Saudi Dakar Rally race director on steering the shift to sustainable tech in motor sports

Saudi Dakar Rally race director on steering the shift to sustainable tech in motor sports
David Castera, the race director of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 January 2024
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Saudi Dakar Rally race director on steering the shift to sustainable tech in motor sports

Saudi Dakar Rally race director on steering the shift to sustainable tech in motor sports
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab news, David Castera also details the intensive preparations for the annual event and how the Kingdom compares with previous hosts

RIYADH: Thanks to his sweeping journey from motor sports competitor to event mastermind, David Castera, the race director of the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, surely embodies the spirit of one of the world’s most grueling motor sports events like no one else.

He spent his competitive career as a professional Enduro and Rally Raid driver and was crowned National Enduro Champion in France in 1992. In 2019, he was appointed director of the Dakar Rally, overseeing the event’s move from South America to Saudi Arabia.

Since then, he has been in charge of the route planning and overall organization of the annual rally raid, which this month the Kingdom will host for the fifth time.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, Castera spoke about the evolving technological landscape of the Dakar Rally under his stewardship, the rigors of race planning, and the unique challenges that come with holding the race in Saudi Arabia.

How does the addition of new technology, including hydrogen-powered and electric vehicles, affect the Dakar Rally?

The Dakar needs to embrace new technology. It’s related to what’s happening in the world and climate issues. The Dakar must be part of and contribute to a mobility revolution. We are fortunate to have a sport that is highly demanding. If we can succeed in this sport, we can apply it to many others.

So it’s not the effects of vehicle technology on the Dakar, it’s more about the Dakar wanting to introduce these vehicles and new technologies to the rally, to the tracks. Why? Because the Dakar must align with today’s global issues, listen to them and, most importantly, serve as a laboratory.

Today, this is also the great strength of motor sport. It has always been a driver, an accelerator for technologies, including safety, performance and more.

The Dakar has begun its energy transformation and pushed new technologies so that they become part of the rally. We have the introduction of hydrogen and electric technologies but it doesn’t always progress as quickly as we want due to logistical challenges.

Today, we use them for demonstrations alongside our events to work on and develop the future of the rally so that one day we can make a complete transition. Right now, we’re in the experimentation phase but we’re working hard on the topic.

What keeps you going and what do you enjoy most about being on-site during the Dakar Rally?

First and foremost, I’m simply passionate about motor sports. I used to ride motorcycles before I got into rally raid. I became interested in the Dakar Rally at a very young age and was captivated by those vast expanses, deserts, and the idea of crossing them on motorcycles and in cars, facing the risks.

I also need that adrenaline rush. I can’t imagine living without it and I cultivate it in various ways on different levels. But being in the desert, setting up camps, as I’ve done numerous times in Saudi Arabia, those are extraordinary moments for me.

However, the 15 days of the rally itself don’t bring me the same pleasure. They are the least enjoyable because of the pressure and the many things to manage; it’s not the most pleasant part.

But things like reconnaissance missions, for example, traversing the country at a relaxed pace with smaller teams, that’s what motivates me, that’s what I enjoy. At that time, the passion I feel makes me want to share my experiences with the drivers afterward; obviously in a different way, because they are racing against the clock, while we are following and overlooking the racing action.

However, it is about conveying what I have experienced, the atmosphere, the people I have met, and I want to share that. When people are happy, I’m happy. But for me, the pleasure lies before the rally itself.

How much preparation time goes into organizing a Dakar Rally?

The Dakar Rally requires one year of preparation. We have several teams involved. There are the teams at the ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) office in Paris, who mainly work on the sporting aspects and the specifications. And then there are also all the Saudi teams associated with us, who are more focused on logistics.

Together, we work for over a year to prepare for this rally. So, we need to make about four to five inspection trips of around two weeks each to arrive at a more or less complete Dakar. Additionally, there are roadbook (a series of instructions for navigating the rally route, including turn-by-turn information) checks. So, we end up doing five or six complete passes of the Dakar in a year to prepare for it.

So we essentially do four Dakar rallies with our vehicles to prepare for one. But to give you an idea, we cover a lot of kilometers. Some routes get approved, others don’t. Some routes are prohibited, so we need to come back. There is a lot of work to ensure that everything is validated and well-organized by all the institutions so that we can launch the rally.

The 2024 Dakar Rally will be the fifth time the event has been staged in Saudi Arabia. What changes have you noticed in the past five years?

