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SA22_SP_SAUDIMOTORSPORTCO_MartinWhitaker_PIC

SAUDI ARABIA - Sports

Martin Whitaker

CEO, Saudi Motorsport Company (SMC)

Bio

Martin Whitaker has enjoyed an extensive career in motorsport spanning some 30 years, including roles throughout the sport working for the governing body FIA and for Formula One Management as the communications manager for Formula One team McLaren and director of motorsport for the Ford Motor Company and its Formula One and World Rally Championship programs. In addition, Whitaker has held the role of CEO for the Bahrain International Circuit and the international racing series Australian V8 Supercars. He is currently the CEO of the SMC.

"With the sport growing so rapidly in the Kingdom, the decision was made to create a commercial and operational arm to the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF)."
SMC leads the development of motorsports in Saudi Arabia and the hosting of international events such as the FIA Formula One STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and the Dakar Rally.
What was the incentive behind the establishment of the SMC?

With the sport growing so rapidly in the Kingdom, the decision was made to create a commercial and operational arm to the Saudi Automobile and Motorcycle Federation (SAMF). Before the increasing demand for the development of the sport and the growing presence of international events, SAMF was the sole organizing and operational body. For its part, SAMF is the governing body of the sport in Saudi Arabia. SAMF is the organization that controls all technical aspects of the sport in the Kingdom while issuing permits, competition licenses, and managing the sporting regulations. It does not, however, have a commercial or operational capacity, and because of this SMC was established. SMC was launched in November 2021, when the Jeddah Corniche Circuit was under construction, and the Kingdom was preparing for the inaugural Saudi Arabian STC Formula 1 Grand Prix. The new organization staged the second F1 Saudi Arabian GP in 2022, and it was not until May that year that the company was able to function and begin work on the strategic plan for the development and growth of the sport in the Kingdom. In so doing, SMC complements the activities of its parent company SAMF and also acts more as a “sister” company working closely on the development of the sport.

In what ways will you support Saudi motorsport events?

Essentially, we have a blank canvas on which to develop motorsport in Saudi Arabia. It is a fascinating and unique project; few countries in the modern era have had the opportunity to establish a national motorsport program from scratch. SMC is charged, along with the SAMF, to grow motorsport from the entry level. By managing the development of the sport, we are at the beginning of something very special. The attraction of international events such as the Formula One Grand Prix, the Dakar Rally, Formula E, and the Extreme E series helps us raise the opportunity of using motorsport as a platform to inspire a younger audience. These events, along with recently targeted events such as the FIM MotoGP and the FIA World Rally Championship, help us to raise both the profile of the Kingdom on a world stage and also use sport as a means by which to change perceptions and also crucially to engage the Saudi youth market. In addition to established international events, SMC’s vision is to create “Saudi-owned” events; events that will turn the traditional method of importing events through 180 degrees. This allows SMC to create our own IP with events that will not only form the basis for sporting competition in the Kingdom but ones that can be exported through the region and internationally. These initiatives are not purely racetrack or rally stage generated; there are others such as the Motorsport Awards that seek to reward young Saudi competitors on an annual basis, business networking seminars using the power of the sport to provide a vibrant stage on which to engage international business, and classic racing and concours d’elegance events. In turn, we are also looking to tap into the increasing interest in esports while broadening the understanding and promotion of environmental and sustainability projects in the Kingdom. The focus on Saudi-owned activities is core to the vision of engaging with young Saudi champions of the future across all motorsport disciplines, who will benefit from racing and off-road academies that are being built in line with international and regional events. Our electric karting program, Saudi Young Stars, run in conjunction with former Ferrari and Williams engineer Rob Smedley, is designed to identify young talent of the future. Starting at the age of six, karting is being rolled out across the Kingdom with several karting tracks either being planned or under construction. More importantly, it is about creating an ecosystem for the development of young Saudis, giving them a chance to have a career in the sport.

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