KUALA LUMPUR: The Sepang Circuit is expected to face a challenging 2004 season when, for the first time, four different Asian cities will be staging the once-exclusive F1 race.
While the Sepang Circuit has since 1999 been enjoying the privilege of being the second F1 circuit in Asia, besides the Suzuka Circuit in Japan, it will be quite tough for it to woo spectators, especially the foreigners, with Bahrain and Shanghai circuits making their debut this season.
And in the coming years, India will also be running its F1 race – in Hyderabad from the 2007 season.
With an increased target of 120,000 spectators for the 2004 Malaysian Grand Prix, race organisers Sepang International Circuit (SIC) are aiming to secure at least 50,000 foreign fans for the race on March 21.
Last year, SIC recorded their highest attendance of 101,485 spectators, with 77,453 of the sales coming from the domestic market.
On paper, it will be an uphill task for the SIC to double the number of foreign spectators to Sepang, which will be staging its sixth F1 race, as motorsports fans abroad may turn to Bahrain and Shanghai.
The Bahrain circuit, due for completion by March, will stage its first F1 race just two weeks after the Sepang event, and is set to become the first West Asian venue for the F1 Grand Prix.
The Bahrain F1 Complex, south of Manama, features a 5.47km circuit, complete with a 2.4 km inner track designed for testing, a 3.4km multi-purpose outer track, a 1.2km drag strip and a 2.5km test oval for endurance testing.
The Shanghai International Circuit, featuring a 5.4 track and located in Anting Town, on the north-western outskirts of Shanghai, will host the F1 race on Sept 26.
However, the SIC, who are targetting 60% local spectators and 40% foreign, have lined-up an extensive international and domestic promotion to woo the motorsports fans.
The promotion for the 2004 season started a day after Sepang completed their fifth race last year and since then, the SIC have been on an aggressive campaign, both locally and abroad.
Last November, SIC general manager Ahmad Mustafa led a sales team to the World Travel Mart in London and in January to the Birmingham Autosports Exhibition.
The SIC team then continued their campaign throughout the Asia-Pacific region, including the Asean countries.
While continuing to woo die-hard fans from Europe, SIC's main target market for 2004 is the Asia-Pacific region, especially Japan, China, the Middle East and the neighbouring South East Asia countries as well as the local fans.
However, with the opening of Bahrain and Shanghai circuits, the SIC may need to redouble their promotional efforts and identify new markets.
The good news is that SIC may have found a new huge market, at least before 2007, in India.
India, with a population of more than one billion, second after China, provides a new market for the SIC and Malaysian officials were there this month to promote the Sepang race.
Like previous years, the SIC enjoys the support of government agencies to make the Malaysia Grand Prix the `The World's Hottest Race'.
The Kuala Lumpur City Hall will turn the city centre into a Grand Prix fiesta, while Tourism Malaysia will mark March as the first phase of the Mega Sale Carnival.
The F1 road shows will kick off next week in Kuala Lumpur before heading to Johor Baru, Malacca, Ipoh and Penang.
And at the circuit itself, various motorsports and cultural events will be held. – Bernama