Indeed, the rally has evolved because, first and foremost, we have learned to understand the country, we have experienced the desert and learned to read, and work with, respective terrain. Initially, we barely touched the Empty Quarter. Today, we are fully immersed in it. We explore the dunes even more. So, we discover new territories, new tracks. And we adapt the Dakar accordingly.

It becomes more challenging with time because we get better at measuring the level of difficulty of the tracks. The difficulty of the sand, rocky tracks, and the weather has presented many challenges, forcing us to be cautious, because there can be heavy rain. We’ve experienced a lot of rain and had to change stages accordingly.

It’s a constant evolution but it also has a significant impact. The nights are much shorter, so the competitors drive more at night than when we were in South America. It’s much colder, which has changed habits, and competitors face different challenges. In South America, it was summer and too hot. Here, it’s rather cold. So it has brought about many changes and has made the race tougher, if anything.

What sets the Dakar in Saudi Arabia apart from previous hosts?

I believe that all the Dakar rallies are special. Each Dakar has its own uniqueness. But as I mentioned earlier, the weather has a significant impact on the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia, making it more challenging. The multitude of deserts, very different and vast deserts. The landscapes, too.

It’s true that this is a rally that evolves with time. Still, it remains the Dakar, with all its ingredients: the desert, the difficulty, solitude at times, the weather, night, cold, heat, dunes — everything exists.

Navigation has become more challenging in Saudi Arabia and that is one of the primary characteristics that makes it very special. It runs on relatively fast tracks, often less dangerous than what we have experienced elsewhere.

Nonetheless, the Dakar Rally must remain a special event and we always work to keep it special. That’s why we reinvent ourselves and create new concepts. This year, there’s the “48 Hours Chrono,” a two-day special in the desert, in the Empty Quarter, which will be absolutely incredible.

We constantly try to bring in something new. It’s important to maintain this attraction and keep reinventing ourselves. The desert helps us do that but we also need to be imaginative and offer new things to always remain attractive and make this rally the greatest rally in the world. We manage to do so also thanks to Saudi Arabia.

The Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia runs from Jan. 5 to 19.


Ferrari overcome late drama to hang on for second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory

Ferrari overcome late drama to hang on for second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory
Updated 17 June 2024
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Ferrari overcome late drama to hang on for second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory

Ferrari overcome late drama to hang on for second consecutive 24 Hours of Le Mans victory
  • Ferrari make it two in a row as they outlast Toyota to win a weather-affected 24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France: Ferrari made it two in a row as they outlasted Toyota to win a weather-affected 24 Hours of Le Mans on Sunday with the trio of Nicklas Nielsen, Antonio Fuoco and Miguel Molina crossing the line in the No. 50 car 14 seconds ahead of the No. 7 of Nyck de Vries, Kamui Kobayashi and Jose Maria Lopez.

The No. 51 Ferrari helmed by Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Antonio Giovinazzi rounded out the top three in the latest running of the most iconic sports car race in the world.

Rain and fog brought out the safety car in the early hours of the morning with Ferrari jostling with Toyota and Porsche for top spot. But with dawn breaking, the racing resumed under a green flag with several teams in contention.

With less than six hours remaining the No. 50 Ferrari made their move just before more rain fell with Fuoco moving up the grid. Nielsen then survived more late drama when a flapping door forced the car into an unscheduled pit stop but managed to hang on for victory.

“Nicklas. Antonio. Miguel. You’ll be forever part of the legend now,” the FIA World Endurance Championship said on social media.


Football great Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours

Football great Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours
Updated 15 June 2024
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Football great Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours

Football great Zidane kicks off Le Mans 24 Hours
  • Zidane was wearing winter gear as he waved the ceremonial starter’s flag
  • The temperature was a chilly 15 degrees celsius with plenty of rain forecast until Sunday

