MotoGP | An Asian Love Affair

MotoGP has become hugely popular worldwide over the years with impressive growth in pretty much all markets, and massive growth in particular regions.

There are many factors that have contributed to this. First thing that comes to mind is Valentino Rossi’s popularity and amazing success, many arguing that he is the face of the sport – Mr MotoGP.

Just as most non-biking people of a previous generation in the UK would have heard of Barry Sheene, today it is Valentino Rossi whose name is synonymous with motorcycle sport as a whole. However, that massive grin of Marc Marquez and his spectacular bravery on the track has also raised his profile towards that of The Doctor.

Valentino Rossi greets fans at Misano

While what these two superstars have contributed to the sport is a major factor, what has really made MotoGP such an attractive proposition for fans is the excitement that the tight cut and thrust of MotoGP racing displays at almost every round. That, along with the very real rider interactions both on and off the track – makes for a fantastic spectacle.

Casey Stoner, Ducati GP9 leads Valentino Rossi, Yamaha YZR-M1.
Casey Stoner, Ducati GP9 leads Valentino Rossi, Yamaha YZR-M1.

We motorcycle fans have always known how great motorcycle racing is but it’s only in recent years that the general public have started to warm to this fact. Lucrative live and highlights’ TV deals have helped to present the spectacle of MotoGP to a wider and more mainstream audience.

MotoGP 2017 - Round 14 - Aragon - Image by AJRN
MotoGP 2017 – Round 14 – Aragon – Image by AJRN

To put MotoGP’s popularity in perspective, the official MotoGP FaceBook fan page beats out its four wheel equivalent by some degree.  MotoGP on Facebook has around 13 million followers which is almost double that of F1. On Instagram MotoGP has six millon followers while F1 has five million. The stars of MotoGP also have larger social media followings than their four-wheel counterparts.

I am not suggesting for a second MotoGP is more popular than F1 as it’s simply not, at least for now, but those numbers do highlight the popularity of MotoGP as well as the enthusiasm of its fans. It also proves that it is a force to be reckoned with, and an alpha sport that should be taken notice of.

It is clear though that MotoGP is still not covered in some major international and national publications’ that is reflective of its actual global audience, while other less popular sports enjoy, in some cases, over representation. With that in mind, MotoGP has the potential to grow further should it be covered more fairly in the mainstream press.

MotoGP Google Search term Interest overall 2004 to present
‘MotoGP’ Google search term interest overall 2004 to present

We now see MotoGP enjoyed by many people including fans of four-wheeled motorsports, who have now been drawn to the excitement and honesty of motorcycling racing, something that seems to be lacking in many other forms of motorsport.

Indonesia MotoGP Search Term Interest by Region
‘MotoGP’ Google search term interest overall 2004 to present represented via global map

Many would be very surprised to learn that MotoGP has its largest audience in Indonesia. Yes, you read that right, and I’d bet that many Indonesians make up a large proportion of the official MotoGP social network’ followers too. In correlation, most Google searches for anything MotoGP related come from Indonesia too, followed by Italy and Spain.

Repsol HRC recently chose Indonesia as the venue for the official launch of their 2018 MotoGP campaign
Repsol HRC recently chose Indonesia as the venue for the official launch of their 2018 MotoGP campaign

In fact MotoGP is hugely popular in the region but It’s not entirely clear why the Indonesians in particular are drawn to MotoGP in such high numbers, though it is certainly something to take note of and act upon. What is clear is that the Indonesians have a huge appetite for MotoGP and it is growing. Per Capita it seems that Italy is still king, but that goes without saying seeing the rich History of Motorcycling that Italy has.

‘MotoGP’ Google search term comparing countries/cities

Interest by country comparison
‘MotoGP’ Google search term interest comparing countries – 2004 to present.

 IND    SPA    USA    ITA 

 

Interest by City
‘MotoGP’ Google search term interest per city – last 12 months to present.

The above image is an illustration of the most popular cities that use ‘MotoGP’ as a search term in Google. Cities with low numbers are omitted for clarity.  Indonesian cities dominate the top three, followed by Italy. No other cities outside of Indonesia or Italy make up the the top 15, with Valencia being 16th.

Makassar
Medan
Surabaya
Bologna
Florence
Milan
Bekasi
Palembang
Semarang

Interest over time Numbers represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means that there was not enough data for this term. Makassar represents a value of 100.

In conclusion, the Google search term ‘MotoGP’ is just one of a huge number of search terms relating to MotoGP but it would definitely be one of the most common used for those looking for MotoGP websites, news, information and results and ranks as a good measure of the sports’ popularity in that area.

Motorcycles sell in absolutely massive numbers across Asia as two wheelers are the dominant mode of transport in those emerging markets.

Indonesia has a population of 261 million and as of 2012 there were 94 million registered motorcycles in Indonesia. That figure represents 84 per cent of all registered vehicles on the road. As of 2012 in any one day there were more than 60 million motorcycles on the roads at any given time in Indonesia. That’s almost three-times the population of Australia riding motorcycles daily.

