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.


Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’
Updated 22 June 2024
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Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’

Norris shrugs off McLaren fire to nab Spanish pole after ‘best ever lap’
  • Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell
  • Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice

BARCELONA: Lando Norris brushed aside the drama of his McLaren team’s hospitality unit catching fire to produce “the best lap of my life” and deprive Max Verstappen of pole for the Spanish Grand Prix in qualifying on Saturday.
Lewis Hamilton will start on the second row alongside his Mercedes teammate George Russell.
Verstappen looked sure to set off for Sunday’s 10th round of the season from the front of the grid.
But in the last throw of the top-10 shoot-out Norris denied the Red Bull ace by a mere two hundredths of a second.
“Today was the perfect lap,” said Norris after only his second career pole.
“My best lap by a long way, I knew I had to do something perfect, it was probably my best lap ever.”
Norris produced his one minute 11.383 seconds of magic after a “stressful” day when the McLaren hospitality unit caught fire before third practice.
McLaren team boss Zak Brown told Sky Sports one staff member had to go to hospital but had been discharged, adding: “Happy to report everyone is fine.”
“I lost my shoes. It’s all been a bit messy,” said Norris.
“I like to listen to my music loud beforehand, but didn’t have that this time. But it’s not the end of the world. I’m not going to complain about it.”
Turning back to a vintage qualifying session, Norris, whose only other pole came in Russia in 2021, reflected: “It’s been a while since Sochi!
“Max seemed a bit stronger today, but we made some changes,” added the Briton who won his maiden Grand Prix in May in Miami.
“I’m super happy to be on pole, it’s going to be tough but we’re here to win!“
Verstappen, targeting a fourth straight world title, leads the championship by 56 points from Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who starts Sunday’s race in fifth, with Norris seven points back in third.
“I think the whole of qualifying was better than practice for me,” said Verstappen, who won his maiden Grand Prix in Barcelona in 2016 and is on a hat-trick after wins in Catalonia in 2022 and 2023.
“It all clicked much better. The other teams are catching up, we need to bring more performance to the car.”
Ferrari-bound Hamilton was happy to be toward the front of the grid as he out-qualified his teammate Russell for only the second time this year.
“It’s good to be back up here, great to see we are progressing,” he said.
“We are slowly climbing closer to the guys in front, it’s really on a knife edge.
“I’m really happy to be in P3 with that long straight to turn one.”
Joining Leclerc on the third row will be his Ferrari teammate and home favorite Carlos Sainz.
Next came the Alpine of Pierre Gasly, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez, who has a three-place grid penalty from Canada, Esteban Ocon in the other Alpine and Oscar Piastri in the second McLaren.
After only a tenth of a second had covered the top four in final practice earlier the stage was set for an intriguing pole battle.
Complicating matters was a sizeable drop in temperature, with morning sunshine giving way to heavy cloud cover with the wind picking up.
The action on track though was anything but cool, as drivers scrambled to eke out every last ounce of performance for a Grand Prix won from pole in 24 of 33 races run at the circuit.
After clipping the McLaren of Norris at the end of final practice Leclerc tuned up for qualifying with a trip to the FIA’s headmaster’s study as the race stewards investigated the incident.
Leclerc was arguably fortunate to escape with only a reprimand rather than a grid penalty, announced just before qualifying got under way.
Hamilton grabbed the honors in the first qualifying run, jumping from 14th to first, with Verstappen leading the Mercedes duo after the second session.
Verstappen came alive when it counted most — after a quietish time in the three practice sessions he led Q3 after the first flurry of laps.
All the drivers pitted to prepare for one last attempt at depriving the Red Bull ace from Sunday’s pole, with Norris nailing it to end a trying day on a high.
This is the 10th round of the 24-race season and the first of a triple header with Austria and Silverstone coming up over the next two weekends.


Mitch Evans targets big points at Portland E-Prix

Mitch Evans targets big points at Portland E-Prix
Updated 20 June 2024
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Mitch Evans targets big points at Portland E-Prix

Mitch Evans targets big points at Portland E-Prix
  • Jaguar driver finished third in last season’s Formula E final standings
  • Mitch Evans: I need to have a good weekend if I want to have a really good shot at the drivers’ title

RIYADH: Jaguar driver Mitch Evans is under no illusions he needs to perform strongly at the upcoming Portland E-Prix races if he wants to become Formula E world champion this season.

