Diriyah E-Prix track designed to test drivers’ skills to the limit

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‘Last year it took us 90 days to build the entire track. This year, we only had four weeks to modify the track and build the whole venue,’ says Samer Issa-El-Khoury. (Supplied)
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‘Last year it took us 90 days to build the entire track. This year, we only had four weeks to modify the track and build the whole venue,’ says Samer Issa-El-Khoury. (Supplied)
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‘Last year it took us 90 days to build the entire track. This year, we only had four weeks to modify the track and build the whole venue,’ says Samer Issa-El-Khoury. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Diriyah E-Prix track designed to test drivers’ skills to the limit

  • Samer Issa-El-Khoury: ‘It’s a winding track and the drivers absolutely love such snake turns because it challenges both the car and the driver’
  • Issa-El-Khoury: ‘Having a Formula E race in Diriyah, which not only represents the future of motorsports but also emphasizes sustainability and clean energy’

Riyadh: In December 2018, the motorsport public witnessed the birth of Formula E in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with the opening race of the 2018/2019 ABB FIA Championship season. This year, they are back for a doubleheader season opener in what promises to be the most competitive season in this sport’s young history.

Arab News sat down with Samer Issa-El-Khoury, who raced against time to oversee the construction of the Diriyah Circuit. An engineer by trade, he is the Managing Partner of CBX, a sports promotion company with exclusive rights for Formula E in the Middle East.

Q. What changes were made to the circuit this year in order to enhance the driver and fan experience?

A. I have been following and attending every Formula E race around the planet in order to bring the best features and improvement to the Diriyah E-prix. From checking the pit structure in New York to the track asphalt in Berlin, hospitality structure in Zurich and fan user experience in Hong Kong, we wanted to incorporate the finest elements in order to make this race a truly memorable doubleheader opening for the 2019/2020 ABB season.

We made a change to the pit entry and created a bigger run-off area at turn 21 to improve competition as well as safety in line with FIA recommendations. We wanted to give more chances to the drivers for late breaking, as this is one of the most challenging circuits with a total of 21 turns. Some of these turns are downhill while others are uphill. It’s a winding track and the drivers absolutely love such snake turns because it challenges both the car and the driver. Only the best can survive on a track such as this one and only the best can win.

Q. What makes the Diriyah E-Prix stand out from other circuits, in terms of track engineering and design? And how will this translate in the two rounds?

A. The beautiful scenery, with Diriyah being not just a UNESCO world heritage site but also the birthplace of Saudi Arabia. There is massive significance in this. What is unique as well is the architecture and design of the Swiss-made and engineered Royal Cube structure which is installed to cater for the VVIP guests, underneath which the cars race. From an engineering point of view, it is something we are very proud of. What is interesting as well is that the Royal Cube was put up in just ten days and features two floors with a beautiful terrace on the third floor overlooking both the track and the UNESCO world heritage site.

Having a Formula E race in Diriyah, which not only represents the future of motorsports but also emphasizes sustainability and clean energy, is 100 per cent in line with Saudi Arabia’s plan and Vision 2030 to be at the forefront of sustainable energy and carbon neutrality. This is a significant message to the world because the Vision’s success will most definitely have global reverberations.

We coordinated very closely with all stakeholders such as Diriyah Gate Development Authority, the General Sports Authority, Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, Formula E and the Diriyah Season office. We served as an important link between all parties involved and we did so proudly because we believe in Diriyah, in Saudi Arabia, and we believe in sports as a core element of the livelihood of any society.

Q. This is a massive undertaking. How long did it take to construct and how many people are involved this time around, compared to last year? How did local and international construction crew and experts work hand in hand to put this together?

A. Last year it took us 90 days to build the entire track. This year, we only had four weeks to modify the track and build the whole venue. That’s less than half the time we previously had. We also built all structures in record time. Building such a track normally requires much longer, yet we’ve completed the entire venue in four weeks this year.

For the 2018 race we had over 3,000 people. This time around we have around 1500 people involved in the operation, all of whom of world-class calibre from world class sports events backgrounds such as the Olympics and Formula One. We have an international team working hand in hand with local Saudi talent and there is a big knowledge transfer. Given there is a ten-year deal to host an E-Prix in Saudi Arabia, we started increasing the volume of local involvement this year and decreasing reliance on international expertise as event-management, talent and suppliers in Saudi Arabia are incredible, specifically so in motorsports.

For example, last year it took us one month to build the pit structure, this year it took us twenty days. This showcases the learning curve of the local team after only one season in, so imagine over the next ten years how exponential the learning curve will be. 90% of the suppliers used during last year’s E-Prix were from abroad, this year we have 80% local suppliers, which represents a huge shift. Formula E and the Diriyah E-Prix encouraged the suppliers to come and set up shop in the country, which is great for the local economy. Hosting the race in Diriyah is creating so many local job opportunities.

Q. Tens of thousands are attending the race and millions will tune in to watch and expectations are elevated, what should they expect?

