Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
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Updated 24 February 2021

Diriyah circuit on track to create history under lights

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jerry Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh. (Supplied/File Photos)
  • E-Prix double-header launches 2020-21 Formula E season on Feb. 26-27

RIYADH: For a brief moment, the man who has worked tirelessly for over a year to ensure this weekend’s Diriyah E-Prix double-header goes ahead without a hitch relaxed and allowed himself a smile of satisfaction.

“We are unbelievably excited as you can imagine,” said Gerard Inzerillo, CEO of Diriyah Gate Development Authority. Or Jerry to his friends.

Appointed in 2018 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Inzerillo is about to oversee his third Formula E event in Riyadh, with the single-seater electric car series now given world championship status by the FIA governing body for the 2020-21 season.

He recalls an almost superhuman effort to organize the inaugural race in the 2018-19 campaign.

“We had a lot of work to do, and because of the unbelievable leadership of Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal and our wonderful colleagues at Formula E, we were able to pull off that race in 87 days.”

The three-day event saw post-racing concerts by the likes of Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Black Eyed Peas, Amr Diab, OneRepublic and David Guetta. The Kingdom had seen nothing like it before.

“We had 100,000 people, the people of Diriyah loved it,” said Inzerillo. “But it was not easy, it was disruptive and we had a lot of work to get done. It was the largest international sport event that the Kingdom had seen at the time.”

READ MORE

An interview with DGDA CEO Jerry Inzerillo on Diriyah’s Formula E and the nighttime races in the Kingdom, which will kick off the 2021 Formula E season. More here.

 

Then, for the 2019-20 season opening, Diriyah became the first circuit to host a double-header of E-Prix races. On Friday, the circuit will see another first with the hosting of the first-ever night races with new sustainable LED technology.

Beyond the obvious turmoil brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, one major disruption has proved the most challenging between the last race in late 2019 and this weekend’s event.

“We had to rip up the whole track,” Inzerillo said. “We put in hundreds of millions of dollars of Diriyah infrastructure. Water, power, sewerage, all of which we had to do because of this gigantic masterplan. But we were very time-constrained because we only had one year to get everything done. Thanks to a great development team and a great operations team, and certainly all the great work done by our colleagues at Formula E, we were able to compete everything in 11 months.”

Thousands of workers at every level worked diligently to make sure the circuit was completed, and construction had to adhere to the tightest regulations.

“Maybe they were being nice to me, but most of the drivers told me that their favorite track was Diriyah,” said Inzerillo. “Where it’s sensitive with the UNESCO World Heritage site is that the track had to be configured in such a way to minimize vibration. And the Formula E did it. As a matter of fact, because of the track and the way it was designed, it allowed us to put in all-new pedestrian walkways, so after the race is over, the community has got kilometers of sidewalks and kerbs and street lights.”

For Inzerillo, this is vital for the moment the Formula E extravaganza wraps up for another year. Maintaining Diriyah is a 365-day-a-year job for him.

“Now you see people jogging, on bicycles, families with baby carriages, 22,000 new trees,” he said. “It’s not just been exciting to have this beautiful backdrop to the UNESCO World Heritage site in camera view, but we also serve the community, and we’ve served his Royal Highness’ vision of doing things in an environmentally sustainable technologies and plantings. So it’s a win, win, win.”

Every aspect of the Diriyah circuit construction had to satisfy Formula E and Saudi Vision 2030 sustainability targets.

“We have no choice,” Inzerillo said, smiling. “The crown prince is extremely strict on the issues of environmental protection, sustainability, new technologies and quality of life. And his commitment and strictness is the same in the preservation of the birthplace of the Kingdom as it is in the Red Sea with all of the projects that are going on there, as it is with the futuristic city of NEOM. Some people can say, NEOM is going to be the city of the future, but the crown prince applies the same vision and the same commitment to a city that is 400 years old.”

Samer Issa-El-Khoury, managing partner at CBX, the promoter of the Diriyah E-Prix, said that it is no coincidence that Formula E ended up at Diriyah, as the Kingdom’s leaders wanted to combine the future of electric cars with the history of the site.

