Once the up-and-coming motorsport circuit in Malaysia with its eye firmly on the world stage, Johor has become the rather forgotten cousin of Sepang and the now much-missed Shah Alam circuit.
After a brief ascent to the top of the pyramid, Johor slipped quickly into relative obscurity, mainly becoming used for track days and smaller races.
In 2015 plans for a complete redevelopment were announced and the circuit was closed to the public. The plans fell through with attention switching to another new circuit, since when the Johor circuit has effectively been mothballed.
The circuit was built in 1986, initially catering to the growing numbers of local motorsport enthusiasts but soon gained recognition not only regionally, but also internationally. In 1990, just four years after it was built, the circuit was upgraded to the strict FIM Grand Prix homologation requirements and looked to be waiting in the wings for a place on the Grand Prix calendar. No doubt to its backers disgust, the race actually headed to Shah Alam instead in 1991, though there was at least the consolation of being included on the World Superbike Championships in 1992 and 1993. Raymond Roche, Doug Polen took the wins in the first year, with Carl Fogarty scoring a clean sweep the following year.
It wasn't until 1998 and further upgrades that Johor was finally accepted onto the FIM World Motorcycle Championships calendar - in place of the Selangor circuit. The upgrades costing RM2.5 million included a general widening of the track and other safety and security upgrades.
The event proved to be a one-off - the following year the race headed off to Sepang where it has remained ever since. Nevertheless, it provided a few memorable moments, not least during qualifying for the 125cc race when a cobra slithered onto the track, rearing up at Lucio Cecchinello as he leant into a corner during the morning session. It was then struck and killed by the knee of another Italian, Gino Borsoi. The race was a less eventful affair, with Noboru Ueda taking out the 125cc victory while Tetsuya Harada took the 250cc encounter, with fastest lap set by a young Valentino Rossi.
In the main 500cc race, Australian Mick Doohan won a closely-fought encounter from pole position for Honda. Spain's Carlos Checa came in 2.634 seconds behind Doohan, while Biaggi finished third, 4.410 seconds behind Checa. It was to be the only Grand Prix held at the venue.
And that was it - at least as far as international racing was concerned. Sepang would continue to bask in the spotlight, while Johor made do with national and regional racing. Even the closure of Shah Alam did little to improve its fortunes and a period of decline began. By 2015 facilities were more than a little faded and the whole circuit was in need of a revamp. Then, in September, the Sultan of Johor announced (via his Instagram account!) that the circuit was to get a fresh lick of paint, with plans including the incorporation of a driving academy as well as a museum built to "showcase the history of motor sports in Johor." Perhaps this was to have included the collection of classic cars and motorbikes of the royal motoring enthusiast.
Unlike previous refurbishments, the idea was to gear the efforts towards grass roots motorsport rather than chasing the bright lights of Formula One or other international series - the Sultan seemingly having concluded that Sepang has this market cornered and so a more sustainable local approach was needed.
At the end of 2015, the circuit duly closed for renovations - supposedly for track resurfacing and work to upgrade the barriers, but it seems like these plans fell through. There has been no further update on progress, save for a slightly terse message on the circuit's official Facebook page in 2018, advising that the track would remain closed with no events that year. Since then radio silence appears to have been the order of the day.
It seems that the Sultan had been swayed by a scheme for a new international circuit, designed by Herman Tilke, called Fastrackcity. The project, at Iskandar Puteri, was to be bankrolled by Singapore billionaire Peter Lim with the Johor royal family as partner, and Malaysia's state-owned UEM Land. However, despite earthwork commencing in 2017, a target completion date of 2019 rolled round with little real progress and the future of this project is now also in doubt.
So, it appears Johor's mothballing may be as an insurance policy in case the new circuit never gets built. What ultimately happens to the former Superbike and FIM Grand Prix circuit remains as up in the air as ever. A pity.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
- The Johor Racing Circuit, Jalan Litar, Johor, Jalan Bandar, Kawasan Perindustrian Pasir Gudang, 81700 Pasir Gudang, Johor, Malaysia
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Johor Circuit is located at Pasir Gudang in Johor province, Malaysia. The nearest international airport is Senai Airport, around 40 minutes' drive to the north of Johor Bahru. The circuit is also ideally located for access from Singapore's Changi Airport, though this will involve an hour's drive to cross the border at the Woodlands crossing.
The circuit is located a short distance from the Pasir Gudang Highway (Route 17). Take the exit at Pasir Gudang (signposted for Masai and Kong Kong) and head onto Jalan Basar and follow signs to the circuit.
Please note, however, that as of 2015 the circuit has been effectively in a dormant state and no access is permitted.
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