A. There were doubts last year’s whether E-Prix would be a success or not and whether the drivers and their teams would be happy. Following last year’s success, Formula E along with the General Sports Authotiy decided to do a doubleheader in Saudi Arabia! We therefore have two days of full racing. This shows the level of excitement from the drivers, the teams and the fans. As for the general motorsport public around the world, I cannot properly stress how high the level of enthusiasm is. They will be fortunate enough to see a champion on Friday and on Saturday.

  • Diriyah E-Prix 2019: The thrilling electric race returns with a double-header race weekend – 2 Races on Friday and Saturday, November 22nd & 23rd   


Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

Updated 06 December 2019

Joshua reveals he’s gone back to school ahead of Ruiz rematch

  • “I really started studying boxing again”: Joshua

RIYADH: Former world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua has admitted that he has been hitting the books just as hard as the gym in his six-month buildup to this weekend’s epic Clash On The Dunes bout in Riyadh.

The 30-year-old revealed that, as well as sparring with up to five fighters in a row, he committed to learning as much as he could about the “science of boxing” in his preparations for the rematch following his June defeat to Mexican-American fighter Andy Ruiz.

The pair meet again on Saturday in the jewel in the crown of Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah Season — with tickets selling fast in the face of phenomenal demand.

To Joshua, the fight is his chance of redemption following Ruiz’s shock win in New York’s Madison Square Garden, so he has left no stone unturned in his quest to produce the perfect performance under the lights and with the eyes of the world watching.

“After that fight, I knew my mistakes,” he told Arab News. “That’s why I said: ‘You were the better man that day. I give you it. First-ever Mexican champion. Hats off to you.’”

He continued: “I wasn’t low because I know I’m better than that and that I’ve got a lot more I needed to give. I just knew that me and Andy are different in every aspect — the only thing we have in common is time. So I made sure I used my time wisely because I knew I was going to get it right. I knew what I needed to work on. It was more strategic planning.

“Ever since I walked into boxing I’ve been dominating. From the amateurs — bosh, championship. Turned pro — bosh, championship. You never really understand what (you have) until it’s taken (from you).

“Then I had time to think and that’s when I really started studying boxing again. There is no doubt I can fight. I’ve been fighting top-level fighters. I’ve never really had an introduction level. I’ve just been straight on. I’ve now had the time to reflect, get my head right, get my head back in the game, and boost myself again and do what I did 10 years ago: take over this division.”

When asked what his studying entailed, Joshua — who won a gold medal in the heavyweight category at the 2012 London Olympics — explained: “Loads of videos. Sometimes you can put fighters side-by-side — both 6 feet 6 inches, both weighing roughly the same amount — but you can see one is more disciplined with technique than the other, you can then see why they became more successful in their field and you learn about the discipline of following through your tactics. Stuff like that.

“You learn about when you move to the left against an orthodox fighter: Is that a dangerous move or is that a smart move to control a fighter? What does it mean to move to the right? What’s the first art of defensive boxing? It’s your feet — get out the way. You start to indulge yourself in the sweet science. Before I was more, ‘I’ve just come to fight.’ Now I’ve learned about the sweet science of the sport, which is important as well.”

In line with his learning, Joshua has ensured his 3,000-mile trip from London does not impact his training and fight preparation. In the lead-up to June’s defeat, he spent seven weeks away from home in Miami. On this occasion, he has arrived only two weeks prior — allowing him to maintain a “training camp vibe” to his buildup.

He believes he is now in the perfect place ahead of Saturday’s blockbuster bout, admitting he actually finds the actual fight the least nerve-wracking part of the whole experience.

“I just kept a training routine and focused on business: Keep my focus and get the job done,” he said. “I’m not nervous at all. I’m confident. I don’t think I’ve ever been nervous for a fight. I’ve probably been more nervous sparring. I trap myself in a dungeon, so I feel like I’m an experiment in a lab. I then come and present my efforts to you.

“That’s why I feel I’ve got so much pressure on myself, because behind closed doors I work so hard mentally and physically to try and stay at the top. I spar, like, five guys in a row who come to take my head off, and I’ve got to be sharp in every second of that round, which will ultimately (affect) what I do on fight night. Training is the hardest part, I think. That’s why I’m never nervous about a fight, because I put so much work in in the gym.”

Ruiz’s win over Joshua in June sent reverberations across all divisions of the sport, with many considering it one of boxing’s biggest ever upsets. So, could lightning strike twice?

“I think it’s kind of like an exam, isn’t it?” said Joshua. “You go through it once, you fail. Most people fail their first driving test, then they go again and prepare better, so I think I’m better prepared if I’m honest with you. You will definitely see the energy in the fight a bit different this time.”

Asked what the outcome would be if he were to suffer a second defeat to Ruiz in seven months, Joshua said: “Definitely catastrophic. But I’m not even thinking about losing. It’ll be big business when I win. I just got to keep focusing on the win.”

He added, “Everyone fails their first driving test. I think I got mine the second time.”