Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’

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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
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Mark Webber hopes the E-Prix will inspire a new generation of racers. (Supplied)
Updated 22 November 2019

Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah E-Prix: A ‘fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality’

  • Partnership between ABB FIA Formula E Championship and Kingdom wins praise from French driver Jean-Eric Vergne
  • Saudis Fahad Algosaibi, Reema Juffali and Aseel Al-Hamad among those racing in Diryah E-Prix 2019

RIYADH: Reigning Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne has lauded the partnership between the electric racing championship and Saudi Arabia in the lead-up to the weekend’s double-header Diriyah E-Prix.

Like last year, this weekend’s race at the UNESCO World Heritage site in Riyadh kicks off the ABB FIA Formula E Championship and Vergne is looking to complete a historic hat-trick this season.

The Frenchman made electric racing history after becoming the first back-to-back champion in Formula E following his title winning campaigns in 2017/18 and last year’s 2018/2019 season, which kicked off with the inaugural Diriyah E-Prix — hailed as a watershed moment in the Kingdom.

In comments ahead of this weekend’s action, Vergne was full of praise for what has been achieved in the Kingdom.

“I think what Formula E and Saudi Arabia has done is more than just create a fantastic racetrack with the biggest hospitality on top of a very nice layout. Formula E is written in golden letters in the history of the country.

“When you speak to everybody here, they tell you Formula E was at the beginning of a new era for them. I was having dinner with friends who are locals and they said ‘we never expected to see that quickly, they’ve done a fantastic job and it is very much liked by the population.’

“When the kids grow up they will know Formula E was the key to opening up the country and we can all feel proud to be part of it.”

Saudi drivers Fahad Algosaibi — who will compete in the Jaguar I-PACE eTROPHY support race to the Diriyah E-Prix — and Reema Juffali, racing in the same event and the first woman from the Kingdom to race in Saudi Arabia, agree with Vergne’s assessment.

 

“Diriyah is a place full of history and driving electric cars which symbolizes the future,” said Algosaibi.

“I think in so many ways this race symbolizes the trajectory of where Saudi Arabia wants to go in the future. I think we are striving to be a society that is open, it is easy for anyone to be involved.

“I think in Saudi Arabia now we have so much to offer. The Saudi Motorsport Federations has a lot of plans on how to grow the sport. I’ve heard rumours of Formula One but there’s also a lot of focus on karting, which is essential as that is the grassroots level.”

Juffali told Arab News: “For me, more than anything, it’s about the opportunity. To be able to do it around home fans and for people to see me in the car for the first time, it’s amazing.

“The fact that I’m here now racing at home in a professional manner is something that I didn’t dream of.”

 

The importance of the Formula E event to the Kingdom was echoed by another Saudi driver Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member on the board of the Saudi Arabia Motor Federation, who spoke to Arab News after driving the new all-electric Porsche Taycan from Dubai to Riyadh with former Formula One driver Mark Webber.

“It’s very, very important because in past years, motorsport wasn’t that popular, maybe most of the people used to watch football,” she said.

“But today when we have such international motorsport events, so many people get closer to the sport and understand the rules. Maybe this young generation, when they go to the race, attend the race, they might be inspired and probably consider motorsport as a career.”

Webber, her co-driver for the epic trip in Porsche’s most powerful electric model and nine-time Formula One Grand Prix winner, told Arab News that he is excited, confident and optimistic about the race in Diriyah.

The Australian, who is also an International Automobile Federation World Endurance Champion and a Porsche ambassador, said that it is an exciting time for Porsche to enter a new championship and that Formula E is a mature competition.

“It’s established and it’s going all around the world racing and taking races to the people. So it’s really under their nose to watch what formula E has to offer,” he said.

Webber added that the Porsche team is open to the fact that Formula E is going to be a tough championship for them to compete in.

“We know we’ve got some top rivals. Porsche absolutely loves to come in with their eyes open, respectful of the opposition.”

Samer Issa-El-Khoury is the man who oversaw the construction of the Diriyah Circuit with only three weeks’ time to deliver the venue.

“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,” said Issa-El-Khoury, an engineer by trade and managing partner of CBX, a sports promotion company with exclusive rights for Formula E in the Middle East.

“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 for the 2019/2020 ABB season.”

Explaining how the Diriyah E-Prix stands out from other circuits, Issa-El-Khoury said: “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.”

