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Sepang to be a night race from 2009?

NEWS STORY
13/02/2008

Following the admission that the organizers of the Malaysia GP are willing to host the race at night - providing it is cost effective - comes news that the event could become a night race as early as next year.

"We are studying and looking for the best system," Mokhzani Mahathir, chairman of Sepang International Circuit, told the New Straits Times, "as there is no one single lighting technology that can fit all tracks. The system must be custom-made for the Sepang circuit. We are now in discussion with companies which offer such system."

The reason for night races is simple; a race held at the traditional time in the east - the very region where, F1 supremo, Bernie Ecclestone is intent on taking F1 - means that in Europe, which remains the sport's heartland even though it is losing out on events and, according to Ecclestone, set to become the new third world, the races are shown at broadcasting unfriendly times.

In a classic case of wanting his cake and devouring it, Ecclestone wants the races in the (cash rich) east but held at a time that is convenient for the vast majority of the sports fans in Europe.

Singapore is due to host the first night race later this year, and already several existing venues are looking at the idea while potential venues will no doubt be advised that such a schedule is prerequisite to a deal being concluded.

In addition to the vast sums that organizers pay to Ecclestone for the privilege of hosting a race, the Englishman also depends on the revenue from TV broadcasters who want the race shown (live) when it will attract the greatest audience, as opposed to an early hours showing which will only attract diehard fans, insomniacs and the unemployed - of which there are many in the UK.

Ecclestone doesn't receive the gate receipts from the races so how a track like Sepang balances the books, when fans are already thin on the ground, is up to them.

Whether a night race would attract more fans to the actual event, bearing in mind people have work the following day, remains to be seen. However, organisers would have to take into the account that in addition to Ecclestone's ever-increasing fees for the rights to host a race, the necessary equipment for a night time event would further drive up costs. Speaking last week, Australian Grand Prix Corporation boss, Ron Walker, claimed that, as far as Albert Park is concerned, the equipment for a night race would cost "$45m AUD (20.6m), and an extra $7m AUD (3.2m)" for the erection and dismantling.

However, Mahathir claims that some of the cost can be justified: "We have also studied the impact of having lighting technology at the circuit and we have come to the conclusion that it will help generate bigger revenue as the circuit can be rented for night racing."

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