In just one weekend, and in unprecedented fashion, five drivers were crowned as world champions across three FIA/CIK series at one venue: Bahrain International Circuit.
Since it hosted the first Formula 1 Grand Prix in the region in 2004, Bahrain has been a trendsetter that other players in the region – most notably Qatar and Abu Dhabi – have followed in similarly successful style.
Last weekend, Bahrain set an historic landmark with three FIA/CIK World Championships being decided at one venue: The FIA World Endurance Championship and CIK-FIA World Karting and Junior World Karting Championships.
In all, five drivers – Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, Marc Lieb, Pedro Hiltbrand and Victor Martins – were crowned as world champions within hours of each other. The event was hosted under the umbrella of the Bahrain Motorsport Festival, with 268 drivers from 35 nationalities competing.
"For us it was a very special weekend, I think for the first time in history we had three World Championships decided on the same day, out of the eight on the FIA and CIK calendar," Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa, Bahrain International Circuit's chief executive, told Motorsport.com.
"This year we had three elements that came together to make it a motorsports festival. First of all we had the WEC, then we had the two World Championship karting rounds.
"The karting was a very special event: two world champions crowned, in a pair of one-off races. I think we had 100 drivers in Junior and 47 in Senior, and I recall the last time we had a similar World Championship event, in 2013, we had Max Verstappen racing. And three years later we have him in our Formula 1 race."
Building its history
The Gulf island kingdom has now hosted 12 F1 Grands Prix, and played host to all kinds of championships down the years – including even Australian V8 Supercars as well as GP2, F3 and FIA GTs and local series.
"We try to be the home of motorsports in the Middle East," says Shaikh Salman. "The Middle East is an important part of any World Championship. And our commitment to motorsport in a long-term one.
"We try to bring all aspects of the racing calendars. We have Formula 1 at the beginning of the year, at the end of the year we have endurance racing with the 6 Hours of Bahrain. They're both a very important part of bringing motorsports culture to the region.
"When we started in 2004 we were the first circuit, and there are other circuits that then came on board like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar, and they all help in building this motorsports culture. I don't think we compete with each other, but we complement each other in the region. As long as we don't clash with the calendars, it's all beneficial.
"We're very proud of our races here, it's been a fantastic final round of the WEC this year, and we've helped them add a race in the Middle East. It's great to see all the manufacturers and technology that goes on in the WEC, and as a race circuit it's important to manage those relationships with Porsche, Toyota, Ferrari, Ford and the other manufacturers. So it's not just about one weekend, you can gain a lot of business throughout the year.
"We were very honored to have Audi winning their final race after so much success over these 18 years, all the success at Le Mans, and Mark Webber's final race."
Racing under lights
Since 2014, Bahrain has run its Grands Prix under floodlights, and its WEC races have always started before dusk and raced into the darkness.
And even its karting circuit has mirrored that approach: "Racing under the lights is something special, and the drivers said they loved the layout of the karting circuit, a very challenging one," adds Shaikh Salman of the 1.414km kart track that features 14 turns.
"Everyone said they wanted to come back, which isn't surprising because we get 120-130 people coming to our arrive-and-drive days every day. We're open 10am until midnight, and we only stop two days a year – the day after the World Championships and on National Day.
"Our karting circuit plays a very vital role in building our level of grassroots racers in the region. If we want to see our local drivers one day rise up the ladder in Formula 3, GP2 and F1 then we need to build up our karting base, and then they can also graduate into GT races or single-seater events. It's a very important part of our plans.
"In terms of our facility, I know I'm biased but I think it's one of the best I've seen, and the service that we provide is more important – we look after our customers with pride, passion and performance. It's worked very well for us."
Bahrain has become a fixture on the world motorsports scene, and a significant one on many levels – not just geographically.
"We work closely with the FIA and CIK," concludes Shaikh Salman. "For example, they were [recently] testing some barriers at the side of the track. We're a centre for the FIA's Institute for Excellence, so we work closely with them on various aspects of safety and standards."
Interview by Khodr Rawi
Co-author: خضر الراوي, رئيس التحرير