MotoGP´s return to Indonesia after more than two decades has been met with jubilation on the island of Lombok where sports fans hope it will revive their earthquake-ravaged economy.
MotoGP promoter Dorna Sports announced in February it had signed a five-year deal with the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) to hold an event on the island in 2021.
The premier motorbike race will be hosted on a new street circuit that will reportedly be 4.32-kilometres (2.68-miles) long with 18 corners.
News of the event has thrilled motorsports fans in Indonesia, where MotoGP has a significant following but has not seen a major race since 1997.
“If this plan materialises of course we would be very happy,” Chandra Gunawan, vice president of the Indonesian fan club of Valentino Rossi, told AFP.
“It’s been over 20 years since we hosted MotoGP in the country.”
Indonesia last hosted MotoGP at Sentul International Circuit, a permanent racing track in West Java.
However, the Lombok race will be held on a custom-built street circuit — reportedly a world first.
French company Vinci Construction will build the track as part of the $1 billion Mandalika coastal development project in the south of Lombok.
– Economic boost –
Lombok, to the east of holiday hotspot Bali, was rocked by a series of quakes in summer killed more than 500 people and sparked a mass exodus of foreigners from the tropical paradise.
Official figures showed tourist numbers plunged nearly 70 percent in the months following, ripping vital tourism dollars away from the local economy.
Many residents now hope the arrival of a world-class sporting event will safeguard livelihoods for years to come.
“This is very cool, I can watch MotoGP directly — I can see Valentino Rossi!” Lalu Zulman Hakim, from the town of Kuta, told AFP.
“But we don’t want to be mere spectators, we hope we can be involved,” he added.
Another Kuta resident Nasib Gunawan said he hoped the “MotoGP circuit would create more jobs.”
Tourism officials are confident the event will boost visitor numbers to Indonesia and help Lombok recover from last year’s earthquakes.
“MotoGP brings a lot of potential for the economy,” ITDC director Abdulbar Mansoer told AFP.
Construction of the Mandalika complex will include at least 1,000 hotel rooms and is expected to finish in the second half of 2020.
– Challenges ahead –
Still, the project faces a number of challenges — not least Indonesia´s exposure to natural disasters.
The sprawling archipelago straddles the so-called Pacific `Ring of Fire´, where tectonic plates collide and a large portion of the world´s volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur.
Mansoer admitted Indonesia´s reputation as one of the most disaster-prone nations could turn off some tourists, but said Lombok was prepared.
The local disaster mitigation agency was installing a tsunami warning system on the southern coast of Lombok and evacuation plans were in place, he added.
Readying public transport and extending Lombok airport´s runway were also pressing issues.
“In two years we have to come up with a circuit and supporting facilities,” Mansoer said.
“It´s going to be a challenge, but we have to be optimistic.”