Sepang International Circuit: Year in Review

  Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia’s one and only Formula 1 track has had its ups and downs through 2016. Due to poor economic situation in the country, the track has experienced low spectator numbers and decline in revenue for both International and domestic events.

Of course, the track did receive its fair share of revenue and spectator numbers from heavily-hyped events like the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix and MotoGP (Motorcycle Grand Prix).

The year started out low-key, with winter testing for the MotoGP in early February followed by closure of the track from 15 February to 8 May to facilitate the resurfacing and upgrading of the track. Although leading to loss of income for SIC in terms of track rentals, the works involving the entire 5.543km track were a mandatory requirement in ensuring that the Sepang track would continue to be homologated by the FIA and FIM as a Grade 1 and Grade A circuit respectively. The closure also saw the Formula 1 Malaysia GP being moved in the F1 calendar for the first time in many years. In 2016, the F1 Malaysia Grand Prix was scheduled as the 16th race in a 21-race calendar, which was also the first time it has been held back-to-back with the Singapore GP that took place just two weeks prior.

The refreshed track nevertheless resulted in new speed records being created, by Tom Sykes at the Superbike championship where he clinched the Tissot-Superpole award, beating the previous Best Lap record created by Sylvain Guintoli in 2014 by more than seven-tenths of a second. At the F1 Malaysia Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton too created a lap record, during qualifying.

The Superbike championship, the first major international event to be held on the refreshed track, provided a healthy dose of local interest and excitement in the form of Muhammad Zulfahmi Khairuddin. Held on 13 to 15 May, the weekend featured Zulfahmi in his first home race as the first Malaysian to compete for a full season in the 600cc Supersport championship, riding for Team Orelac Racing VerdNatura on a Kawasaki ZX6R. At the Malaysian round, Fahmi thrilled local fans in Sepang when he relentlessly battled head to head for the win with Italian Ayrton Badovini from Gemar Balloons-Team Lorini, narrowly coming in second when he crossed the finish line just 0.050s behind Badovini, after leading in 9 out of 14 laps. Nicky Hayden, fondly known as the ‘Kentucky Kid’, took his first ever win in the WorldSBK for the Honda World Racing team. However, the WSBK will not be held at the Malaysian track in 2017, as announced by SIC.

The F1 Malaysian round, held from 29 September till 2 October, offered local interest for fans with both the GP2 and GP3 Series held as support races this year. For the first time, we had full-season Malaysian drivers in the GP2 and GP3, with Nabil Jeffri driving for Arden International in GP2 and Akash Neil Nandy driving for Jenzer Motorsports in GP3. The race in Malaysia was a high point for Red Bull Racing as they achieved a one-two finish with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, with Ricciardo also taking his first win of the season. Hamilton failed to finish the race after his engine caught fire, while eventual 2016 champion Nico Rosberg rounded up the podium trio.

At the end of the weekend, the F1 Malaysia GP had recorded a total attendance of 83,828, an increase of approximately 4% from last year. However, the challenge of hosting a successful F1 Malaysia Grand Prix remained, with ministerial calls to cease hosting the premier racing event due to high costs and insufficient returns. For 2017, the 19th F1 Malaysia GP will be back on 29 September to 1 October, in another back-to-back race with Singapore, as the 15th round in a provisional 20-race calendar.

The Malaysian MotoGP (Motorcycle Grand Prix) 2016 was another sell-out success for SIC, with tickets selling out beginning several months before the event. SIC charted another crowd record this year with a total of 161,553 spectators over the three-day weekend, surpassing last year’s record of 150,563 spectators, despite rain affecting all three days. Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso took his second ever victory and his first win of the season,

SIC also renewed its contract to host the Malaysia MotoGP for another five years until 2021, while Shell Malaysia signed on as the title sponsor of the Malaysia MotoGP until 2020. The 27th edition of the Malaysia MotoGP will be held on 27 to 29 October 2017 as the penultimate round in an 18-round calendar.

“I believe our outlook is positive on the whole as our track rentals have seen a high take-up rate above 90% every year for the past five years, and we constantly strengthen our infrastructure and facilities to support a variety of activities, including non-motorsports and even non-sporting activities,” said Razlan Razali, Chief Executive Officer of Sepang International Circuit.

SIC’s homegrown races continued to see strong interest in 2016. The popular Malaysia Championship Series saw favourites Sakura Tedco Racing Team, which had led the table in both classes over the season, clinching both titles. Fitra Eri claimed the Touring Production title and teammate Mark Darwin secured the Malaysia Touring Car title, making history by winning the Malaysia Touring Car and Touring Production titles in successive years.

In the 2016 Pirelli Malaysia Superbike championship, the season-closing double-header on 2 to 4 December saw Moto2 rider Hafizh Syahrin Abdullah showing his class with four podium finishes including three wins. Meanwhile, in the 600cc Supersport championship, Ismael Smajli won the overall crown comfortably with a race to spare, in a class that missed a number of top riders who opted for the Asian Road Racing Championship in Buriram, Thailand.

The 2016 edition of the Sepang 1000 KM Endurance Race received an influx of star power when Tengku Djan Ley led a combination team of professional and celebrity drivers to win his second overall crown in the event. This year’s Independent Cup was won by an all-Singaporean team of Gerald Tan, Hong Tsui and Shawn Peh, which finished fifth overall with 171 laps in their Suzuki Swift.

Another home derived event, the Sepang 12 Hours ran for the second time in 2016. The inaugural Intercontinental GT Challenge was also part of the event. The race was won by the Audi Sport Team Phoenix R8 car, driven by Christopher Haase, Robin Frijns and Laurens Vanthoor.

SIC continued to be recognized in 2016, receiving the Industry Excellence Award for the Sports Entertainment Sector at the Utusan Business Awards 2015, as well as the Training Support Excellence Award for the year. Currently, SIC is pursuing ISO 20121:2012 certification, an Event Sustainability Management System certification accredited by BSI. In line with SIC’s constant push to maintain excellence, SIC would be the first Malaysian company to achieve the ISO 20121:2012 certification.

Other side activities conducted at Sepang circuit in 2016 included the Viper Challenge, Music Run, Motorsport Free Morning, night cycling, and the first SIC International Individual Time Trial,