By Mario Ng
Note: This is a re-post as part of a consolidation effort to shift all articles to the blog.
Held between 27 and 29 October 2017, the 2017 Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix is basically a three-day carnival for motorcycle enthusiasts. Located at Sepang Circuit, the MotoGP holds its race at the identical track used by its Formula 1™ cousin. Being a fan of fast cars, I had to check out what’s so special about this particular race in Malaysia!
Although it was a three-day event, and the ticket allows you entry to all three days, I chose to fly in on the race day itself: 29 October 2017. This was due in part to a scheduling conflict, and I had little choice but to head in for a day only.
Touching down at KLIA2, there were shuttle buses ready to pick visitors up directly from the airport and head down to the track itself. This is good thinking by the organisers, as there were many tourists heading down into Kuala Lumpur just to watch the race. Buying a bus ticket is easy enough, as there is a booth set up at Level 1 just to sell these bus tickets. Costing RM12 per one-way trip, it is an affordable RM24 for a return trip between KLIA2 and Sepang Circuit. The wonderful thing about this bus service is that it also offers bus trips between Sepang Circuit and other landmarks in downtown KL, including KL Sentral and KLCC. As all bus tickets are sold in a one-way manner, this gives visitors the flexibility to plan their trips accordingly in a fuss-free manner.
As we headed down to Sepang Circuit, a traffic jam soon appeared. Future visitors must take note of this. MotoGP is an extremely popular event in Malaysia, arguably more so than Formula 1™. A check with some local residents confirmed this. Hence, there will always be a jam heading into Sepang Circuit. Case in point: what should have been a short trip from KLIA2 to Sepang Circuit ended up in a 45-minute drive. Not that this has got anything to do with the organisers though. The event is simply too popular, and many Malaysians head down to the race every year. In 2016, visitor numbers reached 160,000, while 2017’s figures are expected to be higher. Certainly, a city’s expressway can only take so many vehicles!
Considering this as part of the event, it does help you to relax as the bus slowly makes its way towards the track. Along the expressway, you can actually see entrepreneurial folks attempting to sell knock-off jerseys and merchandise to visitors. They use their own cars, opening their boots to display their products. If you are interested, why not? On the bus, you can see people constantly checking their Google Maps to see how far more before they arrive. I know, I have been there! :)
Vendors selling merchandise on the way towards Sepang Circuit
As we arrived, you will see a large view that spells out “Sepang Circuit”. It is beautiful, as it proudly declares itself as the Home of Malaysian Motorsports. Well said!
As the circuit itself has multiple grandstands, there are internal shuttle buses that ferry passengers around all the grandstands. Do take note of this when you plan your time to arrive! It might take some time, especially with the traffic jams bound to happen on race days!
Welcome to Sepang Circuit
I got a ticket for the main grandstand, and decided to walk up to the area instead. This is definitely much better compared to waiting for the bus, as the main grandstand is just a short 15-minute walk up-slope, while waiting for the bus can take up to 30 minutes, taking into account traffic conditions. As I walked across the car parks, Malaysians’ love of motorcycles is clear. Rows of parked motorcycles can be seen, even as cars jam up the roads. This is one motorcycle-loving nation!
Rows of motorcycles parked around Sepang Circuit
Reaching the main area, I would recommend getting a ticket from the main grandstand for a few reasons. Besides enjoying awesome views (the ticket allows you various vantage points throughout the entire track), the Mall is also located here. What this means is that all the merchandise and fun-filled activities are right here. You can simply walk to your seat once you are done with the Mall. Fuss-free! Food options are also more varied here, selling items from kebabs to Thai food to the good ol’ burger. Ice cream, hot dogs, and other finger food are also for sale. Did we mention Pizza Hut? You get the picture.
Kawasaki bikes for sale at Sepang Circuit
For MotoGP in Malaysia, there are really a lot of booths. And I mean a lot. With 99 booths set up (although large vendors usually take up to 8 booths alone), that means you are faced with at least 30 different firms selling different products. Of course, most of them are selling motorcycle-related products. Large motorcycle brands like Yamaha, Kawasaki, Honda, Ducati, and BMW strut their stuff in large booths. Showcasing their latest, biggest, and fastest motorcycles, we were not surprised to see visitors buying them up on the spot. Content with your current ride? Other companies are also selling spark plugs, engine oil, and other lubricants, often at a discounted rate. We see many Malaysians snapping these offers up.
