Racing is exciting. There’s no question about that. The cars are exciting: the way they look, the sounds, the speed, the competition. On ground level, there’s very few people who would be completely unmoved by the immersive spectacle that was the inaugural KL City Grand Prix.
It took motorsport and threw it in the face Kuala Lumpur’s population, and that’s all you need to get a reaction. That reaction was a reported crowd of over 200,000 people that gathered around the city centre for the races.
Most of them being happy to brave the un-air-conditioned outdoors – most without a ticket (more on that later) – to watch the race. That filter that usually prevents people from heading to a race in Sepang, for example, is removed. For better or worse, the action is happening right on our front door.
How did it go, though? Did KL really pull it off? Let’s dissect what happened over the weekend.
The Atmosphere and Crowd
In the thick of it, with the cars screaming past, temporarily deafening us, you can see the involuntary grins building in unison. There’s a sense of collective awe.
One could tell that the majority of the crowd there were not the typical motorsports fan but average Malaysians, some knowing very little about the various racing series or marques. But they’re here and they’re curious.
There was an electricity to it too, as the rumble of engines dictated the pace of scurrying feet as the crowd scrambled to get a good vantage point when the cars approached. They would crane their torsos out from the mobile fences to be that little bit closer to the racing.
Throughout the three day event, we had V8 Supercars, Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Formula Masters China Series, and a home-grown series dubbed KL GT City Cup, all racing around KL’s streets and their drivers competing for top spot.
The racing was close and intense, just as it should be. Chaz Mostert, driver for the Pepsi Max Crew’s Prodrive Castrol Ford Falcon team that’s currently leading the team championships in V8 Supercars, found the track and the racing to be just as he expected: close, narrow, and fierce. The team worked hard to learn the track as quickly as they could as nobody knew what to expect.
He elaborated on how it didn’t matter what track or where he was racing, the sheer competitive spirit of the drivers involved will always blanket them with a single-minded will to win.
Mostert took overall victory at the KLCGP among his peers, amassing the highest number of points over the four other manufacturer teams from V8 Supercars during the ‘Challenge’ races. Upon winning, he said: “We all didn’t know what to expect but the turnout has been growing each day and today’s crowd was very impressive. It’s the sort of thing we see at our biggest championship races,”
“It was nice to get a couple of wins and showcase our sport to a new audience. I think I speak for everyone here when I say I can’t wait to come back and bring all our team for a championship event.”
During the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race on Sunday, there was some very competitive racing and despite it being a somewhat short stint, the safety car was deployed many times as the collisions began right from corner one of the first lap.
On the topic of collisions, there was a one in particular that was heavy on the carnage. A Super Trofeo Huracan lost control at the final corner and smashed squarely into an egress gate located along the pit wall. Even with that, the structure stood up to the impact nobody was injured.
What They Need To Fix
Marketing and public relations. This is a gigantic hole that shouldn’t even exist. With all the current issues flying around the typical Malaysian’s mind, reaction to the road closures were consequently one of chagrin. For example, on the LRT journey to watch the practice session on day one, one could be fooled into thinking it was an ordinary day. There was nothing to hint that the KL City Grand Prix was currently ongoing. A simple web search for the event would be dominated by headlines that lambasted the inconvenience caused and the ambiguous return of investment to the public and the city. If executed properly, a street race could prove to be a huge injection of tourism, attention, and revenue stream for the city. By now we’re sure you’re aware of the trade-offs, but we feel that it’s a worthwhile swap.
Bumpy track - Even with the newly-smoothened city centre streets, bumps in the surface are still apparent enough to send cars bouncing wildly, and sometimes out of control. These racing cars are extremely sensitive to differences in surface. Should something go wrong along a street circuit, the car will usually be stuck in a very exposed part of the track, risking other drivers and requiring the intervention of a safety car.
Ticketing tiers and access to stands - The ticketing structure for the KL City Grand Prix is simple enough. The most basic RM50 fee gets you access to a ‘walkabout’ pass, with more expensive seated stand and grandstand access rising in price from there. The trouble is, with exception to the grandstand, literally everyone was allowed walk along the barriers on either side, and free to spectate where they please. Often times, the view is better from standing next to the road than up in the grandstand. Why buy a ticket?
Weather Precautions - Even worse is when you do decide to splurge on an RM350+ grandstand ticket (like the Ampang grandstand), you find that it doesn’t even get you a roof over your head. Which, let’s face it, given Malaysia’s weather, means you’re likely to get completely drenched. We’re of the opinion that the entire track perimeter should have awnings of some kind so we won’t have to retreat to building lobbies, parking garages, and even sponsor tents for huddled shelter. It’s an unacceptable oversight.
The hope is that this first year of the KL City Grand Prix will imbue the public with a love of motorsport that either is completely new or has waned over the years. And judging from the turnout, all of us are prepared to clear our weekends yet again next year.
And we’ll be in for an even more action-packed City Grand Prix in 2016. For one thing, there will be the full grid (25 cars) of the crowd-pleasing V8 Supercars, and that momentum is sure to attract more racing series as well as a large regional crowd.
If the organizers deal with the most pressing issues that befell this year’s event, we’re hopeful that KL should be in good stead to accommodate an even larger event next year.
If we neglect these problems and turn a blind eye, then the city will have to live with very expensive flop. Having said that, we hope the event grows from strength to strength.