The people of the MotoGP paddock were extremely enthusiastic about their return to Indonesia. The series had long-wanted to return to a country that is at the heart of the MotoGP fanbase in Southeast Asia.
Once at Mandalika, the teams and riders loved the setting and the scenery, and were very positive about the layout of the track. It was fast, and it was fun. They were less happy about the surface of the track.
It was filthy on arrival, with mud and dust all over the track, and the riders were forced to make laps on the first day of the test to clean it up, creating a single racing line. Once clean, the track had plenty of grip.
However, that exposed a different problem. The surface was wearing very rapidly, especially in high acceleration and braking areas like the first and last corner.
The aggregate was breaking up, pulling stones and stone chips out of the surface, and throwing them up into the faces and bodies of following riders.
Pecco Bagnaia showed off a large welt on his arm, where he had been struck by a loose stone, Alex Marquez showed us a similar mark in his throat during his zoom debrief, and many riders, among them Fabio Quartararo, complained of having stones thrown up into their necks, especially.
The problem, according to specialists involved in track design, is the aggregate used in construction contained stones that are too soft.
These stones were already crushed in the process of laying the surface, and the forces generated by MotoGP bikes were pulling these stones out of the surface and throwing them up into the path of the riders behind.
The issue wasn’t unique to MotoGP. Now retired Ducati WorldSBK rider Chaz Davies noted on Twitter that they had suffered similar problems when the production series visited the track back in November last year.
In the Safety Commission held at Mandalika, the riders demanded action. Initially, they had asked for the race to be moved to July, giving the track enough time to be resurfaced, but that request was rejected.
However, conditions were so severe, that something had to be done.
Today, the FIM announced that the Indonesia Tourism Development Corporation, which is running the Mandalika project, have agreed to resurface part of the track from Turn 17 (the final corner) through to Turn 5.
This is the area where the problems with stones were the worst. The resurfacing work is to be carried out before the Indonesian MotoGP due to be held on March 20th.
In addition, the ITDC will oversee preparation of the entire surface, ensuring it is clean and in good enough shape to host a grand prix.
Four weeks is very short notice to resurface a track. A significant amount of effort will be needed to make it happen, but there is a lot of construction still happening at the site, as building on infrastructure in the region continues.
That is also leading to disputes with local landowners, as farmers are being bought out of their properties, but the Indonesian system of ‘Konsinyasi’ means that disputes over purchase amounts leave them without land and without the money they are owed for significant periods of time.
For farmers living close to subsistence levels, this has made life very difficult, with cases being highlighted in Indonesian media.
The lack of infrastructure is a problem in other ways too. Accommodations in the area are very limited, and the roads in the surrounding area are also still under construction.
MotoGP needs to go to Indonesia, because of the outsized importance of the market for the sport. But, there is still a lot of work to do before the area around the track can cope with the massive influx of people, including fans and team staff, that hosting a race involves.
Photo: Ducati Corse