Various Motorcycle-related merchandise for sale at Sepang Circuit
Soon, it’s time for some track action. On this Sunday, there were a total of three different races. Moto3, Moto2, and MotoGP. For those who are clueless about what these mean, it basically refers to the class of the motorcycle. Think of MotoGP as the highest class possible, which also means the bikes are more powerful. For Moto2, those bikes are restricted to 600cc ones, while Moto3 sees their bikes restricted to 250cc. Of course, there are more differences rather than just the engine capacity. To really understand these machines, check out their website (thanks Wikipedia!).
As the grandstands provide free seating, it is important to arrive early to grab a good seat and view. Popular areas include the start-finish point and the area directly opposite the pit lane. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Making my way to a block of the main grandstand, there was already a large crowd surrounding the seats. Obviously, no seats were available. I had to tiptoe just to catch the track action. And it hasn’t even started yet! Nevertheless, I waited patiently for the races to begin. As the bikes roared down the track, you could hear a large roar in the grandstand. Boy, do they love their bikes!
The crowd getting excited as the race is about to get started at Sepang Circuit
One thing to take note of, is the necessity of ear plugs. Being a Formula 1™ veteran, I foolishly thought the bikes would not be as loud as those magnificent cars. Was I dreadfully wrong. As each bike sped down the track, I winced just a little as my ears voiced its displeasure. Yet, my heart enjoyed the moment as bikes raced down simultaneously, further magnifying the engine sounds. It does not matter if it’s Moto3 or MotoGP. The bikes were really loud! Unfortunately, the races only last for a short time (Moto3 lasts 18 laps; Moto2 lasts 19 laps; MotoGP lasts 20 laps), which means each race would all be over within some 45 minutes. During the races, I noticed some spectacular crashes, and watched in horror as the racers were flung off their bikes and slid across the gravel. Thankfully, all the racers appeared all right after their respective crashes. Hats off to them!
Zooming past a stationary helicopter
MotoGP was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, which is what every visitor really wants to watch. Being the second-last race of the season, it also means that their favourite racers were vying to win the championship. By this time, the entire circuit would have filled up to more than 150,000 people. That’s a lot of people!
View of the hairpin turn as the racers are about to hit the pit straight
A ticket to the Main Grandstand, as mentioned earlier, is really worth it. This is because you get to enjoy views of more than 70% of the entire track. This is no exaggeration. If you choose to hang out around the pit lane grandstand, you will also get to enjoy views of the other side of the track, where the bikes would appear after Turn 4, before disappearing after Turn 6. If you head towards the opposite side of the main grandstand, you will get to see even more. The bikes will appear just about after Turn 7, and you will get to see all the action until Turn 11. Yet, that’s not all. They will reappear after Turn 14, and hit the back straight, before making a hairpin turn back to the pit straight. Do consider these when you purchase your race tickets!
The crowd rushes to the podium after the race is over to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars on the podium
After all the action is over, it is of course time to either head back to the city, or to the airport. For me, it would be back towards KLIA2. For this part of the journey, it is important to stay calm and patient. Now is the time you really get to see how popular MotoGP is in Malaysia. Immediately after the race has ended, literally tens of thousands of people will make their way towards the exits. While there are many buses transporting people towards the city and the airport, there are also only so many buses that are able to operate. Furthermore, taking into account ordinary Malaysians who rode and drove to the circuit, and you slowly get the picture of how chaotic it can be. I queued for one hour (which was not an exaggeration) before I could board the bus to take me to the airport. Even so, consider yourself lucky if you can find enough space to squeeze into the bus. From there, it was another hour before we finally reached KLIA2. This is due to the traffic jam that was occurring on all the roads, including the expressway. Hence, as per the journey to the circuit, the journey back to the airport was also very long. Finally, after nearly 2 hours, I reached KLIA2 to begin my journey back home.
This one-day trip was quite interesting, and I got to see how beloved MotoGP is to Malaysia and Malaysians. This was evident in all the traffic jams I encountered. Even at the Mall, it was a challenge to walk freely, considering the amount of people moving about. Yet, this is the beauty of MotoGP at Sepang Circuit. It is all part of the experience, of how loud and rowdy motorsports should be. It is not the most classy and elegant sport, and it does not pretend to be. Instead, it proudly highlights these facts, showcasing all the loud bikes for everyone to see. Without a doubt, with just a little patience, it is a fantastic adventure that everyone should experience. For motorsports fans, all the more you need to head here! Truly, Sepang Circuit is the home of Malaysian motorsports!
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