Razlan keeps Sepang in the loop

Razlan keeps Sepang in the loop
Sepang CEO Razlan Razali knows he can drive up interest in the Malaysian Grand Prix with activities that augment the action on the track.

FACED with declining crowd figures and a perception that it is Formula One's white elephant, it is ironic that the muted turbo hybrid engines have emerged as an ally in bringing fans to Malaysia's Sepang International Circuit.

As motorsports' pinnacle goes green in search of clean and renewable energy, an accidental by-product is that spectators - put off by the wail of the old 2.4 litre naturally aspirated units - are now drawn to the races.

With the F1 race set to return to Sepang on March 29, the track's chief executive Razlan Razali is rolling out a string of activities to capture the new fans.

He said: "The hardcore fans miss the sound of the V8s but families are enjoying the experience more.

Fathers no longer have to cup their hands over the ears of their children, they can watch F1 in comfort and their weekends are no longer ruined by the loud noise.

"This is a positive thing, we are attracting a new breed of fans.

"Fans want two things -to get close to the drivers and to enjoy the activities (at the track)."

Razlan, 42, was appointed in 2008 and helmed his first F1 race a year later.

With Sepang's attendance figures dipping (it reached a low of around 100,000 last year in the wake of the MH370 incident) after a high of 140,000 in 2006, he drew on his background as a concert promoter to spice up the programme.

From a pure F1 race, Sepang evolved into a show and it started with funk band Jamiroquai in 2009, DJ Fatboy Slim and rapper Wyclef Jean (2010), Korean pop idol Rain (2011), heavy metal band Guns N' Roses (2013) and singer Calvin Harris (2014).

American singer Lenny Kravitz cancelled his appearance in Malaysia two weeks ago due to "unforeseen scheduling issues" but as soon as Razlan's 45-minute interview with The Straits Times at the Grand Hyatt ended yesterday, he received e-mail confirmation that K-pop acts Girls' Generation and Exo will be performing.

Beyond the live music, the core product remains motorsports and he has not ignored the petrolheads as he aims to bring in 120,000 fans this month.

On race weekend, stations will be peppered around Sepang offering fans a chance to experience drifting, rallying, 4X4 off-roaders and all-terrain vehicles.

Children will have their dose of fun on the ferris wheel and other rides at a carnival while the women can experience retail therapy at a bazaar and relax at spas.

A pit-lane walk is scheduled on practice day for 2,000 fans and Razlan is working to get the pit crews to be present to hand out souvenirs.

Always looking to give the fans more bang for their buck, one of his first ideas was a noon drivers' autograph session, lasting an hour.

Such is the response that fans queue as early as 8.30am.

And with Sepang's F1 deal set to expire this year, Razlan wants to allay fears that talks with the sport's supremo Bernie Ecclestone are not going smoothly.

"The deal is still pending but there are no deal-breakers.

Talks are in an advanced stage and, hopefully, we can sign it during the Malaysian Grand Prix," Razlan said.

Even if Sepang loses F1, he believes it can still survive as it has a steady revenue stream with the track booked 96 per cent of the year by avid racers.

He said: "We have sold the track enough days in the year and we will soon install lights for evening sessions.

"We are already operating on a profit. But the challenge is to always come out with new ideas to put bums on seats.

For sure, Sepang is improving."

meng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Mar 10, 2015.
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