Also of note: in 2012 there were 7 million motorcycles sold in Indonesia. For some perspective, there were 104,111 motorcycles sold in Australia that same year. Of course Indonesia’s population is around ten times that of Australia but they sell roughly 60 times more motorcycles.  As of the latest figures there around an average of 20,000 new motorcycles sold a day in Indonesia, with peaks of up to 45,000, which conservatively means that Australian year-end sales can sometimes be passed in a matter of a few days.

Indonesia is the third largest motorcycle consumer in the world, trailing only China and India, both of who have much larger populations.

AUSTRALIAN MOTORCYCLE SALES 2017

Honda CRF50F

2017 Australian Motorcycle Sales Figures | Honda #1

Australian Motorcycle Sales Figures 2017 Australian Motorcycle Sales Figures have now been released and they...
The pure speed and madness of the machines of MotoGP are no doubt a draw for any fan.
ENGINE 1000cc Liquid cooled inline four-cylinder with cross-plane crankshaft
POWER Over 240 horsepower, 176KW
TRANSMISSION Six-speed cassette-type gearbox with alternative gear ratios available
CHASSIS Aluminium twin tube Delta Box with multi adjustable steering geometry. Aluminium swingarm
ECU By Magneti Marelli, in accordance with FIM Regulations
WHEELS Forged Magnesium 17” front and rear
WEIGHT 157 Kg, in accordance with FIM Regulations
BRAKES Brembo, two 320 mm or 340 mm carbon front discs, two four-piston calipers. Single stainless steel rear disc, twin-piston caliper
SUSPENSION Öhlins upside down front forks and Öhlins rear shock
TYRES Michelin, 17” front and rear
ACCELERATION 0-320kph 11.00 est.
TOP SPEED 350KPH + est

Much of the success of motorcycleing in Asia comes down to affordability, along with their ability to quickly and easily negotiate the mammoth congestion that you find in most Asian Cities. Motorcycles are clearly a necessity in these parts of the world rather than just a sunny Sunday toy.

As it is clear that motorcycles are such an important way of life and a necessity for so many in Indonesia, it is only natural to expect that among these huge numbers of riders you’d find current and future MotoGP fans. Though there must still be something unique that sets Indonesian’s a part when explaining their appetite for MotoGP, as we do not see similar interest in India or China per capita, both of which sell more motorcycles.

Indonesia underlines global importance by launching Repsol HRC campaign in Jakarta
Indonesia underlines global importance by launching Repsol HRC campaign in Jakarta

Motorcycle manufacturers and MotoGP’s DORNA are acutely aware of the popularity of motorcycles and MotoGP in Indonesia with Repsol/HRC seeing it fit to launch their current 2018 MotoGP campaign in Indonesia and the fourth consecutive time in the Indonesian capital Jakata.

MM signs for Honda

Marc Marquez

“It’s a real pleasure to once again be in Indonesia for our team launch because this is an important country for Honda and MotoGP. We’ve been here in Jakarta on many occasions, so it already seems very familiar to me! There are a lot of fans who make us feel very welcome, and it’s good to be able to reward their support by coming here and dedicating some time to them.”

Both of Honda’s MotoGP riders shared similar sentiments about their feeling of Indonesia and the fantastic fans.

 

The last Indonesian Grand Prix took place at the Sentul Circuit in 1997 when Valentino Rossi took the victory in the 125cc class, with Tadayuki Okada winning the 500cc race. Despite the obvious reasons to have an Indonesian MotoGP round once again – subsequent attempts to bring MotoGP back to the country have not yet found enough traction to make it happen thus far. Back in late 2017 there were rumors of a track and infrastructure being ready for the 2019 MotoGP season, with the new Jakabaring Circuit of Palembang possibly hosting an Indonesian MotoGP round, but as yet there is no official announcement from DORNA so don’t hold your breath. It is inevitable however that we will eventually see a MotoGP Indonesia round.

Indonesia is a key market for MotoGP, and with only three MotoGP rounds taking place in the whole of Asia, it is clear that the current calendar does not sufficiently cater to the following MotoGP enjoys across this populous region. Dorna are clearly aware of this and no doubt have plans for the Asian region to be better represented.

As proof we’ve recently seen Thailand join the club with their new Buriram circuit which will host a MotoGP round this weekend. MotoGP riders have already experienced the new Buriram MotoGP track after testing there back in February. Despite the grueling heat and humidity, the new track gets the thumbs up from riders and will be a great attraction for MotoGP fans in Asia too.

[pinpoll id=52077]

Like Indonesia, Thailand is a massively important market with MotoGP teams and Dorna really pandering to the fans, as demonstrated this week by Marc Marquez’s recent antics in downtown Bangkok ahead of this weekend’s Burinam MotoGP, something that really resonates with fans who got the chance to get close to their heroes.

