World's fastest men head for Bangkok to compete in racing extravaganza
The Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok will be transformed into a racing venue when the world's fastest racers led by three-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel and MotoGP king Jorge Lorenzo congregate this weekend for the Red Bull Singha Race of Champions (ROC).The 50,000-capacity arena, the site for the December 14-16 event, will become the assembly point not only for motorsports enthusiasts, but also for champions of all major racing formats - Formula One, MotoGP, IndyCar, Touring Car and Le Mans.
German driver Vettel, who has swept the F1 world champion title for the last three seasons, his countryman Michael Schumacher, seven-time F1 World Champion IndyCar winner Ryan Hunter-Reay of the United States, V8 Supercar champion Jamie Whincup of Australia, five-time 500cc MotoGP world champion Mick Doohan of Australia, and 2010 and 2012 MotoGP champion Lorenzo of Spain are the marquee names who will generate an electrifying atmosphere at the stadium.
According to Sports Authority of Thailand Governor Kanokphan Chulakasem, the construction of parallel tracks featuring a bridge inside the stadium started on November 30, involving more than 100 local staff under the supervision of skilful engineers and officials to ensure that it will meet the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) standards.
"Everything has been carried out according to the FIA requirements and we have yet to experience any problems so far. In terms of safety and security, we have concrete barriers set up as a protection for the audience. We have also contacted the Hua Mark Police Station to have officers perform their duties during race days," said the SAT big boss, who initiated the idea to host the event, supported by Red Bull and Boonrawd Brewery.
"ROC is a world famous race that most motor sports enthusiasts recognise. It features champions from different circuits including Vettel, who races for Red Bull. Also, the ROC is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. So we saw this as an excellent opportunity for the country to host this event," said Michael de Santies-teban, representing Red Bull.
The event will take place over three days - the Race of Champions Asia Cup for Asian car racers on Friday, the ROC Nations Cup on Saturday and the individual Race of Champions on Sunday.
Apart from the competition, a whole host of activities will feature in the event, such as a concert by Titanium and a stuntman show by Red Bull's Chris Pfeiffer, as well as a display of racing and road cars. But best of all, fans will be given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a closer view of the action, as some will be chosen by lucky draw to sit in the cars raced by the champion drivers.
Kanokphan admitted that the staging of the ROC was a prelude to the first ever Formula One Grand Prix of Thailand in 2014, a project of which de Santiesteban was recently appointed vice chairman by Tourism and Sports Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chumpol Silapa-archa.
"One of the main purposes of staging the ROC is to create public awareness of motor racing and most of all to prepare Thai fans for F1. There have been negotiations to host the F1 in Thailand. Now we are just waiting for [Chumpol] to bring this
F1 proposal to the Cabinet for approval." Kanokphan said.
The SAT governor was confident the project would receive a nod from the Cabinet as the F1 event, which is expected to be a night race in Bangkok, would serve the government's policy of bringing in major sporting events and promoting local tourism. "From our ROC tickets sales to date, most of the Bt5,000 tickets, which are the most expensive, have been purchased by foreigners. That proves that what we have done serves the [policies]," he said.
In terms of business opportunities, de Santiesteban - who revealed that his negotiations with the F1 management have been very positive and are moving in the right direction - said that hosting motorsports events would further enhance the automobile industry in Thailand.
"The benefits are numerous, not only in terms of tourism and the image of the Kingdom, but also for the automotive sector, as Thailand is an important automobile manufacturing hub," the Spaniard said.
Over the past 15 years, de Santiesteban, a senior executive in the regional banking industry, has been credited with closing several important deals in Thailand. "We all dream of Formula One races in Thailand," he said.
Although local drivers are invited to join the Race of Champions this weekend, it's unlikely any will be eligible to join the 2014 F1, due to the high standard of the competition. Kanokphan, however, hoped that under the SAT Professional Sports Support Project, F1 would one day feature a Thai racer.
"Motor racing is one of the professional sports that Thai athletes can make a living of, and so far have shown impressive results. Our goal is to see a Thai racer compete in the Formula 1. I expect that to happen in the next 10 years," Kanokphan concluded.