x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Red Bull Air Race series grounded

Organisers say one-year hiatus will be used to review safety measures with cancellation expected to have only minor effect on Abu Dhabi tourism income.

Abu Dhabi has hosted the Red Bull Air Race every year since the event was first held in 2005.
Abu Dhabi has hosted the Red Bull Air Race every year since the event was first held in 2005.

ABU DHABI // The 2011 Red Bull Air Race World Championship series has been called off, with organisers explaining yesterday that a one-year break would lead to improved safety measures and allow "for the future success and development of the sport". The daredevil races, which have been described as the "Formula One of the skies", will return in 2012, according to a short statement.

"The organisation will use this opportunity to fast-track the technological advancements currently in the making, which would further improve the already high levels of safety," organisers said. The break was also necessary, they said, to develop strong host city partnerships to "secure a long term race calendar". The 2010 season has played out in the capital as well as New York; Rio de Janeiro; Barcelona; Windsor, Canada; and Perth, Australia. The last round will be next week on August 7 and 8 at the EuroSpeedway in Lausitz, Germany, which is when the world champion will be decided. The race earlier this month in Budapest, Hungary, had to be cancelled "due to lengthy delays in the permissions process", the race organisation said.

A spokesman for the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority (ADTA), which sponsors Team Abu Dhabi, said yesterday it was "disappointed" with the decision but would continue to hold other events. "ADTA and Abu Dhabi still has a very strong major events portfolio which we continue to enhance." The race had huge appeal globally, with organisers estimating that almost a million people attended the Barcelona event over the three days. Abu Dhabi has hosted the two-day event six times on the Corniche since the series expanded to the capital in 2005, drawing many thousands to the most recent race in March.

There are more than a dozen daredevil pilots in the series, who fly single-seaters through obstacle courses over water at speeds of up to 370km an hour. They include the former champion Austrian Hannes Arch, who leads Team Abu Dhabi, and Britain's Paul Bonhomme, his chief rival and the winner of this year's Abu Dhabi event, which kicked off the 2010 series. Bonhomme, the reigning champion, retains a slim lead going into the final next weekend.

While Arch could not be reached for comment yesterday, a spokesperson for the ADTA,his sponsor, said it would find other ways for him to represent the emirate. "Hannes Arch, the former Red Bull Air Race champion who leads Team Abu Dhabi in the series, has been a strong ambassador for ADTA and the destination and we want to continue our relationship," said the spokesperson. "We will work with Hannes to find other avenues to fly the Abu Dhabi flag."

News of the cancellation came as a blow to Capt Berend Lens van Rijn, the owner of the Abu Dhabi yacht hire firm Belevari. The loss will prove expensive for his company. "Last year, it generated approximately Dh50,000 revenue for us," he said. The Australian Hotels Association yesterday estimated the loss of the event, which attracted 300,000 spectators to Perth earlier this year, could cost up to 20 million Australian dollars (Dh66m) in revenues, Perth Now reported.

While the event certainly generated business for hotels and spin-off industries, John Podaras, the associate director of TRI Hospitality Consulting, said a year off would not make much difference. "When Yas Island held the Australian racing weekend, it was probably generating something like 300 or 400 rooms," he said. "That is not really going to have a huge impact on a city this size." He said the Formula One Grand Prix was more important to the city's tourist trade. "The F1 event uses up a month's worth of room nights. They will come a few weeks in advance to set up and for a few weeks after to taking it down again," he said.

"My gut feeling is, there are more events worldwide looking for venues and sponsorships." eharnan@thenational.ae