Marc Marquez

“It was a tough day,” said the number 93 of his day in the Thai capital. “It was even hotter than here! But we had a good day, including riding the tuk tuk in the city! And I know a bit more about Bangkok because I’d never visited. Then last night I got to Buriram.”

 

 

At the overnight press conference in Thailand Valentino Rossi – for whom Chang International Circuit counts as the 37th career venue, the nine-time World Champion talked about racing in the region. He stood with Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Andrea Dovizioso, Marc Marquez and Alex Rins with a banner to show their sympathy for the plight of Tsunami victims across Indonesia.

Valentino Rossi

“It looks like we spend more and more time in this part of the world because the passion for MotoGP is very high,” begins Rossi. “It’s also important for all the manufacturers.”

MotoGP Thailand Indonesia Banner
MotoGP riders overnight in Thailand expressed sympathy for the plight of Tsunami victims of Indonesia

Along with the already established Sepang and Motegi rounds in Malaysia and Japan respectively, it’s only a matter of time before we see another Asian MotoGP round and the bets are that it will take place in Indonesia.

For a good while now, for Indonesian fans to get close to MotoGP in the flesh they’ve had to travel to their closest race in Malaysia, which of course another Asian country where MotoGP is huge and with a massive and loyal fan base.

Hafizh Syahrin
Malaysia’s new MotoGP hope – Hafizh Syahrin

Interestingly for Malaysian fans they now finally have one of their own to support in the premier MotoGP class.  Hafizh Syahrin who replaced Jonas Folger for Tech3 Yamaha is the first Malaysian to ever race in the MotoGP category. This is massive for Malaysian MotoGP fans, and if the enthusiastic support for foreign MotoGP competitors is anything to go by, Hafizh Syahrin will undoubtedly become a Malaysian and Asian megastar.

2017 Asia Talent Cup
2017 Asia Talent Cup

There is a huge pool of talent in Asia but up until very recently (with the Asia Talent Cup) there has not been a robust support structure that develops potential talent from a young age – similar to what we find in Europe and other parts of the World. It will be long until we see better representation of Asian riders on the MotoGP grids. Japanese riders have traditionally represented Asia strongest, though that is partly due to the big four brands being Japanese and as such their talented riders have a comparatively easier path to other Asian talent. Though in the past few years we have seen fewer Japanese in the premier class. This could have something to do with the endless Spanish talent and their excellent support structure there for junior motorcycle racing.

2017 Asia Talent Cup rider line-up
2017 Asia Talent Cup rider line-up

The Asia Talent Cup, the primary feeder for Asian talent is a series put together by Dorna to address the lack of support for Asian and Pacific region talent.

The project started in 2014 and aims to give riders from the Oceanic and Pacific regions a formal path into competitive road racing.

 

Led by talent scout and Talent Promotion Director Alberto Puig, responsible for developing such talents as Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, together with 2009 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama, the competition sees Asia’s stars of the future participate in a multi-race series on Honda Moto3 machines.

Hiroshi Aoyama 250cc champ under Puig

The Asia Talent Cup represents a formal effort from Dorna and the motorcycle industry, to fuel an ever growing emergence of grassroots racing series across the region.

 

2017 Asia Talent Cup - Thai Test - Kunii and Anuar lead
2017 Asia Talent Cup – Thai Test – Kunii and Anuar lead

The numbers that the Asian MotoGP fan base represents is colossal thus it follows that Asian talent will start to become more of a factor in the ranks of Moto3, moto2 and MotoGP.

 

Hafizh Syahrin - Set to be the first Indonesian rider to contest a premier class motorcycle Grand Prix - Image by AJRN
Hafizh Syahrin – The first Malaysian rider to contest a premier class motorcycle Grand Prix – Image by AJRN

We had the chance to speak to some Indonesian fans of MotoGP. We asked them among many things what draws them to MotoGP and why they think MotoGP is such a popular sport in Indonesia. It was also interesting that once the first name on their lips would have been Valentino Rossi, in the same breath most of those people also say Marquez.

Ahmad – 19

“Many Indonesians ride bikes, and all of my friends do. It is normal to follow MotoGP, it’s it like a religion for us.

Rio -28

“I had no choice but to follow MotoGP as when growing up, I remember my father and uncles all screaming and shouting at the TV while they watched the racing. From an early age I grew an interest and now an obsession with MotoGP. Now my daughter who is 2 years old watches the MotoGP with me and her grandfather and great uncle. It is a family tradition now.”

Fajar – 17

“We love MotoGP as it is very pure and honest, the characters and the machines are direct and they convey an emotion that you do not get with any other sport. The excitement and danger is very real and the riders are very honest and humble. This is attractive to young Indonesians like me”

Muhammad – 23

“Indonesian people love MotoGP because we love to ride the motorcycle. It is the thrill it gives you and the speed which is so attractive. As we Indonesians love to ride it is only normal that we love something such as MotoGP”