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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DUBAI: To the outsider, Qiddiya looks little more than an expanse of desert terrain.
Look closer, and you will see several isolated buildings, and closer still, several construction projects breaking ground.
In about three years, this will be a buzzing, expanding city — a city that will at the end of 2023 open its doors to five zones that will revolutionize the tourism, entertainment and sports industries in the Kingdom.
There is Enjoy, home to the “Parks and Attractions” theme; Aspire, where “Sports and Wellness” will promote healthier living; Appreciate, covering the “Arts and Culture” sectors; Nurture, showcasing “Nature and Environment,” and finally, Advance, where “Motion and Mobility” look to advance professional pursuits among Saudis, including in motorsports.
At the heart of the development will be an FIA-approved circuit capable of holding racing events all the way up to Formula One. It will, according to Andrew Mallery, president of Automotive & Motorsports at Qiddiya, have parallels with Monaco’s famous street circuit.
“You can have coffee literally looking down on the track,” Mallery told Arab News from Qiddiya’s headquarters. “The uniqueness of this is that at 7.8 km it will be one of the longest tracks on the calendar. However when you’re sitting in one of the grandstands, because of the topography of the land you’ll able to see 5.5 km of that track. From a spectators point of view it will be fantastic because you’ll be able to see most of the race.”
In theory, those races could come in the not too distant future, as will access for the local population to a whole new world of motorsport facilities and attractions.
The aim, then, will shift to developing Saudi talent that could in the future race competitively on the circuit. With that goal in mind, Qiddiya is hoping to be home to a motorsporting hub that will provide a pathway for potential racers from a young age. And where better to start than the breeding ground of champions: Karting.
“I’m quite into karting, and I have a 12-year-old son who’s into karting,” Mallery said. “Riyadh does offer both indoor and outdoor tracks. We want to bring all that together. So in the speed park, we want to have family karting there, probably electric karting and indoor karting. We can offer that all year round, in the temperatures that we see in Riyadh. We also have an outdoor element of that as well.”
Whether using the facilities for a fun day out or for more serious intentions, young drivers will be assessed and advanced according to their performances.
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“I guess you can call that a feeder for those who have talent,” Mallery said. “We can move them to CIK Karting. Having said that, CIK Karting will still be able to accommodate young children who want to develop into the next Saudi Arabian motorsports stars.”
Mallery believes that karting is fundamental to identifying and developing future Formula One drivers, although the search is not restricted to that category.
“We want to develop the Junior Development Program, and I’m not just talking about male drivers, but female as well,” said Mallery. “It’s very important that our aim, in line with Vision 2030, is that by the time we get to 2030, we have motorsport talent at the pinnacle, whether that’s Formula One, MotoGP or others.”
The process of finding potential drivers will include coordination with schools and other motorsports organizations across the country.
“In order to get that pool of talent, there’s got to be some sort of selection process,” he said. “We’ve got to develop that throughout Saudi Arabia and then feed them into our Junior Development Program, which would be at Qiddiya.”
Those selected will have access to some of the best new sporting and fitness facilities in the Middle East, if not the world.
“It’s not just the karting track that will be available,” Mallery said. “There will be gym facilities, Olympic-size swimming pools, running tracks, cycling tracks. All those facilities, we have them at Qiddiya, all in one place. We’re focusing on Formula One and MotoGP, but there is also rally and motocross. Wherever these young people want to go to, we have those facilities.”
“This will be a residential program,” he added “They would be located here. We’d have to take them out to Europe to experience other tracks, but yes, they’ll be based here.”
Mallery also reiterated Qiddiya’s commitment to sustainability.
“Autonomous driving, test facilities for manufacturers and electric cars,” he said. “By the time we get to 2030, the dial will have moved more towards electric vehicles, and we’ll accommodate all of that.”
It is too early to speculate on exactly what events will take place at Qiddiya’s circuit when it is completed, or whether in a decade’s time Formula E will be rivaling Formula One in terms of popularity. But one thing is beyond doubt — none can be counted out.
“All I can say is that there is growing interest in Formula E and we’ll see that at the weekend,” Mallery said. “Unfortunately there won’t be any spectators, but it’s starting to grow — it’s in its seventh season now.
“From Qiddiya’s point of view, we just want to make sure we have all the facilities that can accommodate all these race series, all in one place.”
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