Air race keen to land here

Last weekend’s season-opener of the Red Bull Air Race drew more than 10,000 fans who packed the Corniche Beach in downtown Abu Dhabi to take in the spectacular aerial manoeuvres.

Five years have flown by since a plan to host the event here failed to take off but the Red Bull Air Race could yet be jetting into Singapore.

Certainly, its race director Jim DiMatteo is eager to bring the event - which features pilots guiding planes past inflatable pylons at speeds of up to 370kmh - to the Republic, most likely around the Marina Bay area.

"Singapore is an incredible city - one that Red Bull would like to eventually go to," the former United States naval aviator told The Straits Times last week in Abu Dhabi, where the first of this year's eight legs took place.

"I'm sure that, at the highest levels, they're discussing the possibility of bringing the race to Singapore."

This is not the first time that the country has been linked with staging the aerial spectacle.

In 2008, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) entered into discussions with the Air Race's Austria-based organisers to host the event in 2010.

But talks ultimately fell through owing to a packed events calendar that included the inaugural Youth Olympic Games, as well as the construction of the Marina Bay Sands integrated resort at the proposed Marina Bay locale.

The Air Race subsequently took a three-year hiatus from 2011-13 to refine, among other aspects, safety.

Now that it is back in the skies, STB director (Formula One and Sports) Jean Ng confirmed that the board would be "happy to discuss the possibilities" with event promoters.

"Based on what we understand of such an event and, subject to detailed discussions, it could potentially complement our range of leisure offerings and contribute to Singapore's branding as the events capital of Asia," she said.

Last week's season-opener - the first Air Race since August 2010 - was a sold-out affair, with more than 10,000 fans lining the Corniche Beach in downtown Abu Dhabi during the two days of action.

But the prospect of recreating that scenario in Singapore will not come cheap, with hosting rights believed to cost in excess of $3 million.

In fact, Tourism Western Australia decided against bringing the race back to Perth this year on the basis of an estimated A$8.5 million (S$9.6 million) investment.

That figure is up from the A$5.5 million spent in 2010, which reaped economic dividends of A$12.4 million and attracted an estimated 300,000-strong crowd to the Swan River.

The 2010 Perth race is remembered for the first crash in the Air Race's history when Adilson Kindlemann lost control of his plane and landed in the water.

The Brazilian escaped without serious injury.

But the incident did contribute to a review of safety parameters; this season, for example, the pylons which the planes fly past have been elevated by 5m to 25m.

"I don't think the general public can even tell so the excitement of the sport is still there," DiMatteo said of the change.

"But the safety margin has gone up significantly."

He is not alone in believing that the sport has improved since its 2003 inception.

"Every year, we learn from the previous year's mistakes," said Hungarian pilot Peter Besenyei who helped develop the concept of the Air Race.

"The planes have changed, the pylons have changed, the rules have changed. But what has remained the same is that this is still a very unique event."

Already, Japan's Yoshihide Muroya - the lone Asian in the 12-pilot field this year - is looking forward to racing in Singapore.

"There are lots of nice places and a big bay area to fly around, so why not?" the 41-year-old remarked. "I think there's a big chance of having a race there."


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