MotoGP: Banking on local boys

 MotoGP: Banking on local boys
Sepang International Circuit CEO Datuk Razlan Razali.

He took a racing destination that was operating in the red, and turned it around within months.

When Datuk Razlan Razali took over the helm of Sepang International Circuit (SIC) as chief executive officer in 2009, it was losing money. He was just 36 years old then.

A year later, SIC - known for hosting races like Formula One (F1) - became a profitable venture.

But today, Mr Razlan, 42, isn't resting on his laurels.

What is the secret to a strong crowd presence during MotoGP?

We use local heroes as the main attraction. This year, we have six Malaysian riders. Some riders have a fan base. Their supporters will automatically want to come when they race in Malaysia. We achieved over 120,000 spectators over (the whole race weekend) last year.

I recently told (F1 chief) Bernie Ecclestone that our MotoGP crowd has surpassed F1.

Why do your motorcycle races attract more crowds than F1?

We have more than 10 million bikers in Malaysia. As soon as kids are old enough, they want to ride motorbikes.

So they look at their local mentors and international idols like Valentino Rossi, Barry Sheene, Max Biaggi.

People can relate to MotoGP.

What have you learnt from organising races?

You need other activities (aside from the races). I don't need to promote other things to sell MotoGP as long as my Malaysian racers are there. But we still create a carnival-like atmosphere or motorcycle expo-type event.

To sell F1, it depends on which performing acts I'm going to bring in. Casual spectators will not buy F1 tickets until they know who is performing. To me, this is sad.

How do you measure MotoGP's popularity?

By how long it takes you to get out of the circuit due to the traffic jam!

For the last three years, Dorna - rights holder for MotoGP and World Super Bikes - ordered a bus with police escorts because prior to that, they missed flights because of the jams.

What's your favourite circuit?

The circuit I want to emulate is Suzuka in Japan. It has everything a circuit should have - a great track and proper, well-maintained facilities.

It also has other attractions like amusement parks skewed toward motorsports or automobiles, restaurants and four hotels.

What did you change?

When I came in, SIC was running at a loss, so I milked every facility here. Now, every single thing has a price to it and I refuse to give discounts.

Did you face any resistance from your staff?

Initially, there were comments like, "Eh Razlan, SIC isn't your father's company" because of how focussed I was when it came to not wasting money. I told them, "Yes, I treat it like my company."

I want to make sure that every single cent goes to work. From 2010, we became profitable.

How did your passion for bikes start?

My first experience was when I was 13 and studying in Australia. I was in boarding school and I tried a dirtbike.

When I got my first job, I went behind my parents' back to buy my first bike.

I started racing in 2001. We were pioneers for the Malaysian Super Series. At that time there were 10 of us - mostly Malaysians and Singaporeans with a few English guys. The first two years were "Malaysia versus Singapore".

What do you ride now?

I ride a Honda Gold Wing (1,800cc tourer) - my fourth. I bought a 2014 model in maroon. My friends make fun of me by saying it's a pink bike. I also have a Ducati but I have not ridden it in over a year.

This article was first published on Oct 26, 2014.
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