Thunderous engines, applause as race cars thrill Jerusalem
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Thunderous engines, applause as race cars thrill Jerusalem

Despite delays, thousands of spectators delighted by first ever Formula 1 exhibition in heart of capital

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A Formula 1 race car zips past Jerusalem's iconic YMCA building on Thursday as part of the Formula Jerusalem exhibition. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)
A Formula 1 race car zips past Jerusalem's iconic YMCA building on Thursday as part of the Formula Jerusalem exhibition. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

High performance sports cars roared through central Jerusalem Thursday afternoon in the city’s first ever Formula 1 exhibition. Approximately 70,000 tourists and residents — from both eastern and western neighborhoods of the capital — lined the streets of Jerusalem’s scenic core to see and hear the roar of the engines.

Braving the sun’s glare, spectators lined the three kilometers of cordoned-off streets to watch the first of two days of the Formula 1 Jerusalem Peace Road Show. Ferrari, Audi and Lotus race cars burned octane and rubber past the King David Hotel, Jerusalem’s ritzy Mamilla neighborhood, the newly renovated train station, and the iconic Ottoman-era Old City walls.

A Formula One car cruises through the s-turn at the Sultan's Pools, at the base of Jerusalem's Old City walls. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)
A Formula One car cruises through the s-turn at the Sultan’s Pool, at the base of Jerusalem’s Old City walls. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

Phalanxes of police officers, reinforced by Border Police and hundreds of private security guards, lined the track. A white IDF observation dirigible, capable of providing an eye in the sky for the security detail on the high-profile event, hovered near the Jaffa Gate.

The first wave of vehicles was scheduled to kick off their first lap at 4 p.m., but spectators waited a sweltering half hour until the rumble of the Ferrari Challenge’s V8 engine was finally heard. Thereafter, the growl of high-end motors punctuated downtown Jerusalem throughout the afternoon. 

Superbike motorcyclist Max Biaggi wheeled around the track, popping wheelies, making hairpin turns and stoppies on a dime, to the delight of spectators.

Superbike motorcyclist Max Biaggi popping a wheelie at the Sultan's Pools in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)
Superbike motorcyclist Max Biaggi popping a wheelie at the Sultan’s Pool in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who promoted the event, said the Peace Road Show would help attract tourists and draw positive attention to the city. Friday’s events take place from 11 a.m. to 2:20 p.m.

Residents of the capital were not universally enthusiastic. Many complained about the snarled traffic caused by closed streets surrounding the exhibition. Public buses were diverted. Businesses and hotels near the course had to adapt to the restrictions or close for the day. Frustrated pedestrians had to wait as much as a half an hour at a time to cross the streets taken up by course’s loop.

“The entire city is blocked off!” an exasperated young lady screeched at a police officer who pointed her in one direction futilely, and then the other.

Evan Shraga, of New York City, was in Jerusalem for a cousin’s bar mitzvah, but couldn’t leave the city due to the barricaded roads. He said he had been waiting for hours to leave.

“Does anybody work in this country?!” he vented.

Alon Cohen, 25, of Jerusalem, said that despite the cost, the show was worthwhile. “You can’t put a price on image,” he said, echoing the mayor’s sentiments.

Sarig Reuven, who was watching the spectacle in the shade by the King David Hotel, said it was “a whole lot of nothing for nothing” and that he didn’t see much despite having been on the course for several hours.

“Good intentions, not great performance,” he said.

A split second later, the first of several top-of-the-line Formula 1 cars zoomed by with the ferocity of an F-16. Visibly wowed, Reuven retracted his previous comments: “Never mind, it was worth it.”

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