Malaysia favourite to launch Supercars Asian invasion
Malaysia’s Sepang circuit is the strongest prospect to begin Supercars’ long-promised Asian invasion.
Supercars supremo James Warburton believes he is closer to securing an event at Sepang than clinching a deal with the Singapore Grand Prix, the other leading candidate.
Warburton has declared that he wants to lock in at least one Asian engagement before stepping down as chief executive officer on December 22.
He has targeted adding up to two new international events in the region in 2019, claiming Supercars has Memorandums Of Understanding (MOUs) or more binding agreements in place with several groups.
As well as serious talks to race at the Sepang International Circuit (SIC) outside Kuala Lumpur and as the major support race category at Singapore’s Marina Bay F1 street circuit, there have been discussions with promoters in Thailand, Indonesia, China and elsewhere.
Asked by Speedcafe.com which was the strongest chance to kick off Supercars’ renewed Asian ambitions, Warburton replied: “Malaysia’s the most likely, at Sepang.”
But in a surprise twist, he also revealed that the still-born Kuala Lumpur downtown street race event could make a comeback to rival the Sepang bid.
He claimed that the legal dispute over organising rights for the Malaysian government-backed KL City 400 on a street circuit in the shadow of the city’s iconic Petronas towers was close to settlement, opening the possibility that it could be revived.
“There’s settlement going on at the moment in terms of the parties (disputing KL street race event), which is getting closer,” Warburton said.
“But it’s taken two years, so there are no guarantees there.
“So I think there are two strong cards, if you like, in Malaysia, followed by Singapore and then obviously there are other promoters (in Asia that have expressed interest).”
Supercars ran a five-car demonstration through the streets of the Malaysian capital in August 2015 and the KL City 400 was listed on the original 2016 championship calendar.
But the four-year deal never went ahead because of a legal dispute over organising rights that has dragged on ever since.
Earlier this year, Warburton declared the KL street race event “dead”, but the prospect of a resolution of the fight for the rights to run it has opened the door – slightly – to a resurrection.
Realistically, though, Sepang remains the front-runner to secure a Malaysian Supercars event because of the former F1 track’s keen interest and existing infrastructure.
Sepang hosted its last F1 race at the start of this month after ending its contract early because of declining crowds.
SIC is looking to a Supercars event, with a Malaysian wildcard entry driver, to join its successful MotoGP round as an annual headline international event.
However, it will require an innovative marketing approach to attract local interest in a largely unknown form of racing and among the proposals to attract a sizeable attendance is sponsor-subsidised free entry.
Supercars would also heavily promote the event in Australia and offer incentives for fans to travel to the event and spend time in Malaysia.
But Supercars officials haven’t ruled out adding the track to next year’s calendar if a deal can be struck sooner.
With the Winton round still subject to renewed Victoria state government funding and Queensland Raceway’s inclusion dependent on safety upgrades, Sepang could be on stand-by if either falls over.