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


NBA star LeBron James opts out of wearing social justice message on Lakers jersey

Updated 12 July 2020

NBA star LeBron James opts out of wearing social justice message on Lakers jersey

  • ‘It is just something that didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal’
  • But Lakers star still working behind the scenes to improve the lives of others

LOS ANGELES: NBA superstar LeBron James said Saturday he would opt out of wearing a social justice message on the back of his jersey because it doesn’t “resonate with his mission.”
James, who has often spoken out against racism and police brutality in America, is passing on the NBA’s plan to help bring attention to racial inequality by having players wear messages like “I Can’t Breathe” instead of their family names.
“I didn’t go with a name on the back of my jersey,” the Los Angeles Lakers forward James said Saturday. “It was no disrespect to the list that was handed down to all the players.”
“I commend anyone that decides to put something on the back of their jersey. It is just something that didn’t seriously resonate with my mission, with my goal.”
James says he wishes he had had some input into the jersey change.
“I would have loved to have a say on what would have went on the back of the jersey. I had a couple of things in mind, but I wasn’t part of that process which is OK.”
“I don’t need to have something on the back of the jersey for people to understand my mission and what I’m about and what I am here to do.”
The vast majority of NBA players have decided to pick a social justice message when play resumes in Orlando, Florida.
James is one of just about 17 players out of 285 so far who have opted to continue using their family names on the back of their uniforms.
The list of suggested messages, agreed on by the players union and NBA owners and then made available to players, includes “I Can’t Breathe,” which is what George Floyd said more than 20 times before he died with a white police officer kneeling on his neck.
Other messages include: Black Lives Matter; Say Their Names; Vote; Justice; Peace; Equality; Freedom; Enough; Power to the People; Justice Now; Say Her Name; Sí Se Puede (Yes We Can); Liberation; See Us; Hear Us; Respect Us; Love Us; Listen; Listen to Us; Stand Up; Ally; Anti-Racist; I Am A Man; Speak Up; How Many More; Group Economics; Education Reform; and Mentor.
James said even though he isn’t taking part in the jersey messages, he is still working behind the scenes to improve the lives of others, especially people in the Black community.
“Being able to use my platform, use the NBA’s platform, to continue to talk about what’s going on. Because I will not stop until I see real change for us in Black America, for African Americans, for people of color. And I also believe I can do both, though.”
James said he always expected to play in the restart to the season: “I am here for one goal and one goal only and that is to win a championship.”