DIRIYAH, Riyadh: Saudi sports chiefs have set themselves an annual rolling target of bringing “memorable new experiences” to racing fans in the Kingdom following the success of the weekend’s Formula E Diriyah E-Prix.
Chairman of the General Sports Authority (GSA), Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, told Arab News on Saturday during the second round of the electric car championship at Diriyah Circuit, that the lessons learned by the authority from hosting the 2018 series had helped it to make improvements for this year’s edition.
The Kingdom was also making another “exciting” leap by hosting the Dakar Rally in January next year, but the prince admitted that organizing the world-famous event had been a “logistical nightmare.”
He added that constant assessment of the organization of largescale events was crucial in making memorable experiences for fans.
“One thing is for sure, we had a smoother process this year, and much smoother operations. Although we had issues that normally come up with big events, I think we’ve learned so much and it was the first time we had hosted something this big last year.
“Everything grew dramatically this year, as has the GSA — now we’re doing a whole month of events, not just three days,” the prince said.
“I think the challenge is, last year we had the ‘wow factor’ because nothing like this had happened and people were amazed. But this year, we no longer had that ‘wow factor,’ so then you ask, ‘what are you going to replace it with?’ You go with a better set-up around the track and you promote it better. You make sure the fan experience – from transportation to walking in, all of these things, are smoother and that it is enjoyable.
“I think every year we need to refine that to make sure their experience of Formula E is different to the last,” he added.
Prince Abdul Aziz noted that he was pleased with the outcome of turning the Formula E event in Saudi Arabia into a double-header weekend of racing.
“The format of Formula E is that everything happens in one day – that is something we learned from our experience last year. So, this year we wanted to give something more, so we said we would do two rounds in one weekend — and people are enjoying the atmosphere and there is more content over the weekend, which gives us value in everything we do,” he said.
The prince pointed out that bringing Formula E to the Kingdom, as well other sporting events in the coming months, was part of the wider Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan.
Formula E started everything. So, last year we had the race and the concerts, and we saw the government doing the ‘Seasons’ from March, whether it was in the Eastern Province, Jeddah or Taif – then we had the Diriyah Season.
“Formula E marks the launch of the Diriyah Season, the first weekend in a month of big, standalone international events that we’re promoting in the Kingdom. Formula E is part of the overall plan of hosting big events and promoting sports,” Prince Abdul Aziz added.
The lessons learned from hosting two editions of Formula E has given the GSA the experience needed to bring other top-class motorsport events to the Kingdom, such as the Dakar Rally taking place in January 2020.
“Dakar is happening on Jan. 5 to 17, which I think is the biggest motorsport event you can host — it spans 12 days, it’s across the Kingdom and is almost 9,500 kilometers long with 351 participants from all over the world.
“We’re very excited for it, but it’s a logistical nightmare. I thought that we learned a lot last year from doing Formula E — preparing even the marshals and getting our expertise up. Dakar was just another leap, and we’ve signed for 10 years with Dakar,” he said.
Carlo Boutagy, CEO of CBX, the firm responsible for constructing the Diriyah Circuit and promoter of the E-Prix, said viewing figures for the Riyadh race had grown this year.
“Last year, 38 million viewers worldwide were watching this race specifically, and Formula E grows every year, season after season. I think we are expecting 45 million per race (this year), so with a two-day race, about 90 million viewers.”