Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Formula One and Race Cars Come to Israel

August 15, 2013 8:36 am 0 comments

Formula One Scuderia Ferrari team driver Giancarlo Fisichella drives a Ferrari F60 past The Tower of David and the ancient walls of Jerusalem's Old City. Photo: JNS.org

JNS.org – There is something different about taking a ride from Shlomi Bakish. Not only can he get from Haifa to Tel Aviv in half the time, but passengers also don’t feel the road. The car accelerates without strain. Unlike many Israeli drivers, Bakish doesn’t express rage when a slower car cuts him off. He sees his opportunity and easily passes on the right. It’s as though he’s driving in a race.

For the past decade, talented Israeli drivers like Bakish were stranded in traffic by an unpopular law regulating motorsports. But new regulations approved in March 2011 by the Knesset’s Education, Culture and Sports Committee have opened doors for enthusiasts of Formula racing—which encompasses several forms of open-wheeled, single-seat racecar driving including Formula Renault, Formula One, Formula Two, Formula Three, and World Series by Renault—to get back in the driver’s seat. The Jewish state’s first Formula One road show, which took place in mid-June, attracted 100,000 spectators.

Formula Israel developers Boaz Meiri and Ofir Frank, instructors at the renowned Zig Zag driving school in France, and remarkably “driven” students form the unique Israeli motorsports team.

When the Israeli motorsports law was lifted, Meiri and Frank saw an opportunity not only to build Israel’s first professional racetrack in the Port of Eilat, but also to experiment, and to democratize the Formula racing establishment. They are striving to make Formula racing affordable and accessible to the Israeli public.

“Traditionally, you have to be very rich and well licensed to drive in the Formula,” Meiri tells JNS.org.

As racetrack construction began in Eilat, Meiri and Frank organized a new method for recruiting and training drivers. Their efforts have created a pioneer racing culture in Israel that is likely to inspire similar programs around the world.

“The idea is drivers driving,” Frank tells JNS.org. “We want to give enthusiasts who have the talent to race competitively but who don’t have the money to participate in the sport the rare opportunity to drive a real race car.”

Every summer, Israelis are now invited to submit applications to Israel’s Formula training program. For only 300 shekels, roughly $100, every applicant receives a special evaluation by Formula Renault professionals. Ultimately, a team of 30 drivers is selected for formal training.

In 2011, nearly 3,000 drivers tried out for the program. The selection process yielded a team of 20 men and 10 women. Because the mile-long racetrack in Eilat was not yet completed, the drivers were sent to France to receive hands-on instruction in preparation for Israel’s first Formula One competition.

Training at the Zig Zag school consists of grueling physical conditioning courses, as well as a regimen of computer simulator exercises. “A good driver needs to know how to push the car to the limit of traction without losing control,” Bakish tells JNS.org. “It’s a very thin line, and it takes time. You have to handle the car gently. If you are brutal, it will punish you.”

For Bakish, who participated in the pilot program and was ranked 3rd prior to the 2012 Eilat race, the opportunity to drive a Formula racecar was the fulfillment of a childhood dream.

“The car is very compact,” Bakish describes his first Formula Renault car. “Drivers lie down inside a narrow tunnel. You have to wear special shoes; otherwise your feet will get stuck on the pedals. The engine has an amazing sound, and the car can do 0-60 miles per hour in around 3.5 seconds. Top speed is near 240 kilometers per hour.”

Bakish’s recalls an exhilarating experience in the 2012 race.

“Driving on the track is intense,” he recalls. “You are claustrophobic, the safety belts are tight, and you can’t move anything but your head and hands. It’s very hot. The combination of helmet, racing suit, engine heat, no AC, hot Eilat weather and adrenalin makes your heart beat hard. You have to remain focused, push the car to the limit without losing control.”

Meiri and Frank are counting on the thrilling experiences reported by freshly trained drivers, like Bakish, to fuel enthusiasm for future motorsports events in Israel.

Already, the sport’s following is growing at a remarkable rate. Nearly 4,000 spectators—mostly tourists and families—attended last year’s race in Eilat, packing the stands.

The initial race in Eilat cost 6 million shekels ($1.7 million) to produce, but this was partly due to the high price of start-up construction and the need to purchase expensive licenses and insurance policies. Now the price has come down considerably, costing the organization only 2.5 million shekels to host the annual winter race.

“Last year we made a profit,” Meiri says. “Now we are more organized. After the first race, we also held a road show in Jerusalem. These events have strengthened the Formula culture in Israel and are encouraging more advertisers and sponsors to invest in Israeli racing.”

Meiri and Frank, who have worked out a five-year lease on the racetrack with Israel’s Ministry of Transportation, have ambitious plans. Currently, the racetrack in Eilat is used for part of the year as a parking lot for new cars shipped to Israel from the Far East. To attract international attention, Israel needs a larger, more permanent facility.

“We have a long-term goal of opening a medium, 3,000 meter-long track in Israel for courses and motorsport experiences,” Frank says. “In the future, we also want to be able to host teams from all over the world so that they can practice during the winter.”

Meiri says those driving Israel’s growth in the motorsports scene have “surprised all the skeptics with our professionalism.”

“Most importantly, our winning formula has changed the way fans interact with the sport,” he says.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Blogs Features Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    Israel and the Apartheid Narrative: 2 South African Student Leaders Weigh In

    JNS.org – About two-dozen people file into Dodd 175 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) campus on a Thursday night, scouting out seats and picking at the kosher pizza in the back of the lecture hall. Miyelani Pinini knows the drill. A former student president of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, she’s attended and even organized her share of free-pizza events. But now she and a fellow South African student leader were the stars of this […]

    Read more →
  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →