JAKARTA: World-class racers rode through the streets of Jakarta on Wednesday as Indonesia gears up to host over the weekend its first motorcycle grand prix in 25 years.
The archipelago nation of more than 270 million has one of the world’s biggest communities of bike-race fans.
Sunday’s race — the second stop on the 2022 MotoGP World Championship calendar after the opening race in Qatar — will take place at the Mandalika International Street Circuit on the island of Lombok.
The parade in Jakarta saw a host of grand prix winners, including Spain’s six-time world champion Marc Marquez, cruising through the capital’s streets and greeting their Indonesian fans.
They were welcomed by President Joko Widodo, himself a biker.
“I have said before that Indonesia has 122 million motorbikes, so there are a lot of fans here in Indonesia. All of them are happy,” Widodo told reporters.
“We hope this will be our country’s new brand, that Indonesia has a MotoGP circuit comparable to that of other countries.”
The racers sparked quite a buzz both on the streets of the Indonesian capital and online, with some expressing their delight over the parade and upcoming races.
“We are excited to race in front of our Indonesian fans,” Marquez said, while his compatriot and also a motorcycle racer, Alex Rins, took to Twitter to say being in Indonesia for the race was “one of the best experiences” of his life.
“The way this country enjoy bikes is just incredible,” he tweeted.
With some 60,000 race day tickets sold out, Indonesian officials are expecting a full house at the Mandalika circuit this weekend.
The last time Indonesia hosted a MotoGP round was in 1997, at a track near Jakarta. It has since struggled to be included in the race calendar for lacking a world-class circuit.
The new 4.3-kilometer track in Mandalika — completed in 2021 — is part of a mega-tourism infrastructure project to help Lombok island compete with neighboring Bali, one of Indonesia’s top holiday destinations.
Authorities hope the project will create thousands of jobs and attract 2 million foreign visitors annually, as Lombok is still struggling to rebuild after devastating earthquakes shook the island in 2018, killing hundreds of people and causing extensive damage.
But the massive government-backed program is not without controversies. UN experts last year denounced it over evictions during land procurement for the track.
Riders during MotoGP testing last month had also raised concerns over the track surface, saying debris and stones from the peeling asphalt had flown into them as they hit full speed.
MotoGP racers will take to the track for practice and qualifying sessions on Friday and Saturday.
The race will start on Sunday 3 p.m. local time (7 a.m. GMT).