MotoGP adds Kazakhstan and India as future Grand Prix locations

MotoGP looks set to be hosting Grands Prix in both Kazakhstan and India in the future, after agreements were made with both countries in recent days.

Sokol International Racetrack. - MotoGP

MotoGP has taken its first steps towards hosting Grand Prix races in both India and Kazakhstan, after deals were signed to host races in both countries.

The Indian news has been around for a while now, but the announcement of a contract to host a MotoGP race in Kazakhstan is something new. We will discuss Kazakhstan first, and India further on.

Grand Prix of Kazakhstan

MotoGP has announced today (27 September 2022) that there will be a Grand Prix race held in Kazakhstan from 2023. The race is part of a five-year deal for MotoGP to race in Kazakhstan. 

The Grand Prix of Kazakhstan will take place at the Sokol International Racetrack from 2023 to 2028, which is located just outside of the capital city of Kazakhstan, Almaty.

MotoGP's press release announcing the news of the new Grand Prix is light on detail. It only mentions the location of the race, the length of the contract, and that Kazakhstan will become the 30th nation to host a motorcycle Grand Prix since the World Championship began in 1949. 

Photos have been published of the circuit, which looks KymiRing-esque in its layout. That might be good for Moto3, for example, but 280-horsepower MotoGP bikes might struggle for space on what looks to be quite a tight layout.

There are three long straights, all of which come from slow corners, and between those straights are several more slow corners. There is a bus-stop chicane that is close to the end of the lap, but it is not certain whether that will be the layout used by MotoGP.

Without the chicane, the end of the final of the three straights heads into what looks like it would be a medium-speed, flowing right-hand corner. Then, two dead-stop right-handers, before a left-hand kink, and another medium-speed corner - this time on the left - to end the lap. For the Moto3 class, overtaking at the end of the lap might be possible. For the MotoGP class, anything short of a block pass is probably not going to work.

The circuit is squeezed into what appears to be quite a small surface area, rather like the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia. But, unlike Valencia, it does not (yet) have a large grandstand from which you can see the entire track.

The layout it questionable, but it is unfair to decide before it has been raced. it might be more fair to decide on Kazakhstan's human right's record, which Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes as "poor."

HRW says that free speech in Kazakhstan is suppressed. In 2021, it wrote that a crackdown on government critics "violates the rights to freedom of expression and association." The government labels its opponents as "extremists," trade unions face "harassment," and "children with disabilities are largely denied a quality, inclusive education," HRW says.

It is not the first time in recent weeks that Dorna - the commercial rights holder for MotoGP - has made an agreement with a country that has a questionable human rights record. It recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Saudi Arabia, who HRW says "spends billions of dollars hosting major entertainment, cultural, and sporting events as a deliberate strategy to deflect from the country’s image as a pervasive human rights violator. Scores of human rights activists and dissidents remain in prison or on trial for their peaceful criticism." Just over one month ago, Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to 34 years in prison for using Twitter.

Images of Sokol International Racetrack courtesy of MotoGP.

Grand Prix of Bharat

The below text is from the original version of this article, published on 21 September 2022 on the announcement of the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Dorna and Indian race promoters Fairstreet Sports.

Dorna representatives visited India in order to try to establish plans for a Grand Prix to be held in the south Asian country. 

Over the Grand Prix race weekend in Aragon - where Enea Bastianini beat Francesco Bagnaia to take his fourth win of the season - there were rumours that an Indian race could be on the cards for MotoGP in the next couple of years. 

At that point, though, no one from Dorna had visited India in order make this official. That has now happened, though, and an official agreement has been signed. 

Dorna has signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MoU) with Fairstreet Sports to host a race in India under the name “Grand Prix of Bharat”. (Bharat is the Indian word for ‘India’.)

The race’s “target venue,” according to MotoGP, is the Buddh International Circuit outside New Dehli.

This is the circuit that hosted three Formula One Grands Prix between 2011 and 2013, before F1 left India. 

The reasons F1 left India regard tax and finances. Fundamentally, the group that owns the Buddh International Circuit - Jaypee - could no longer afford to host the race. By 2013 it had amassed around $9 billion USD in debt, and disinvested to try to balance its books, according to Motorsport. 

This was also the reason WorldSBK did not push ahead with its Indian plans in 2013, when the Buddh International Circuit was due to host the final round of the series. 

Jaypee still owns Buddh International Circuit, so whether these obstacles - that could not be overcome by F1 - can be overcome with the MotoGP race will be one of the most crucial parts of the future of the proposed race. 

Of course, paying for the MotoGP licence is less expensive than paying for the F1 licence for the race, but the operational costs of the circuit were also unsustainable when it hosted the F1 GP.

While the race seems to have come from nowhere, it should not be a shock that MotoGP wants to be in India, which - like Indonesia, which hosted its first MotoGP race earlier this year - is one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world. 

“India is a huge country and market,” said Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, “and an especially important one for the two-wheeled industry and MotoGP as a sport.”

The current plan is for India to host its first motorcycle Grand Prix in 2023, which seems like a long-shot, but maybe that is the reason we still do not have a provisional calendar for next season. 

More likely, the first race - if it happens at all - will take place in 2024. But, from Memorandum of Understanding to hosting a race, there is a great distance to be travelled by both Dorna and Fairstreet Sports in order to make it happen. 

Hungary, for example, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to host a MotoGP race, but that never happened. More recently, a Memorandum of Understanding was established between Dorna and Saudi Arabia for the country to host MotoGP races for 10 years, which is still of course a possibility but not a certainty. 

The agreement with Fairstreet is for seven Indian Grands Prix. While the event certainly has the possibility to be a success from a popularity perspective, the finances here are - as ever - the key. 

Unlike in Saudi Arabia, there seems less certainty that the finances are sustainable and achievable for the Indian race, but perhaps that is an unfair assumption based on the happenings of a more expensive race which died almost a decade ago.

Lead image courtesy of MotoGP.

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