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


Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

Updated 19 min 23 sec ago

Atletico catching all the breaks in Champions League

  • A victory against Leipzig will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since 2017

LISBON: So far so good for Atletico Madrid in the quest for their first Champions League title.

Diego Simeone’s team have caught all the breaks going into the decisive final-eight tournament in Lisbon.

Old foes Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo are gone. They drew Leipzig instead of a more traditional powerhouse for the quarterfinals. And their rival lost its top player after Timo Werner left for Chelsea. Even when things went wrong and the squad was hit by COVID-19, Atletico avoided the worst as only two players were infected and they could still make the trip to Portugal.

Things have been looking good for Simeone and his players.

A victory against Leipzig on Thursday will put Atletico back in the semifinals for the first time since it was eliminated by Ronaldo’s Madrid in the last four in 2017. Ronaldo and Madrid had defeated Atletico in the final in 2014 and 2016, and also ended the rival’s run in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Ronaldo again was Atletico’s nemesis last season after joining Juventus. Atletico lost to the Italian team in the round of 16 after Ronaldo scored a hat trick in the decisive second leg in Turin.

But this time Ronaldo and Juventus were eliminated by Lyon in the last 16, the same stage in which Madrid were knocked out of the tournament by Manchester City. Only two past champions are still left in the competition — Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and they play against each other in the opposite side of the draw, meaning Atletico could only meet one of them in the final.

Leipzig are a relative newcomer to the Champions League, having reached the group stage only twice. This is the first time they made it to the knockout round. They eliminated Tottenham in the round of 16, but now they won't count on top scorer Werner, who did not extend his contract by a few weeks to finish the season with the German club before moving to Chelsea.

Atletico stunned defending European champion Liverpool in the last 16, advancing after a 3-2 win in England.

“The game against Liverpool will go down in history and was one of the best we’ve had in a long time,” Atletico striker Diego Costa said. “It gave fans high expectations and we will give our best to try to meet those expectations. Hopefully we will play well and luck will stay on our side.”

Costa said Atletico will not take Leipzig lightly despite  the rival’s lack of experience in international competitions.

“They are very strong on the ball and know what they are about,” he said. “They have made it to the quarterfinals and have no pressure.”

There was a scare within Atletico this week when it announced two positive test results for COVID-19 among the group that was traveling to Lisbon. There were concerns that an outbreak within the club could have affected the team’s participation in the tournament in Portugal, but new tests showed that only Ángel Correa and Sime Vrsaljko were infected and the squad could travel to Lisbon.

Vrsaljko was not even going to play because he is nursing an injury, while Correa isn't among Atletico’s top stars even though he led the team in assists this season.

After coming agonizingly close recently, Atletico hope the breaks will keep going their way and that they  will finally get to lift the coveted European trophy.