MotoGP India review: Largely successful but operational and logistical issues need to be sorted before next year

MotoGP made a successful foray into India last weekend as the Buddh International Circuit (BIC) in Greater Noida hosted the 13th round of the 2023 season, but there were a few niggles along the way that need to be fixed before the championship can forge a long-term future in the country.

The future of motorsport in India had looked bleak when the BIC was dropped from the 2014 Formula One calendar after just three races in the preceding years. There were no more major races on the horizon, and all the momentum that motorsport had gained in India was lost due to a lack of representation at an international level.

It seemed a world-class facility was going to go to waste, with only automobile launches, track days and the occasional domestic race preventing the circuit from becoming completely dormant. Even as recently as mid-2022, one could not have foreseen any major race taking place at a track that can rival some of the best in the world in terms of the layout and facilities.

But all of that changed in September last year when plans for a MotoGP race in India were revealed. After a decade-long absence, elite-level motorsport was returning to India, in the form of the world’s biggest motorcycle racing championship.

Fast forward to 2023 and the inaugural Grand Prix of India took place as planned from September 22 to 24, drawing worldwide attention and putting India firmly back on the motorsport map. It was a momentous occasion for the country, and one that racing fans in India had been eagerly waiting for.

Motor racing in India may be a niche sport but last weekend’s race showed there is a small but passionate group of hardcore fans who are just as knowledgeable as their European counterparts. India may be a cricket-crazy nation, but the country’s young population has started to embrace more and more forms of sporting contests in recent years. Hosting a truly international championship like MotoGP was significant in that aspect and it can prompt bosses of other sports to expand their reach to India. The race was significant not just for India but MotoGP itself as the championship has been witnessing a steady decline in popularity in recent times. This has forced Dorna, the right holder of the series, to pivot towards major two-wheeler markets in Asia. It has already found success in Thailand and Indonesia in recent years and India is seen as another step of this expansion, with Dorna convinced that there is potential to grow motorcycle racing in the country.

Minor Issues
But while last weekend’s Indian GP could largely be labelled a success, one cannot overlook the issues that impacted the event and even cast doubts about it happening in the first place.

Firstly, there was a lot of negative coverage in the international media in the run-up to the weekend after visa issues meant several riders — most famously Marc Marquez — missed their flights to India. The local promoters of the race must work with the government of India to ensure that everyone from the MotoGP fraternity is issued timely visas the next time.

Then there was the issue of the track itself. While initial fears about the safety of the riders were unfounded, with the circuit receiving homologation from governing body FIM on Thursday, there remains room to increase run-off areas and push back barriers wherever possible.

Turn 10 was cited as one area where the walls were too close for riders’ comfort, while some also felt Turn 4 — located at the end of the long back straight — wouldn’t have been very safe in case of a brake failure. The fact that the riders weren’t too comfortable with the idea of racing in the wet showed there were still lingering doubts about how safe the circuit would be in tricky conditions.

Then there was the small issue of trackside attendance, with only 58,000 people turning up on Sunday. While concerns about the race going ahead would have no doubt turned away many fans from other parts of the country from making the trip to Delhi, it was clear that the race simply hasn’t been promoted well in India. This is an area where MotoGP needs to work with the local promoters to build a bigger fanbase in the country.

All in all, the ingredients are in place for India to become a permanent fixture on the MotoGP calendar. With Formula E set to drop Hyderabad after just a single year, MotoGP is likely to be the only international championship to visit India in 2024. The onus is now on the organisers to fix the operational and logistical issues they faced this year and turn the Indian GP into a must-go event.

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