The New Zealander goes into the double-header races in the US on June 29-30 on the back of his triumph at the Shanghai E-Prix opener, and sits 35 points adrift of team-mate and championship leader Pascal Wehrlein.

With four races to go, and with races in Portland next weekend and London at the end of July, Evans is acutely aware he needs to pick up points and build on his second victory of the campaign.

He said: “Portland is going to be a big weekend for a lot of things. Regardless of what happens to Nick or Pascal, I need to have a good weekend if I want to have a really good shot at the drivers’ title.

“With the teams, we have a healthy margin but there’s still a lot of opportunities for both teams to score well especially in Portland. Last year, the Porsche Powertrain really worked well there, and genuine pace-wise we were a little off so hopefully we have made some progress since then. London will be a good track for us so we just got to keep on doing what we have been doing.”

Meanwhile, Porsche’s Antonio Felix Da Costa, who won the second race in China, admits it will be difficult to mount a title bid but is determined to deliver strong results to help the team secure the constructors’ title.

He said: “With six races to go, there are still a lot of points up for grabs. We are a little far away from the leaders — it’s not totally impossible but it will be difficult. Pascal is up there and that is where the focus will likely be and also in the constructors — and important for both cars to score big points.”


Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference

Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference
Updated 20 June 2024
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Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference

Women’s mentorship program launched at 2024 FIA conference
  • Concussion awareness campaign also launched at Uzbekistan forum

PARIS: FIA President Mohammed Ben Sulayem has launched two projects at the FIA 2024 conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan: the women in motorsport mentorship programme and the concussion awareness campaign.

Linked live to the FIA Women in Motorsport networking event, the women in motorsport mentorship programme pairs experienced women already in the sport — mentors — with those wanting to start their career — mentees — facilitating knowledge-sharing as well as personal and professional growth while fostering a culture of learning and collaboration.

The program offers opportunities for mentors to share their experiences and perspectives to accelerate the mentee’s development, while providing invaluable guidance, support and insights that will help them to navigate their professional journey.

Participants will connect through a digital platform, ensuring flexible interaction regardless of location, and ease of scheduling and resource sharing online. The application process for club participation and individual registrations is designed to be straightforward and efficient, with each club receiving a dedicated email containing a link to apply. Clubs are permitted to nominate up to two participants and applications will be processed on a “first come, first serve” basis.

Ben Sulayem said: “It is important that motor sport diversifies and FIA is committed to making our sport more accessible to all. The women in motorsport mentorship programme will help to create a network of support and learning for women, ensuring accessibility and opening up new opportunities in line with our commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. I am proud to work with so many accomplished women in our sport and I champion their voices.”

Meanwhile, the concussion awareness campaign, supported by funding from the FIA foundation, was launched through the collaboration of the FIA medical and safety teams with the aim of educating and raising awareness of concussion, including signs, symptoms and red flags in an effort to further protect motor sport competitors.

The educational content, created to be used across social platforms and as printable assets, is available to all member clubs, in any club’s language of choice, reflecting the FIA’s commitment to improving accessibility and inclusivity.

Ben Sulayem said: “I have experienced concussion first-hand, away from the race track. I have felt the symptoms and dealt with the aftermath. I understand the critical importance of this issue. Thanks to the FIA medical and safety team, we will provide an educational and accessible approach to identifying and combating concussion in our sport, ensuring the safety of all current and future competitors.”

By educating drivers on how to spot concussion, the steps to take if concussed, and how to return to racing, this knowledge-sharing will help keep motor sport as safe as possible. It also encourages racers to seek out assistance from the medical team if symptoms are felt. They will not return to racing unless cleared by the relevant international and national authorities.


Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale

Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale
Updated 20 June 2024
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Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale

Abu Dhabi to host 2024 FIM World Supercross Championship season finale
  • Two motorsport world championships will be decided within a week with the World Supercross Championship and Formula 1 heading to Yas Island in December

DUBAI: SX Global, the official promoters of the FIM World Supercross Championship, have announced that the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi will host the final race of the series’ upcoming 2024 season.

