FAST & FURIOUS

Malaysia 2017 | TOURISM | FOCUS: SEPANG CIRCUIT

To host a Formula One race brings great prestige as well as a boost for the local economy and its reputation.

The Sepang International Circuit (SIC) was delivered in 1999, branded right away as a Formula One circuit. The circuit was initiated by Prime Minister Mahathir, who had met with Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of the Formula One Group, during one of the European races. Mahathir suggested it could be mutually beneficial to have a racetrack in Malaysia suitable for F1 races. Shortly after, Petronas, which had been supporting F1 teams since 1995, came on board as the main sponsor. The SIC became the first F1 track in Asia after Japan and the first in Southeast Asia. The track was designed by Herman Tilke and, 17 years later, still runs in the same configuration. The popularity of the sport in the country saw a boom during races, with tribunes around the track accommodating up to 130,000 spectators.

Branded as the “Home of Motorsports,” even prior to F1, MotoGP started holding races on the track. Motorcycle races have been traditionally more popular in Southeast Asia and many drive them. Many sporting disciplines have raced on the track, developing the SIC into an all-round racing destination. The World Superbikes, the Sepang Twelve Hours, and the Sepang 1000 KM are notable examples.

F1 remains the most eye-catching event and is, together with the World Cup and the Olympics, among the top three most watched sports events in the world, with more than 63 million spectators worldwide. The previous agreement between F1 and Sepang ended in 2015, and Malaysia has agreed to commit SIC to another three-year contract.

Over the last seven years, the SIC has experimented with diversifying into non-motorsports event, like duathlons and other running and obstacle events. CEO Dato' Ahmad Razlan envisions developing the SIC into an all-year destination for families—even offering to host weddings. By diversifying the business lines, track utilization was brought up from 40% in 2009 to 98% in 2016. The track is surrounded by 260ha of land, offering a variety of commercial opportunities. New plans include the construction of a multi-purpose business park, offering office space to a broad range of businesses. About half of the land is dedicated to this commercial park, along with hotel development. The SIC will furthermore develop a driving center, opening its doors to the public to participate in the offered courses on emergency response and improving driving skills. The unique part of the driving course is that customers can bring their own cars to test in various environments. “Real world car testing needs to take place in real-world conditions,” Dato' Ahmad Razlan said.

Plans for the second half of the land bank surrounding the circuit will further change the identity of the SIC, transforming the area into a full-fledged theme park. The large-scale development plan aims to develop an entertainment city, including an amusement park, educational centers, and a zone for live music, concerts, and other nightlife activities. The SIC is located in Sepang, a district that has seen rapid development since the circuit was developed in the late 1990s. It is also home to KLIA, which opened a new terminal in 2012 and saw double-digit growth in passengers as a result. The plans for the transformation of the SIC fit in well with the articulated plans of Malaysia Airport Holdings (MAHB) for KLIA Aeropolis, a multipurpose aeropark also designated to attract businesses and leisure travellers. The SIC has developed plans to cooperate with Mitsui Outlet Park, the mall that will be incorporated by KLIA Aeropolis, as both have similar factors that appeal to the public and the business world.

The total investment for the integrated-mixed development plans will be well over MYR7 billion, and the major stakeholders include MAHB and the Ministry of Finance. The SIC Business Park and hotels are expected to open in 1Q2017 while the amusement park aims to materialize in phases over the next decade.