then ride with them during a parade.
Jokowi himself has made the trip to the Mandalika International Street Circuit, which is a beach front location close to Kuta beach, to ensure preparations are on track for the event.
The Indonesian government sees Lombok as one of the key pillars for tourism and property investment, hence the decision to make the island a MotoGP stop.
On top of that, Indonesia has the largest motor racing fan base in the world, with its population of 270 million citizens.
Indonesia is also the biggest motorcycle market for South-East Asia, a point not lost on the manufacturers.
Honda and Yamaha have regularly sent their MotoGP stars to Indonesia for marketing and PR events in the last few years.
Yamaha frequently flies Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo to Indonesia.
“Indonesia is incredible. The popularity for me is just astonishing in Indonesia considering we don’t even race there,” said Yamaha racing managing director Lin Jarvis many years ago.
Indonesia is the third country in South-East Asia, after Thailand and Malaysia, to have hosted a MotoGP race. As expected, tickets for the Indonesia round have already been sold out a long time ago.
The Thailand round is scheduled to take place in Buriram at the beginning of October while Malaysia awaits its turn three weeks later after a two-year absence because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.
It is also a challenge for our organisers to make sure Sepang does not lose its allure as a favourite stop for the fans and teams. The Malaysian round has always attracted a full capacity crowd in the last few years but it remains to be seen whether the locals will continue to throw their undivided support with the absence of a local representative this time.
Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah has been the flagbearer for the last few years in the premier class and later the Moto2 category but he has moved to a different challenge in the World Superbike Championships this year.
Nothing beats hearing the sound of the cheering fans when a local rider zips past the grandstands and this is not lost on every MotoGP organiser.