12 February 2010
LONDON: A Malaysian team in the World MotoGP is the ultimate aim of Air Asia as they increase their foray into the sport this year.
Their chief executive officer, Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes, said here yesterday that the entry into MotoGP was not on an ad-hoc basis but with two specific targets for 2010.
“The first is to see a Malaysian champion in the mould of Valentino Rossi. The second is to have a team in the premier class in the long run,” he said.
Air Asia made their foray into MotoGP when they sponsored a Malaysian team of two wildcard riders for the 125cc race in the Malaysian GP last year. And the performance of Elly Idlianizar Illias and Mohd Zulfahmi Khairuddin to finish among the top 20 convinced Tony of Malaysian riders’ potential to race on the big stage.
He then decided to have Air Asia sponsor Zulfahmi for a full season in the 125cc world championships this year.
The chance to have a bigger role in MotoGP came when Dorna, the rights holders of the championships offered Air Asia to become the title sponsors of the British GP at Silverstone.
At the simple ceremony in Silverstone on Wednesday, Fernandes signed a sponsorship agreement for a three-year deal, beginning with this season’s event from June 18-20. Dorna were represented at the ceremony by their CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta.
“It is big honour for a Malaysian company to be signed on as title sponsors of this event. It is the growing interest in the Air Asia brand that has made this possible,” said Tony.
“We had a small role last year in sponsoring two of our riders in the Malaysian GP. That created quite an interest for us in the MotoGP scene and I came away impressed.
“So I had no hesitation in giving Zulfahmi a chance to shine on the full circuit and he has the potential to succeed
“Then Dorna made the offer for the British GP and we agreed to it. Britain is a top destination for our low cost carrier.
“We expect the market to grow and for more people from the Asean region to visit here. It is a win-win situation for us.
“And I can say that we may be heading for a long relationship in the sports.”
Tony added that the chance to see a Malaysian champions emerge was the main reason for their foray into MotoGP.
“It is going to be a long process and if we do it right, I am convinced that there is a chance for such a champion.
“It may be Zulfahmi but we certainly would like to see more youngsters coming through the ranks and follow in the footsteps of this 19-year-old,” he said.
“A lot of hard work has to be put in and the financially aspect is just part of it. You need a team in place and slowly but surely we can do this. I believe in having a dream and making it happen. We have done it with Air Asia and why not in motor racing sports.”