After a highly successful pilot season in 2022, WSX built on its foundations by expanding into new markets in 2023 — a campaign which saw German motorcycle superstar Ken Roczen claim a second WSX World Championship title, while Britain’s Max Anstie etched his name on the SX2 World Championship crown.

“After the success of last year’s event, we’re delighted to be heading back to Abu Dhabi and the Etihad Arena in 2024,” Andy Edwards, SX global executive chairman, said. “This time around, the incredible venue will host the deciding round of the championship, and that spectacle is sure to have fans out of their seats with the action at full throttle until the very last lap.”

Abu Dhabi first hosted WSX last season in a competition which saw Roczen, Joey Savatgy, Dean Wilson, and Vince Friese go head-to-head. With this year’s event taking place just four days before the Formula One Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the 2024 finale is set to attract an international audience once more.

As well as confirming Abu Dhabi as the location for this season’s climax, FIM WSX also revealed its full provisional schedule for the year ahead. The campaign will start on Oct. 26 at the BC Place stadium in Vancouver, Canada, before heading to Perth, Australia, on Nov. 23-24 for a double-header at HBF Park.

After the WSX Australian Grand Prix, the series will then head to Abu Dhabi where the world champion will be crowned on Dec. 4.

Ali Al-Beshr, motorsport development executive director at organizers Ethara, said: “We are thrilled to announce the return of the World Supercross Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for the second consecutive year. With the event taking place during the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix race week, motorsport fans can enjoy back-to-back thrilling action, with the chance to experience two world championship finals in one week.”


Liberty Global to acquire Formula E from Warner Bros. Discovery

Liberty Global to acquire Formula E from Warner Bros. Discovery
Updated 19 June 2024
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Liberty Global to acquire Formula E from Warner Bros. Discovery

Liberty Global to acquire Formula E from Warner Bros. Discovery
  • The deal will give the company a controlling interest in the world’s leading electric motorsport series
  • Announcement follows unveiling of the Season 11 race calendar which features races in Miami, Jakarta and double-headers in Monaco and Shanghai

LONDON: Formula E has announced that Liberty Global is to acquire shares currently held by Warner Bros. Discovery in the all-electric racing series.

The acquisition will bring Liberty Global’s total share ownership in the series to 65 percent, giving the company a controlling interest in the world’s fastest-growing motorsport.

Formula E is the only FIA-sanctioned all-electric world motor racing championship, the world’s No.1 environmental, social and governance sport, and the first net-zero carbon sport from inception.

“First of all I’d like to offer my thanks to Warner Bros. Discovery for the support and guidance they’ve provided Formula E over the past nine years,” Jeff Dodds, Formula E CEO said.

“Liberty Global have a proven track record of building and growing businesses and their investment in us comes at the perfect time as we plan for a period of exponential growth. Having personally known and worked alongside the Liberty leadership team for over a decade, I’m thrilled to be able to further benefit from their expertise and their resources. This is a powerful vindication of the huge potential of our sport.”

In its 10th season of all-electric city racing, Formula E boasts one of the best and most diverse sporting calendars in the world, with 16 races in iconic city locations across four continents.

Now, with almost 400 million fans around the world, 11 teams and 22 world-class drivers on the grid, Formula E has become a destination for the best motorsport talent on the planet, including racing teams Jaguar TCS Racing, TAG Heuer Porsche Formula E Team and NEOM McLaren Formula E Team.

At the recent Monaco E-Prix, Formula E revealed its new car for Season 11, the GEN3 EVO, capable of accelerating to 60mph in an incredible 1.82 seconds — around 30 percent faster than a current Formula 1 car.

Mike Fries, CEO of Liberty Global, said: “We’re excited to take a controlling interest in Formula E, a business we first invested in nearly 10 years ago. Formula E has massive potential for further growth while integrating the most advanced sustainability standards in sports. The investment continues our approach of disciplined capital rotation across our Ventures portfolio and our strategy of making long-term investments in highly attractive businesses.”

The transaction is subject to regulatory approval, with closing expected before year end.