“When we started in 2018, we had extensive meetings with all the stakeholders related to this project — from the Ministry of Sport, the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, the FIA and UNESCO,” he said.

Under discussion were Diriyah’s UNESCO heritage status, the FIA regulations that protect drivers, time constraints and broadcasting images of Diriyah in the most spectacular way possible.

READ MORE

With the Diriyah E-Prix only days away, Stoffel Vandoorne of Mercedes-EQ Formula E Team is hoping to start the 2020-21 Formula E season just as he ended the last; by winning. More here.

 

Issa-El-Khoury, who played a major part in designing the Diriyah circuit, said that great steps were taken to ensure the lighting lux level would be consistent across the whole track, both for the safety of drivers and to meet broadcasting needs.

Meanwhile, the drivers, many of whom count the Canadian engineer of Lebanese origin as a friend, are itching to hit the track under the lights.

“The drivers were super-excited,” he said. “They’ve tried this track during the day and they are very excited to try it out at night. Andre Lotterer (TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E team) yesterday posted on Instagram that Diriyah is one of his favorite tracks because of the setting, because of the challenges of the track, because it goes downhill and then it goes back uphill on a straight line. It will be a first for all drivers to drive on street circuit, at night, with LED lights.”

LED consumes 50 percent less energy than metal-halide lighting, and Issa-El-Khoury believes those little steps in conserving energy will lead to bigger ones down the line — and not just in Saudi Arabia.

“You might say that you’re lighting the track and still using energy, but today R&D and Formula E aspire to make changes one race at a time, one city at a time and to start introducing change to those cities,” he said. “They’ll move from the track to people’s homes.”

With the track all set for the action, you would not blame either man taking a night or two off to enjoy the action, though chances are they will be as consumed by their respective concerns as ever.

“The track is beautiful and it complements the UNESCO site,” Inzerillo said. “And, most important, my community, the people and neighbors who live in Diriyah, they see the race as a very positive thing because it delivers a lot of economic benefits. Every time the race has happened, their neighborhood and their quality of life has improved.”

This year there might not be any spectators in the stands, or post-race concerts, but the noise, and certainly the bright lights, will be there for all in Diriyah to see.

For Issa-El-Khoury, the track and nighttime conditions are a “winning combination” that will bring out the best in the drivers on Friday and Saturday.

“All the cars are almost the same,” he said. “Heroes will be made in Diriyah.”


UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures
Updated 22 April 2021

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures

UAE Pro League announces dates for remaining fixtures
  • Al-Jazira top the table with 50 points, followed by Baniyas on 49 and Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on 43
  • Fujairah and Hatta occupy the two relegation spots at the bottom of the table

The UAE Pro League (known for sponsorship reasons as the Arabian Gulf League) has announced the dates of its remaining fixtures, the Emirates News Agency reported on Thursday.

With three rounds of fixtures still to be played following a short break to accommodate the AFC Champions League group stages, Al-Jazira top the table with 50 points, followed by Baniyas on 49 and Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai on 43. Fujairah and Hatta occupy the two relegation spots at the bottom of the table.

For each of the remaining rounds, all teams will compete on the same day. Matchweek 24 will be played on Monday, May 3, with Ittihad Kalba vs. Al-Ain, Al-Wasl vs. Khorfakkan, and Al-Nasr vs. Al-Dhafra all kicking off at 9 p.m. UAE time. The games between Sharjah and Hatta, Ajman and Al-Jazira, Fujairah and Al-Wahda, and Bani Yas and Shabab Al-Ahli will kick off at 11 p.m.

The 25th round of games will be held on Friday, May 7, with Khorfakkan vs. Fujairah, Ajman vs. Sharjah, and Hatta vs. Ittihad Kalba kicking off at 9 p.m. and Al-Jazira vs. Al-Ain, Al-Dhafra vs. Bani Yas, Al-Wahda vs. Al-Nasr, and Shabab Al-Ahli vs. Al-Wasl kicking off at 11 p.m.

