Thailand last month joined the exclusive list of MotoGP host countries when the first-ever Grand Prix was held at Buriram International Circuit. The racing proved a spectacular success, but how was the event from a spectator’s view? Motorcycle enthusiast Jon Davie and three other expat mates travelled to Thailand’s Northeast to attend the event. Here’s what they experienced
PLANNING IN ADVANCE
Once the official announcement was made in 2017 that MotoGP would be coming to Thailand, myself and three friends determined that immediate action would be needed to secure accommodation within reasonably easy reach of the Buriram circuit.
Hotel rooms closest to the circuit had doubtless been allocated to personnel directly connected to the event prior to the dates being announced so the best we could do was a hotel in Nang Rong, 50km from the track. We booked this almost exactly a year in advance. Tickets for the race weekend went on sale early in 2018 and we secured these via a PTT promotion within three days of their being made available. Price for a weekend ticket in the main grandstand 2,550bt.
DEPART FOR BURIRAM FROM SATTAHIP, FRIDAY 5TH OCTOBER, 9 AM
Our tickets covered both Saturday (for practice and qualifying sessions) and Sunday for the races themselves so, following an uneventful five-hour drive, we arrived at our hotel on Friday afternoon to be ready for an early start on Saturday. We were unsure what traffic conditions would be like on the approach to the circuit and whether we would encounter long queues at the gates, so our pre-booked taxi picked us up at 8.45am. We needn’t have worried! Traffic was light to within 1km of the circuit on what turned out to be a 45-minute drive.
A police checkpoint was giving directions for parking but we were simply dropped at the gate and walked in. As we already had our tickets we were directed to the shuttlebus area but people collecting tickets or exchanging online e tickets for the proper plastic item were being dealt with most efficiently.
The shuttlebus service was provided by local farmers and their ‘e-tan’ trucks but, as the journey was only 400m at most, standing in the back of one of these for a couple of minutes was no hardship. I counted 40 trucks constantly on the move back and forth from grandstand area to entrance so, once again, queues were either minimal or non-existent. The approach on foot to the main grandstand was through a complex of marquees where motorcycle manufacturers and assorted accessory companies had created an impressive show. The layout was such that access to the displays was easy and never felt overcrowded.
Having earmarked a few items for later purchase, we made our way to the grandstand and it was here that we met our only snag of the day. The handing out of wristband passes and security checks of electronic items went as smoothly as every other step in the experience so far, but the long staircase up to the seating area presented a bit of a problem to one of our party. He was/is still recovering from a leg injury (motorcycle involved needless to say) and struggles with anything beyond a few shallow steps.
I pointed out an elevator to the side of the staircase, and away he hobbled to await its return whilst we climbed the stairs and waited for his arrival. Frustratingly, the elevator never did arrive and, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t operate for the two days we were there. Anyone with mobility problems may be well advised to check access before attending here. Anyway, our friend gritted his teeth for the weekend and survived the climbs and descents whilst giving free reign to the fruitier expressions in his vocabulary.
once in the grandstand, seats were all available on first-come, firstserved basis so we had the choice of front row overlooking the pit-lane, up to the back of the stand which affords an uninterrupted view of virtually the entire circuit. On both this and race day we selected seats facing on of the large TV screens which gave live feeds and replays of the action together with timing and placing information. We were also situated directly opposite the podium although sadly not close enough to gulp down any free champagne.
The pleasant surprises continued when we headed to the beer tent (choice of beer was Chang or Chang - served properly cold). A small plastic glass of beer was 50 baht. A small can of beer at a smaller bar outside was 60 baht. Very reasonable indeed and, unsurprisingly, business was brisk but the staff were fast and efficient so no-one stayed thirsty for long. In a not-unrelated matter, we noted that, throughout the weekend, the restroom facilities were kept spotlessly clean and well maintained.
Qualifying for all three races - Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP – was completed by mid-afternoon so, after another wander around the manufacturers’ stands we headed out to the main road to meet up with our taxi. The shuttlebuses were still busy ferrying people back and forth but we opted to walk the 10 minutes to the exit where our driver had found a spot to park right by the gate. Back to the hotel. An evening exploring the sights and sounds of Nang Rong. All in all a very good day.
Although we had found virtually nothing to complain about with regards to Saturday’s experience, we were aware that Race Day could be another story altogether. Crowds were bound to be much larger (not everyone is interested in qualifying sessions after all) and additional ‘events’ staged for the world’s media coverage have a tendency to disrupt the schedule at big events like this. Consequently we resolved to lave the hotel an hour earlier than Saturday. Nang Rong’s nightlife, such as it is, had failed to lead us astray so we were in the taxi clear-headed and full of anticipation of a great day’s racing, at 7.45 am sharp.
The journey to the circuit was a carbon-copy of the previous day. There were certainly many more cars parked out on the road passing the circuit but there was no traffic jam and we were dropped outside the circuit at about 8.30 am. The ‘e-tans’ were already hard at work but, like the previous evening, we opted to walk in.
Demand for good seats would inevitably be much higher than the previous day so we headed straight to the grandstand to stake our claims. Good seats were secured without difficulty and we settled in for the day. As a very rough estimate I would say that the proportion of western spectators was about 25%. The 75% Thai audience, containing many family groups including children, were fantastically enthusiastic and obviously very knowledgeable about the riders and the teams with support for Honda and Yamaha being, unsurprisingly, very strong.
There are more than enough accounts available of the races themselves so I won’t mention those here. With the racing concluded by mid-afternoon, we returned to the beer tent for the usual post-race analysis and rehydration and to await the arrival of our taxi. Despite the notably larger crowd, our departure from the circuit was as easy as the previous day and brought to an end what had been a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.
What I am keen to stress is just how exemplary the running of this, a truly world-class sporting event, had been. Having visited numerous racetracks throughout Europe and the UK I can, in all honesty, say that this was one of the best organised, best value top-end race events I have ever attended and if anyone has even a passing interest in motorcycles or motorsport in general, they should make attendance at next year’s event a priority. Don’t forget your earplugs!