- The Inside Line
Embracing the nightKate Walker April 5, 2014
While the Bahrain Grand Prix is currently celebrating its tenth edition, as publicised with posters saying inTENse, poTENtial, and so on, the switch to a night race for 2014 means the organisers are far from resting on their laurels.
In an exclusive interview with ESPNF1, Sakhir International Circuit Chairman Zayed R Alzayani explained the thought processes behind the switch to a night race, and some of the obstacles he and his team overcame along the way.
What has been so impressive about Bahrain's switch from day to night is the tight turnaround the team have orchestrated, with the idea going from concept to reality in less than 18 months. Asked what was the biggest challenge, Alzayani pointed to the deadlines involved.
The biggest challenge was "mainly the time factor," he said. "What you see here was done in six months. In fact, from the period from November to February or March we had to cancel and refund 17 events booked on the track to make room for construction.
"What you see is the finished product, but a lot of it is underground. We have 500 kilometres of cabling, 495 poles, and 5,000 lamps all varying in height, varying in angle. The highest one is 120 metres, so the challenge was the time."
Despite early talks with the Singapore race organisers about potentially renting the Marina Bay lights, it quickly became clear that the differing demands of a permanent facility meant that the BIC would have to go its own way when it came to setting up their circuit for night racing.
"We did talk [to the Singapore organisers]," Alzayani said. "But Singapore is not a permanent structure. Their lights are fitted around the fencing - they are fitted on the fence, actually. Whereas ours is a permanent structure, Singapore is pretty much a flat track. We have 40 metres of various elevations between the lowest and the highest points, we have natural terrain, so angles and shades and all that, and you can't compare the two.
Zayed R Alzayani
"One of the ideas was actually to use the Singapore equipment for our event, because they pack them for the rest of the year until the grand prix comes back again, but it wouldn't work here."
With little that could be taken from the Singapore example, the BIC was starting from scratch.
"We launched a tender and if I'm not mistaken there are only three companies that can do something this big, this quickly," Alzayani explained. "Two responded, and these guys ended up doing it. They are the largest in the world - they do most stadiums, and they are the ones who also did the golf course here, the lights for the golf course flood-lighting. They are quite experienced. They are a US company, and they do the giant stadiums, all the major venues.
"The construction took six months. We received the project in March, and [installation began in] October. It went smoothly. Obviously they had to align the lights as they were erected, but that was part of the project."
The lights are now a permanent part of the Bahrain International Circuit, a decision based as much in practicality as it is in finance. While the F1 grand prix is the current headline event, opening up the BIC for night racing enables the circuit to operate year-round, instead of shutting up shop during the scorching summer months.
"It is going to be spectacular, and once you reach that level there is no sense in going back. I think this is the trend going forward," Alzayani said. "I think Australia will probably be the first [to join the list of night races] because of the late start. In Australia, when you get a rain delay you almost run out of light. In Malaysia it's touch and go as well."
From the perspective of the Bahraini organisers, the switch from day to night also makes cultural sense as the Arabic working week starts on a Sunday, making the normal race start time a barrier to ticket sales.
"One of our disadvantages was the Sunday 3pm start," Alzayani explained. "It's a working day, kids don't have time to get out of school and go home, people leaving work. We were handicapped with the Saudi market, again, it is a working day there so having a six o'clock start gives them more flexibility to get here, no rush.
"Looking at our trends in the karting track, we have our peak utilization between 5 and 8pm," he added. "So people can come to the race and then go out for dinner or something. It will increase our capacity, definitely."