The final round of matches on Tuesday, May 11 will see Al-Jazira take on Khorfakkan, Al-Ain vs. Hatta, Fujairah vs. Ajman, Ittihad Kalba vs. Sharjah, Al-Wasl vs. Al-Dhafra, Bani Yas vs. Al-Wahda, and Al-Nasr vs. Shabab Al-Ahli. Kick-off times have yet to be confirmed.

The UAE Pro League said in a statement that it had arranged the fixtures to ensure equal opportunities for all teams, whether they are competing for the title, battling to avoid relegation, or aiming to secure a place in next season’s AFC Champions League.


Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan
Updated 22 April 2021

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan

Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate ‘a proud man’ after team’s dramatic AFC Champions League comeback against Al-Rayyan
  • Three goals in 24 minutes saw Abu Dhabi team claim all three points against Qatari opponents

RIYADH: Al-Wahda coach Henk ten Cate has revealed his delight with his players’ attitude after the Abu Dhabi team on Tuesday recovered from a two-goal deficit to defeat Al-Rayyan SC 3-2 in Group E of the 2021 AFC Champions League.

Fares Juma’s stoppage-time winner secured Al-Wahda their first win of the campaign, taking them to second in the group on four points, five behind leaders Persepolis who defeated FC Goa 2-1 in the other Tuesday match.

Dutchman ten Cate praised his players for the fightback that saw three goals in 24 minutes dramatically defeat their Qatari opponents.

Speaking to the AFC official website, he said: “I’m a proud man. Especially to see where we are coming from. We had to play with a man down in the last 15 minutes and needed some luck. You need to have luck to win games and we had some today.

“I brought in a few players late in the second half and one of them was a 16-year-old (Awadh Mohamed). Then suddenly something changed within the team. Those players changed the way the game was played. They brought some renewed energy to the team and scored one goal.

“I’m extremely proud of my team, I know how much this win means to them. We have injured players, with little rest to restore our strength and I’m really happy with their team effort. Everybody in the UAE should be proud,” he added.

Al-Rayyan were the better side for most of the first half but started to fade after the break, and another collapse followed after a similar one against Persepolis.

After another three goals were conceded having taken the lead, Al-Rayyan find themselves at the bottom of Group E with coach Laurent Blanc admitting that the latest defeat to Al-Wahda has made things more difficult for the club’s progress into the Round of 16.

“It was a disaster. Honestly, I felt we played well. It was incredible the way we played. But we made some mistakes and conceded goals,” Blanc told the AFC website.

“I think both teams wanted to play good football and as you can see it was not a boring match. At the end of the day, to lose the match at this stage of the competition makes things complicated for us.

“If anyone saw us up by two goals, it should be 3-0 and then game over. But instead, we conceded and lost the match. That is football,” the Frenchman said.

Al-Rayyan will have a chance to make amends when the two teams square off again on Friday.


5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark
Updated 22 April 2021

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark

5 things we learned from Saudi teams’ results as AFC Champions League group stage hits halfway mark
  • Al-Hilal, Al-Nassr edge closer to knockout stages while Al-Ahli finale claimed first win

RIYADH: At the halfway stage of the AFC Champions League plenty has happened for the three Saudi Arabian representatives and all are in with a chance of making the next stage.

In the latest round of matches, Al-Nassr drew 1-1 with Foolad of Iran to stay top of a tight Group D with five points; Al-Hilal defeated Tajikistan’s Istiklol 3-1 to go three points clear at the top of Group A; and Al-Ahli picked up a 3-0 win over Al-Shorta of Iraq and now have four points in Group C.

Here are five things we learned about Matchday Three.

1. There is a danger of recent history repeating itself

It is just a few months since Al-Hilal were forced to withdraw from the group stage of the 2020 AFC Champions League after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tore through the squad and staff.

Al-Nassr are not at that stage yet but the fact that five players and four other members of the club have tested positive is of huge concern to everyone. If it gets worse, then there is a real danger that the nine-time Saudi Arabian champions could be out.

