Buriram International Circuit
The Buriram International Circuit, also known for commercial purposes as the Chang International Circuit (Thai: ช้าง อินเตอร์เนชั่นแนล เซอร์กิต), has exploded onto the motorsports scene, propelling Thailand onto the international stage for the first time.
The circuit has been created to the highest FIA and FIM standards, allowing it first to host the World Superbikes and then the prestigious MotoGP World Championships. Formula One is not on the immediate horizon, though the circuit would be eminently capable of hosting it provided it was re-certified at FIA Grade 1 status.
The ambition to make Buriram one of the most important circuits in Asia appears has largely been met, with other major series to visit including the Asian Le Mans Series, Formula 3 Asia, TCR International and more recently the FIA World Touring Car Championships.
The project is the mastermind of wealthy local politician and former cabinet minister Newin Chidchob, who also owns the football club with its lavish new stadium a short distance from the track. The aim was to build the rural city (whose name in the Khmer language means 'City of Happiness') into a sporting destination in a bid to boost its profile and attract tourism to the north east of Thailand.
Construction on the 2 billion baht (around £38 million) circuit began in March 2013 and progressed very quickly. Hermann Tilke was employed to design the masterplan, with the brief that as much of the track as possible should be viewable from the main 50,000 seat grandstand. With a 1,200 acre site available, this still allowed for the inclusion of two long straight sections (one of which is 1km in length), as well as a more compact complex in front of the grandstand.
Unusually, the pit garages themselves are located under the main grandstand so as not to obstruct the view and the result is a very imposing structure which dominates the skyline, reminiscent of the pit buildings at Le Mans.
A total of six circuit variations are available, three of which can be run simultaneously. The shorter layouts have been configured with local racing championships in mind, as these typically use much lower powered near-production vehicles which would not be well suited to the long straights.
The circuit was also designed from the outset with night racing in mind and features floodlighting around its length to FIA standards. Another quirk is the addition of two large ponds inside the perimeter, designed to help air circulate around the complex to lessen the effects of Thailand's humidity.
Construction was largely complete by September 2014 and an FIA inspection confirmed the circuit's Grade One status later that month following a track inspection. Originally, the circuit had been intended to meet Grade Two status only but the circuit's backers decided to press ahead with the higher grade in order to attract a greater selection of world series.
The circuit was inaugurated on October 4 and 5, 2014, with the visit of the Japanese Super GT series. Strong promotion of the event prompted 130,000 curious spectators to turn out across the race weekend, in many cases to see their first ever live motorsport event. They defied the baking heat and humidity to witness a victory for Kazuki Nakajima and James Rossiter of Petronas Tom's RCF in the GT500. Kazuki Hoshino and Spain's Lucas Ordonez of the Japanese NDDP Racing team took the GT300 honours.
Several other races completed the 2014 racing calendar, including the FIM Asia Road Racing Championship and the Thailand Super Series.
World Superbike and World Supersport made their debut in March 2015 and produced good races in front of a large crowd. The circuit drew praise from the riders, not least local hero Ratthapark Wilairot: "I really love it because you can see all the track if you are in the grandstand. Also when I'm riding I really enjoy it - it looks easy, but when you want to ride fast you cannot push accuracy. You have to go smooth and keep the corner speed fast."
Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rea also singled out the hairpin for praise: "Turn 3 is like a big balls corner because you enter in sixth gear and it's back three gears and you tip it in on bumps. That's a good feeling," he says.
The only modification to the circuit so far came in 2017, when the difficult pit entrance was re-located from after the final corner to just before it.