The town of Buri Ram in northeastern Thailand enjoyed a big success on the weekend with large crowds of motorcycling enthusiasts attending a thrilling MotoGP at the Chang International Circuit.
The race is one of the biggest sports events ever held in Thailand – MotoGP claims an audience of about three hundred million households or more than a billion people, which is about three-quarters of the number who watch Formula One motor races.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand and hotel owners in Buri Ram had good reason to be happy after a big weekend in the Thai Northeast, known locally as Isaan (“E-sarn”).
Sunday’s GP was an absolute cracker, with Spanish world champion Marc Marquez sneaking past Italian Andrea Dovizioso on the last corner of the final lap to beat his rival by a tenth of a second in front of more than 100,000 fans.
Qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday also drew healthy attendances with 41,000 and 81,000 respectively.
Tourism and Sports Minister Weerasak Kowsurat estimated that the event generated three billion baht (US$91 million) for Buri Ram and the neighboring provinces, noting that almost all of the riders visited other provinces, generating much-needed revenue for local areas.
“The teams and riders told organizers that they love the Thai people, love Thai food, and love the iconic Thai farm truck rot i-tan. They also love the pa khao ma handcrafted fabric and the ‘sabai sabai Isan” lifestyle,” Mr Weerasak said.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports, which holds the rights for MotoGP, was quoted as telling Deputy Prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan, chairman of the Grand Prix organizing committee, that Thailand’s first MotoGP should be considered a case study. He allegedly hailed it the best managed, most successful and smoothest running of a new MotoGP race in the 27 years that Dorna has organized such events.
The sight of the world’s top motorcyclists carrying their helmets on the podium is a worthy message for young Thais on the importance of wearing such safety gear.
Thailand has the second worst road-fatality rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization, which says over 24,000 people die on Thai roads every year – an average of 66 a day. Most are motorcyclists (48 a day), many of them young people who don’t wear a helmet.
But, it was a good weekend for Thai sport, given local boxer Srisaket Sor Rungvisai retained his WBC world boxing title the previous day.
And the future looks brighter for Buri Ram, more than 300km east of the capital Bangkok near the border with Cambodia, which has been one of the poorest provinces in terms of personal income.
The local airport is due to be expanded and the MotoGP will be held at the motorcycling circuit, built by former politician Newin Chidchob, for at least two more years, if not much longer.