As coach Mano Menezes pointed out, it is not just about the players who have contracted COVID-19, there are psychological effects among those who are still playing. “We must find new ways to compensate for the absence of players due to the coronavirus,” the Brazilian boss said.

“I am concerned about the effect on the players psychologically, and on the group as well and that is something that we have to think about.”

2. From now it is all about fitness and squad depth

Six games in the space of 15 days are going to be a punishing schedule especially given the time of year and the conditions in Saudi Arabia. Now the real tests come.

There is no time for training, just rest, recovery, and preparation. Coaches will have to rotate and will need to use all their experience to get the best out of their squads. Those with the strongest benches will have the best chance of getting through.

Tractor FC head coach Rasoul Khatibi spoke for many after his team’s 0-0 draw with Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya.

“After the 70th minute our players were exhausted and both teams had to stay focused to see it through. For the next match, we will make sure we have a quick recovery to avoid this experience of losing energy in the latter part of the game. The team with the better recovery will have a better chance in the next match,” he said.

3. Hattan Bahebri steps forward for Al-Hilal

The encouraging thing for the three-time champions is that various players have stepped forward in the games so far. That was the case in the 3-1 win over Istiklol.

It was always going to be that the Tajikistan powerhouse would sit back and allow the Saudi champions possession, and it was used to very good effect by Hattan Bahebri who set up the opener and then grabbed two goals of his own. Both were delightful finishes. The first saw the winger cut inside on the edge of the area and the second was a cheeky chip that was worthy of winning any game.

A repeat performance against the same team on Saturday will leave Al-Hilal with one foot in the second round and Bahebri an even brighter reputation.

4. Al-Nassr show what they are made of

It was not a surprise that Al-Nassr were not as impressive in their 1-1 draw with Foolad as when defeating Al-Sadd three days earlier.

Injuries and absences took their toll and given that, it was a decent performance, and they were perhaps a little unlucky not to collect three points against solid Iranian opposition.

The goal conceded was a little weak and could have been avoided had usual No. 1 Brad Jones been available.

Once again, coach Mano Menezes looked to hit the opposition on the counter as much as possible and had the finishing been a little better and the Iranian goalkeeper not made a couple of excellent saves, then three points could have been taken.

If Al-Nassr can avoid losing more players due to COVID-19 and continue playing this way, then a place in the second round is very much within reach.

5. Al-Ahli break the streak

After 10 games without a win, a dismal run that included seven defeats, Al-Ahli finally tasted victory with a 3-0 victory over Al-Shorta of Iraq.

The opposition may have been the weakest team in the group but had the Saudi team failed to win it would have been hard to see a way back in the group.

It was a nervy start but once the Jeddah club took the lead, they looked fairly comfortable and saw the game out.

The question is, what happens next? Can Al-Ahli actually make it out of the group? Just challenging would be a step in the right direction. Another win against the same opposition would put the three-time Saudi champions right in the mix.

That would mean they would have to get something against Al-Duhail and Esteghlal, but the confidence would be there and there would be a chance. That is the ideal scenario and gets the team back on track.


Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia
Updated 22 April 2021

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia

Peshawar Zalmi excited to be ‘first team from Pakistan’ to play in Saudi Arabia
  • Earlier this month, franchise owner Javed Afridi challenged the Saudi cricket team to a friendly match

KARACHI: Players from the Pakistan Super League (PSL) franchise, Peshawar Zalmi, have said they were excited to be “the first team from Pakistan” to play a friendly match in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, franchise owner Javed Afridi wished the Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) the best over its media partnership with Arab News, and challenged the Saudi cricket team to play a friendly match against Peshawar Zalmi. SACF accepted the challenge. A date for the match has yet to be announced.

Peshawar Zalmi have won the title of Pakistan’s hugely popular Pakistan Super League once, and been a runner-up twice since the tournament’s launch in 2016. Arab News Pakistan has been an international media partner for Peshawar Zalmi since 2020.

“This will be the first team of Pakistan to go and play in Saudi Arabia,” Kamran Akmal, a wicket-keeper batsman who opens the innings for the team, told Arab News in an interview last week.

