By Sarah Carnvek
For Israeli motor-sport fans, the upcoming Formula One Jerusalem Peace Road Show is a dream come true. The June 13-14 event will make history when the sleek F1 cars zip through the streets of Jerusalem against the background of the Old City walls.
"Seeing and hearing proper Formula One cars race in front of such a spectacular backdrop will be a very unusual experience, not only for the spectators, but for the drivers too," says Ori Lewis, a veteran sports correspondent in Israel.
"There are only four road circuits currently in use in Formula One, the most famous of which is Monte Carlo, but Jerusalem, particularly the Old City walls, will deliver a unique experience as cars with the most advanced developments in automotive engineering speed past the ancient sites."
Formula One is the highest class of single-seater auto racing. Circuit races, or Grand Prix events, are popular internationally.
The Jerusalem event will include Ferrari Challenge cars, drifting cars and Grand Prix motorcycles. In addition to the showcase race, sports cars and racing cars will be on display at the Old Jerusalem Train Station (The First Station) from June 9-13.
Italian driver Giancarlo Fisichella will drive a Ferrari F1 car around the city circuit. Retired Italian motorcycle racer Massimiliano "the Roman Emperor" Biaggi, winner of the 2012 World Superbike Championship, will put on a show.
“It’s great to have the chance to drive a Formula One car on the streets of a city that is as fascinating and full of history as Jerusalem,” Fisichella told a press conference in Jerusalem. “I’m sure the event will attract lots of people along the track – a genuine circuit that will wind up and down through the hills and that will at one point run next to the walls of the Old City. It will really be a unique and fascinating experience.”
While motor sports are popular the world over, the sport in Israel is still in its formative years. Motor sport made its debut in Israel in 1985 and saw the formation of its Motor-Sport Association (purely voluntary) in 1990.
It was only in 2011 that Israel’s Culture and Sports Ministry made motor races legal in Israel.
Israel has just one professional race track – in Eilat – and has never hosted Formula One cars on home turf. Earlier this year, the southern city hosted Israel's second Formula Three weekend on its 1.5 kilometers-long circuit.
"Israel has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the world, including the oil-rich Gulf States where Formula One has gained a major foothold," says Lewis. "The recent Eilat weekend race meeting for lower-grade formula cars attracted many enthusiasts hungry to be a part of motor racing."
Even with the relatively new Eilat track, most motor sport races in Israel are held on winding dirt tracks through Jewish National Fund-Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (JNF-KKL) forests and through areas protected by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI).
"The races are run, while at the same time respecting and taking care of nature and the wild, under the laws of the International Racing Association for motor sports and under the supervision of a professional marshals and judging crew," according to Israel Motor-Sport Association's website.
Mechanical engineering students at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, together with design students from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, took 11th place overall out of 50 teams in Italy's recent competition at the Riccardo Paletti Circuit in Varano de’ Melegari that challenges undergraduate and graduate students to conceive, design, fabricate, and compete with, one-seater Formula-style autocross racecars.
About 100 people have sports driving licenses in Israel, according to a recent Haaretz report. Alon Day, Israel's most famous racecar driver, currently drives with the Belardi Auto Racing team in Indianapolis.
The city will set up bleachers along the route for prime viewing. Fans will also be able to watch the event from the sidewalk.
The Jerusalem happening is a co-production of the municipality and multinational computer security company Kaspersky Lab. It is not a race per se but rather a showcase of the top-tiered motorsport.
“I’m really happy that we succeeded in bringing Scuderia Ferrari to Israel, contributing to the first-ever city racing in the region – the Jerusalem Formula, the Peace Road show,” said Eugene Kaspersky, CEO of Kaspersky Lab. “In our company we believe it’s important to tread new paths and do things differently, and I hope this unique project will be a bright beginning to a new big racing story.”
“It will be a historic event to see a Formula One car with the background of the walls of Jerusalem,” said Mayor Nir Barkat, “It will also be beneficial for the economy, tourism and the promotion of the city all over the world. Jerusalem has 5,000 years of history but it cannot and must not stand still, instead it must embrace the modern day. Ours is a city that is open to everyone and it is important to send a message of peace without any political meaning: We hope to have everyone together to see this most beautiful display of motor sport up close.”