LE MANS, France: French football great Zinedine Zidane acted as starter to get the mythic Le Mans 24 Hour race on its way at 1400GMT on Saturday.
Ahead of the 62 cars split into three categories on the grid lies the ultimate test of motorsport endurance — for the 186 drivers, their cars, mechanics and last but not least the crowd estimated at 250,000.
One major unknown for the 92nd edition was — despite being mid-June — the weather.
Zidane was wearing winter gear as he waved the ceremonial starter’s flag — a French tricolor with ‘24’ embossed in gold on it — handed to him by French soldiers who had abseiled down with it from a hovering helicopter.
The temperature was a chilly 15 degrees celsius with plenty of rain forecast until Sunday at 1400GMT when the winner will take the cherished chequered flag after around 350 laps of the iconic 13.6kilometer Sarthe circuit in the west of France near the medieval town of Le Mans.
There was nothing ancient about the gleaming machinery setting off led by the elite category Porsche Hypercar, in pole after qualifying on Thursday.
Ferrari are the defending title holders after claiming the centenary edition 12 months ago.
The Hypercar class is the most open in almost three decades with no fewer than nine different constructors presenting 23 cars.
In the early stages, Ferrari’s number 50 car led from the team’s 51 car, which won last year. A Porsche was in third.
Ferrari’s Formula One team principal Fred Vasseur predicted a close race.
“The fight is very, very tight, lot of good drivers.
“Twenty-four hours with this weather, very, very tight, we are just focused on ourselves.”


Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation

Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation
Updated 14 June 2024
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Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation

Mohammed Ben Sulayem chairs 2024 FIA conference, celebrates 120 years of the federation
  • The four-day event took place at the Silk Road Complex in the heart of Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  • Key announcements included all new Cross Cars, a helmet program, and the launch of a Women in Motorsport mentorship program

SAMARKAND: The FIA, motorsport’s world governing body, celebrated its 120th anniversary at its 2024 conference, chaired by President Mohammed Ben Sulayem.

More than 300 delegates from 167 member clubs representing 121 countries attended the event, hosted in the stunning Silk Road Complex in the heart of Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

Major announcements included the launch of a three-year Helmet Wearing program, designed to improve driver safety, a Women in Motorsport Mentorship Programme, launched in conjunction with 24 Hours of Le Mans, and all-new Cross Car designs.

The federation also set out plans to incorporate social impact into its sustainability roadmap.

Other key agenda items included a 120th anniversary session, led by the mobility department and featuring all four of the FIA’s regional presidents.

The sessions were complemented by a strong social program which included a Welcome Cocktail event at the Eternal City in the Silk Road complex, a gala dinner at the Mo’jiza restaurant, and an extraordinary light show at Registan Square.

The week concluded with an Extraordinary General Assemblies meeting in the Congress Center Ballroom, when members passed key amendments and updates including the FIA’s 2024 annual activity and financial report.

FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem said: “I want to extend my heartfelt thanks once again to the National Autosport and Karting Federation of Uzbekistan and the City of Samarkand for being such generous hosts and we are indebted to the support of the Administration of the Republic of Uzbekistan, the Department of Social Development, the Ministry Of Sport, and the national Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

“We have celebrated an incredible milestone for the FIA as we reach 120 years, and whilst we have remembered the Federation’s illustrious past, we have also looked at what the future will bring.

“We have introduced robust governance, transparency, and clarity. It is my duty to ensure that our members and the global community are served with excellence. Our members are at the heart of everything we do, from the small group of enthusiasts who founded the Federation in 1904 to the 242 clubs who are now connected through the FIA.”

The next General Assemblies meeting and FIA Prize Giving, will be hosted in Kigali, Rwanda, in December.


Cappellini plots Team Abu Dhabi fightback in Italy

Cappellini plots Team Abu Dhabi fightback in Italy
Updated 12 June 2024
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Cappellini plots Team Abu Dhabi fightback in Italy

Cappellini plots Team Abu Dhabi fightback in Italy
  • Racing legend says Al-Qemzi, Comparato are in the mood to start recovery in Sardinia

SARDINIA: Team Abu Dhabi manager Guido Cappellini says multiple world powerboat racing titlists Thani Al-Qemzi and Alberto Comparato are ready to launch a fightback at this weekend’s Regione Sardegna Grand Prix of Italy.

Cappellini believes three days of testing in San Nazzaro, in similar conditions to those that lie ahead in Olbia, have put veteran Al-Qemzi and young Italian teammate Comparato in the mood to recover from a difficult start to the 2024 UIM F1H2O World Championship.

“We’ve been working hard to make sure that we get better results in round three,” said the Italian racing legend, who has guided Team Abu Dhabi to 17 world championship titles since taking charge in 2015.

“Thani won in Sardinia two years ago on a circuit which is demanding in a particular way, and we have tried to test in the same kind of conditions in San Nazzaro to increase his confidence. He is working well with Alberto, they are supporting each other, so we hope this will pay off.”

