A 'formula' for safer car driving

Driving dangerously and fast has now become legal - on the track that is.

Formula Racing (photo credit: Courtesy: Boaz Meiri/Formula Israel)
Formula Racing
(photo credit: Courtesy: Boaz Meiri/Formula Israel)
The scene could be anywhere in southern France, Italy, or some other country that’s part of the annual Grand Prix formula class auto racing circuit: a dozen or so one-seater race cars zooming along an oval or blocked-off street race track, with several thousand enthusiastic racing fans yelling their approval as the lead car is waved past by the checkered flag.
This coming December, though, that will occur not in Monte Carlo, Italy or Spain, but in Eilat.
The two-day event, being promoted by the newly created Formula Israel Company, will feature cars known as Formula Renault – a slightly smaller version of the world-renowned Formula One racing car that runs at Grand Prix circuit racing events throughout the world during the long Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) Formula One racing season.
Boaz Meiri, an event-promotion and production specialist, says the formula event in Eilat has received some good attention from both the Tourism Ministry and the Culture and Sport Ministry.
“Both ministries have been very positive and helpful regarding this event, as they are interested in Eilat being a location for motor sports events,” he says.
His BBM Production Company has staged vehicular events both in Israel and abroad, among them the grand openings of the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6), the “Fast Lane” entry road into Tel Aviv, and a number of car-racing events – including “XTreme” racing of “monster cars,” which have tires of two meters wide or more.
The Renault Formula cars being used in the Eilat event are equipped with 2,000-cc. engines instead of 2,800 cc. or more, as the Formula 1 versions seen at Grand Prix circuit races are. Other cars at the event will include what are known as “drift racing” models using GT and similar types of modified road cars.
“We hope to be able to hold annual racing events afterward; and through Formula Israel, we plan to conduct formula driving courses here in Israel,” says Meiri.
Israel has never been a car-racing country. The two biggest problems in bringing this sport to Israel have been government bureaucracy and insurance of the cars and drivers, as well as thirdparty coverage for spectators, says Formula Israel spokesman Avihai Eliasi.
“We had to arrange the insurance through Lloyd’s of London,” he says.
FORMULA ISRAEL recently held a threeday event at Wingate Institute to introduce people to competitive auto-racing in general and formula-type racing in particular.
“When we had the three-day registration and driving trials event at Wingate Institute, 3,000 people came and took part in several types of racing events, including ‘Jim Conner’ auto cross obstacle endurance trials using Nissan Micra cars, motorized Go-Kart racing, and 360 bike-racing. The 360 bike-racing is especially good to determine which people have the leg strength and coordination needed to be a race car driver,” Eliasi notes.
A second elimination trial was held in the south for the 300 people who were chosen from the initial 3,000 applicants at the Wingate event. The 30 remaining people are now completing a one-week race driving course in France and of these, 20 will race at the Eilat event on December 1.
“We were happy that 10 percent of the total number of people who came to register are women,” says the Formula Israel spokesman.
“We have also been in touch with the Transportation Ministry, and they seem happy to have us do this project, as the object is to emphasize road safety,” he continues. “Professional race car drivers are on the whole much better drivers than people who have not driven race cars professionally.
We want to show people that racing should be confined to a race track and not done on the streets and highways. If we can save one life by emphasizing road safety, it will be worth the effort.”
The event in Eilat will take place on a 1.3-km. track with spectator seating for 6,000 to 10,000.
“We decided on Eilat due to its tourism infrastructure that offers a number of attractions for visitors. Meiri wants build a longer race track later that will be around 2.2 km. in length and as such can qualify to host international FIA-sponsored racing events,” says Eliasi, adding, “I think we are off to a good start. Seeing 3,000 waiting patiently for a chance to drive in a Jim Conner obstacle ‘slalom’ or a karting event was really something, in light of how people often behave at sporting events.”
Meiri, meanwhile, has a dream that is a bit farfetched in today’s regional political realities: “I would like to stage a three-day auto rally race in Israel and neighboring Egypt and Jordan. The Israeli part will be named Rabin, after the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The Jordanian part will be named Hussein, after the late King Hussein. And the third, in Egypt (probably in the Sinai), will be after the late president Anwar Sadat. But for now, for obvious reasons, this is still only a dream.”
ANOTHER LOCAL race car player is the Tel Avivbased Maslulim (Tracks) Company, headed by Ram Samuel. The veteran rally car driver drove professionally in rally events in Europe between 1991 and 2000, and has been crowned Rally Car Champion of France twice, in 1994 and 1997.
Rally car driving is different from formula racing, as modified full-size cars are driven on a course that includes open roads and curves that simulate normal driving conditions more than a set track does.
Founded in 1996, Maslulim offers courses in both formula and rally car driving, as well as road safety driving courses. It sends students abroad for racing courses and also offers versions of these at home.
Road safety courses are gaining popularity due to the large number of leased cars being driven by company employees, and the increasing number of road accidents. As compared to other types of road safety courses offered in Israel, Maslulim’s courses are designed to make drivers aware of “moments of danger” on the highways that could result in serious accidents.
“We are having a lot of success in our road safety courses,” says Samuel. The company conducted extensive research to find out what really works, and to understand what really causes accidents.
“We did this together with government safety institutes, and found out that the accident problem is related to the perception people have as to how a car functions on the road,” he explains. “People have been taught that listening to the radio, drinking coffee or using their cell phones while driving will result in greater chances of being involved in an accident. We found that it is possible to use devices like cellphones, etc., and still drive safely.”
According to Samuel, “there is a ‘red light’ that enables people to recognize moments of danger, and then be 100% attentive to avoid that danger.” He adds that there is a 5% driving time frame where people need to be more attentive on the road to avoid being involved in an accident.
Those who attend the company’s safe-driving courses include people from hi-tech companies like Matrix and Microsoft, as well as insurance companies like Migdal. Other participants include employees from Sakal, Inbar car leasing, and health funds like Clalit and Maccabi.
Gidi Cronin, 30, Maslulim’s course instruction manager, is also a race car rally driver and has won several racing awards for road rallies.
“Both Ram and I have been driving in different types of motor racing in a number of countries. I have raced in both Europe and in Turkey, where I drove touring cars such as SEATs and Hondas,” he says.
The company has regularly sponsored driving teams for international racing competitions, mostly in Europe, and until recently in countries like Jordan and Turkey.
“We have sent driving teams representing Maslulim to events all over Europe. To give an idea of how hard it is to qualify for such a racing event, we have started with a group of 600 candidates and narrowed them down to 60. In the end, only one person was actually sent to join our driving team,” says Cronin.
Still, both Samuel and Cronin believe that their company’s present success stems from their safe-driving courses, which are mostly held at a track in Rosh Ha’ayin. The four-hour course includes an hour of pre-driving basic instruction that shows how a car’s safety equipment is supposed to function.
“We want people to be interested in taking these courses. As such, we offer them options such as the auto cross or Jim Conner-type obstacle challenges. Being involved in actual road test challenges like auto cross helps people blow off steam in a controlled situation and not on the roadways,” says Cronin.
When asked about the upcoming formula racing event being planned by Formula Israel, Samuel says, “Although our company is not involved in this, we are happy the event is taking place, because it furthers the advancement of auto racing as a sport in Israel.”
The two are optimistic about the future of auto racing here, but not so much regarding formula car racing.
“Racing such as track racing, using a permanent built race track, is very difficult to do in Israel due to the high cost of building a track and making a profit from it. I think the race in Eilat will simply be an event, and not a repetitive one,” says Samuel. “I would like to see a track built somewhere in Israel, but I wonder if it will be economically feasible to do so.”