From the cool of Melbourne it was on to the heat and humidity of Malaysia, for the Malaysian Grand Prix at the Sepang Circuit.
Clare and I arrived into Malaysia on Tuesday evening. For our first two nights we had decided to stay in downtown Kuala Lumpur, and picked a hotel close to the Petronas Towers to give us easy access to the rest of the city.
We had treated ourselves to a room with a Twin Towers view and what a view it was. I think you would struggle to find a better view of the towers anywhere in the city.
After spending Wednesday exploring Kuala Lumpur, we met up with Stephen and Trev who arrived from Melbourne. Trev and Clare stayed in the city for a bit more sightseeing and Stephen and I headed to track to collect our credentials.
I’d not found the heat of downtown Kuala Lumpur to bad, it was hot but I was coping okay. The area of the track was a whole different ball game.
Time of day is no escape from the heat and humidity of Malaysia, and it’s no different here at Sepang on race day. I could wax-poetic about how the extreme temperatures here at the track change the smell of the four-stroke exhaust fumes.
Or, how the humidity, which leaves you with a constant layer of sweat on your skin, changes the thunderous sounds of the 1,000cc MotoGP engines, but it would be a lie. It’s just hot here, and your body braves its exposures to the outside world only if you make it the future promise of air conditioning.
I have no idea how the fans pack the stands here at Sepang International Raceway on race day, but they do. They come in droves, and many ride here. Large convoys of bikers make the trek from nearby countries even.
Southeast Asia is rampant for GP racing, and it shows. Attendance on Friday is non-existent, Saturday is modest, at best, but the come Sunday, 80,000+ Malay, Chinese, Thai, Indonesian, Burmese, and countless other ethnicities line the track. It’s a spectactle, to be certain.
Sepang International Circuit is a short car ride from downtown Kuala Lumpur — under an hour, if the traffic conditions are right. It’s near the airport, which means it’s near the palm tree farms I saw during our plane’s approach to KLIA. If you look closely while driving to SIC, you can see that there are two kinds of palm tree plants lining the roadside.
The old palm trees have very long branches and leaves, while the newer palms are shorter overall in radius. This change in plant design is so that more trees can be planted per acre. Other changes to the palm trees mean less water required (palms require a massive amount of water from the ground, something Malaysia has no shortage of, thankfully), more liters of oil per tree, and quicker growing times.
Sitting in the car ride, listening to the banter of my colleagues, I can’t help but think that the noble palm tree is a metaphor for this country. Eager to provide, and ready to adapt to the realities of the world around it. Malaysia reminds me, in part, of a younger America.
Thirsty for the ingress of foreigners, accepting of a mosaic of cultures and religions, and a budding epicenter of the reginoal economy. If one thing relevant came from our hours of talks about Malaysian tourism and government goals, it is that this tiny country wants more from itself.
No one can deny the growing importance of Asia, in particular Southeast Asia, especially when it comes to the motorcycle industry, but it is of note that Malaysians are eager for a bigger seat at the table. To that end, the construction of looming towers, the building of new offices and houses, the shifting the economy from labor to services, all signal what Malaysia is willing to purse for…more.
I’m off to Malaysia for the next week, to watch the Malaysian GP at Sepang International Circuit, and generally take in the touristy parts of Kuala Lumpur and the archipelago of Langkawi.
As close as I can get to paid vacation in this line of work, I will be the guest of the Malaysian government, which as far as I can gather, wants to make the Malaysian GP a sort of destination vacation for two-wheeled fans — a “come for the GP, stay for the beaches” kind of thing.
Announced this week, Sepang International Circuit will host MotoGP for three more years, bringing GP racing to Malaysia through 2013. Sepang has hosted MotoGP since 1999, and has become a favorite track for many of the GP riders. The Malaysian GP is an important stop for MotoGP, as it not only services GP fans from Southeast Asia, but also Australian and New Zealand as well. MotoGP has made developing nations and regions an important aspect of its racing calendar, hoping to turn these countries into motorcycle racing havens full of MotoGP fans.