The F1H2O series returns after an 11-week break since round two in Vietnam.

The Victory Team’s Erik Stark holds an eight-point lead in the drivers’ title race from Team Vietnam’s defending world champions and rankings leaders Jonas Andersson and Estonia’s Stefan Arand.

Al-Qemzi has vast experience, having recorded 10 Grand Prix victories and 45 podium finishes since his debut in 2000.

The Emirati driver will be eager to give himself a fighting chance in Saturday’s qualifying sessions, after taking his career points haul in the championship past the 1,000 mark with a battling sixth-place finish in Vietnam.

Comparato is equally determined to reignite his first season with Team Abu Dhabi and will draw inspiration from 10-time world champion Cappellini who had great success in Sardinia and knows race conditions.


Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit

Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit
Updated 11 June 2024
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Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit

Formula E Season 11 calendar reveals return to Saudi Arabia at new circuit
  • The electric car event’s longest championship season to date will include 17 races at 11 locations
  • The Kingdom will host races in Diriyah for a seventh time on Feb. 14-15 on a new track, details of which are yet to be announced

RIYADH: The provisional calendar for Season 11 of the ABB FIA Formula E World Championship, unveiled on Tuesday, confirms a return to Diriyah early next year and reveals the event’s longest season, with the largest number of races and locations to date.
It once again includes a race double-header in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 14-15. This will be the seventh time the Kingdom has been part of the Formula E championship and the races will take place on a new track in Diriyah, the precise details of which will be announced later.
The 11th season of the pioneering all-electric racing event will for the first time consist of 17 races at 11 locations. In addition to the new track in Diriyah, the provisional calendar, subject to validation by the FIA World Motorsport Council, reveals a new race location in Miami; a double-header of races in Monaco, marking a first for the principality in any motorsport championship; a double-header in Tokyo; and the return of Jakarta to the calendar.
“For Season 11 we’re taking electric racing to the next level and doing things that have never been done before in motorsport,” said Jeff Dodds, the CEO of Formula E.
“Our world-leading GEN3 EVO will debut in front of hundreds of millions of fans around the globe, while adding two brand new locations and combinations of double-headers to grow our sport further.
“The new and improved calendar offers a perfect blend of circuits for drivers to push their upgraded cars to the limit, while staying true to our street-racing DNA and the on-track action it produces.”
The Season 11 campaign will begin in Sao Paulo on Dec. 7, following preseason testing from Nov. 4-7 in Valencia, as the all-new GEN3 EVO race car — capable of going from 0-60 mph in just 1.82 seconds, 36 percent faster than the current GEN3 vehicles — is put through its paces and tested in public for the first time.
The new circuit in Diriyah will host the first double-header of the season, and on April 12 the championship returns to Miami for the first time since the first season, at the Homestead-Miami Speedway venue, which has hosted NASCAR and IndyCar races for decades.
Monaco will will host back-to-back races on the full Circuit de Monaco for the first time, and following the inaugural Tokyo E-Prix in March this year, for which public roads in the world’s most populous city were closed for an automotive event for the first time, it will host a double header of races on May 17 and 18.
Jakarta returns to the calendar after a one-year hiatus, and the season will conclude with a double-header finale at ExCeL London. One location is yet to be confirmed, as final discussions with a new venue continue ahead of final confirmation of the calendar following the FIA’s World Motor Sport Council Meeting.
“We’re thrilled to offer a calendar with some fresh new highlights while building on our legacy locations,” said Alberto Longo, co-founder and chief championship officer of Formula E.
“Returning to Miami gives us a home in one of the US’s most iconic and sports-mad cities, while securing a double-header in Monaco is a dream come true. We can’t wait to build on the success of Tokyo and deliver a double-header, while returning to Jakarta and entertaining our huge Indonesian fanbase, too.
“With 17 races across the season and our most advanced race car debuting on-track, we’re offering our fans cutting-edge sport we could only have hoped for when founding the championship just over 10 years ago.”
Marek Nawarecki, director of the FIA Circuit Sport Department, said: “The 2024-25 ABB FIA Formula E World Championship calendar features a range of circuits that will truly showcase the qualities of the brand new GEN3 EVO car, set to be introduced next season.
“I’m glad that Formula E capitalizes on the success of the Tokyo and Shanghai races while also returning to some of its iconic venues and retaining a good amount of street circuits, which is in its core DNA. I’m also hopeful that this new season will again play host to some fascinating action on track.”