Issa-El-Khoury says electric racing represents the future of motorsports and also emphasizes sustainability and clean energy. From that standpoint, having a a Formula E race in Diriyah “is 100 percent in line with Saudi Arabia's plan and Vision 2030" to wean itself off oil and to move to the forefront of “sustainable energy and carbon neutrality,” he said.

“This is a significant message to the world because the Vision’s success will most definitely have global reverberations.”

Diriyah E-Prix 2019 is part of the Diriyah Season, a month of sports and entertainment, with both days’ racing followed by concerts featuring artists such as Imagine Dragons and Canadian Lebanese singer Massari.

Tickets for all Diriyah Season events, concerts and entertainment will be available at www.diriyahseason.sa

News and announcements related to Diriyah Season can be followed on the official social media pages on Twitter and Instagram @diriyahseason


Tiger Woods-led US golfers deny Els’ dream to win Presidents Cup

Updated 15 December 2019

Tiger Woods-led US golfers deny Els’ dream to win Presidents Cup

  • Crushing loss for Ernie Els’ young Internationals who led for the first three days
  • Tiger Woods becomes the most successful Presidents Cup golfer in history

MELBOURNE: Tiger Woods’ United States produced a stunning turnaround to deny the Internationals a first Presidents Cup in 21 years Sunday, dominating the singles on a tense final day that went to the wire at Royal Melbourne.
Veteran Matt Kuchar was the hero, with his winning putt on the 17th in the penultimate match enough to ensure victory, sparking wild celebrations from playing-captain Woods, who set the tone by getting the first point on the board.
It was a crushing loss for Ernie Els’ young Internationals who led for the first three days of the biennial match play event but failed to deliver the killer blow against a more experienced and accomplished US team.
They went into the 12 singles matches with a 10-8 lead but the tide began quickly turning with Patrick Reed and Dustin Johnson among those racing to big early leads with the scoreboard swathed in US red.
When Webb Simpson beat South Korea’s An Byeong-hun, the US went 15-12 in front and needed just half a point with the Internationals leading in two of three matches still in play.
Australian Cameron Smith grabbed one more point by beating Justin Thomas, ensuring a nailbiting finale with Kuchar’s heroics on 17 ensuring there was no way back Els’ team.
“I trusted all my 11 guys. I trusted them implicitly. I told them from the very get go. They went out there and got the points we needed. We fought,” said Woods.
“Even the points we lost, we were making them earn every one of them, and this Cup wasn’t going to be given to us. We had to go earn it, and we did.”
It was a remarkable comeback. No side before had rallied to win on the last day after trailing for three days, further cementing the reputation of Woods, who went undefeated in his three matches.
US President Donald Trump, an avid golf fan, immediately paid tribute on social media.
“Congratulations to Tiger and the entire US Team on a great comeback and tremendous WIN. True Champions!” he tweeted.
The playing-captain, in his ninth Presidents Cup, set the tone from the front, going out first in the singles and winning 3 and 2 against battling Mexican Abraham Ancer.
In doing so he passed Phil Mickelson to become the most successful Presidents Cup golfer in history with a 27-win, 15-loss and 1-tied record to his countryman’s 26-16-13.
It was the United States’ 11th victory in 13 editions of the event. One was drawn with the lone International win coming in 1998, also at Royal Melbourne.
Woods nailed a birdie on the second after a stunning approach shot to take an early lead and although Ancer fought back, Woods’ putter was running hot and he was two up through 10.
The 15-time major winner was striding around Royal Melbourne on a mission and nailed a monster putt on the 16th for the 3 and 2 win.
At one stage the Americans were ahead in nine matches, and world number five Johnson ensured a second point, crushing Li Haotong 4 and 3.
It ended a difficult first Presidents Cup for a Chinese player who was overlooked for the opening two days and never looked at ease.
Patrick Reed’s caddie was banned after shoving a fan on Saturday as tensions boiled over after the controversial American’s penalty for improving his lie in the Bahamas last week.
The former Masters champion turned to his swing coach to carry his bag and it worked wonders as raced six up through seven against Taiwan’s CT Pan in a scintillating display in front of taunting fans.
Pan woke up and won three in a row but it was in vain with the American winning 4 and 2.
The US were on a roll with Tony Finau earning a valuable half point against Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, who looked to be on track for a win after going four clear through 10.
South Korea’s Im Sung-jae was a bright spot. Despite being just 21, the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year again showed his huge potential by comfortably beating US Open champion Gary Woodland.