“International players will come (to Saudi Arabia) to play cricket. So, they will also get experience ... This is a good sign when players like Wahab Riaz (Peshawar Zalmi captain) and international players like Saqib (English bowler) will go there ... their young players will get good experience.”

“They (Saudi Arabia) will get to know how to improve cricket, how the environment should be, how other teams play, so it’s a good sign for Saudi cricket,” Akmal added.

Speaking to Arab News, Peshawar Zalmi captain Riaz said a friendly match between his team and the Saudi team would be a “great opportunity.”

“It’s really good that a country like Saudi Arabia is taking interest in cricket, because they are well known for football mostly. So, it’s a great challenge for us as well. And it’s going to be a fun game, honestly, to play against the Saudis, so they will get some experience as well,” Riaz added.

He said he hoped Saudi Arabia would develop a good team in the coming years and that Peshawar Zalmi would have some role to play in their development.

“Because in Peshawar Zalmi, you know, a lot of Pakistan and international players are playing. So that will give them (Saudi team) some confidence, that will give them some experience,” Riaz said. “And then I think with the passage of time, they will start working on their skills and they will become better.”

Sending a message to the around 2.6 million Pakistanis who live in Saudi Arabia, Riaz invited them to come and watch Peshawar Zalmi play Saudi Arabia.

“My message to them is that they should come, they should see us, they should support both of us, even Saudi Arabia team,” the team captain said. “They can take that entertainment and excitement which they have been missing from the last few years. The message is they should always come support both the teams and enjoy the game.”

In March, Pakistan suspended the PSL tournament after seven team personnel tested positive for COVID-19. The series is expected to resume in June.


Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus
Updated 21 April 2021

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus

Super League dead as Italian, Spanish clubs follow English exodus
  • The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments

LONDON: The two Milan giants and Atletico Madrid followed all six English Premier League clubs in pulling out of the European Super League on Wednesday, dealing a fatal blow to the project.

The withdrawals by Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham came just 48 hours after the league’s unveiling late on Sunday following a furious response from fans and officials.

The three Italian clubs involved — Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan — admitted defeat and La Liga leaders Atletico Madrid also pulled out.

Real Madrid and Barcelona  — the last of the initial group of 12 clubs to sign up — have yet to make any comment but the project in its current form is dead in the water.

AC Milan were one of the main drivers behind the plans, having missed out on the Champions League for the past seven seasons.

The seven-time European champions said change was necessary due to the changing football landscape but admitted they “must be sensitive to the voice of those who love this wonderful sport.” 

Italian champions Juventus said they remained “convinced of the soundness of the project’s sport, commercial and legal premises” but accepted it could not go ahead in its original form.

The Super League promised guaranteed entry for its founding clubs and billions of dollars in payments. Most of the clubs have huge debts and wage bills, and suffered a sharp drop in revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the project was vehemently opposed across the football spectrum, from fans to players, coaches, politicians and UEFA and FIFA, the European and world football bodies.

The clubs were threatened with a ban from domestic and European football, while their players could even have been barred from representing their countries.

UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin struck a conciliatory tone on Wednesday, saying he wanted to “rebuild the unity” of European football, and described the English clubs as “back in the fold.” 

“I said yesterday that it is admirable to admit a mistake and these clubs made a big mistake,” Ceferin said in a statement.

“But they are back in the fold now and I know they have a lot to offer not just to our competitions but to the whole of the European game.

“The important thing now is that we move on, rebuild the unity that the game enjoyed before this and move forward together.”

Shares in Juventus plunged by more than 13 percent on Wednesday following a slump in the value of Manchester United stocks.

In response to the English pullouts, the Super League had said it was looking for ways to “reshape,”  insisting the “status quo of European football needs to change”.

“We shall reconsider the most appropriate steps to reshape the project,” its statement said.

Liverpool owner John W Henry apologized for his part in the planned Super League after club captain Jordan Henderson said the players did not want it to happen.

“I want to apologize to all the fans and supporters of Liverpool Football Club for the disruption I caused over the last 48 hours,” the American said in a video posted on the club’s Twitter site.