The Eilat circuit was Israel’s first attempt to kick start motor racing in over 40 years. Set on a harbour-side parking lot next to the Red Sea, the temporary facility helped launch the Formula Israel series using Formula Renault machinery.
Organisers had to overcome legislation which forbade motor racing prior to agreeing a deal with Ministry of Transport to use the land for the circuit.
Events took place between 2011 and 2013 and helped introduce a whole host of new drivers to the sport, though was always intended as a stopgap measure until new permanent circuits sprang up around the country.
Israeli motorsport had effectively come to a close for more than 40 years after the abortive Formula 2 event in Ashkelon in 1970. Strict regulations made organising home-grown motor racing events virtually impossible and the appetite for racing was somewhat diminished by the previous experiences. As Derek Bell opined at the time, the Ashkelon event had set back the cause of Israeli motorsport for decades.
By the early 2010s, however, a new interest had sprung up, as the global popularity of the sport meant that popular opinion was turning back in its favour. The strict regulations which effectively banned motorsport events being held in Israel were modified in March 2011 by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. This opened the door for race organisers to begin exploring the possibilities.
Among them were Boaz Meiri and Ofir Frank, both of whom were racing instructors in France. The pair saw an opportunity not only to build Israel’s first professional racetrack in the Port of Eilat, but also to make racing affordable and accessible to the Israeli public.
In 2011 they established Formula Israel, a single-seater series using Formula Renault machinery, with a unique driver evaluation programme behind it in order to get its crop of participants. For around $100, every applicant was given a special evaluation by Formula Renault professionals. Out of 3,000 applicants, 30 drivers were then selected for formal training.
The chosen group - 20 men and 10 women - were sent to France for hand-on instruction, while work to build the course on which they would race carried out. Training included physical conditioning courses, as well as runs on computer simulations ahead of taking the controls of race machinery.
Meiri and Frank worked out a five-year lease on a parcel of land at Eilat’s port with Israel’s Ministry of Transportation. The land was used for part of the year for the temporary storage of cars as they were imported into the country through the Red Sea port. As an already asphalted area, it was ideal for laying out a temporary course on, in a city that was used to handling tourists and visitors.
The initial mile-long layout included a tight hairpin bend connecting the two main straights with a twistier series of curves, somewhat reminiscent of Australia’s Symmons Plains circuit. It provided a short blast for the novice drivers with relatively few obstacles to hit. Making good use of the available resources, the back straight was lined by shipping containers. Stands for spectators were designed to accommodate around 4,000 fans.
The initial race in Eilat cost 6 million shekels ($1.7 million) to produce, but this was partly due to the high price of start-up construction and the need to purchase expensive licenses and insurance policies. Subsequent years saw costs come down considerably, with the winter race needing only 2.5 million shekels to put on.
The first event took place in December 2011 and saw nearly 4,000 spectators—mostly tourists and families—in attendance, allowing the organisers to make a small profit. It was followed up by a road show event in Jerusalem.
A repeat event took place a year later on the same course but for 2013 the circuit was modified, with the pit lane moving to the other side of the circuit, allowing a left-right chicane to be inserted as the first corners of the lap, providing a better overtaking opportunity. It also allowed for the addition of a drag strip utilising the back straight. Israeli international driver Roy Nissany did a demonstration run in a Formula 3 car.
Further events seem not to have taken place, despite the five-year contract to race at the site, however the track had served its purpose. By the middle of the decade, two new permanent circuits were in the planning, creating a much more sustainable future for the sport in Israel and effectively rendering the Eilat course redundant.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
- Eilat Harbor, Eilat, Israel
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The Eilat circuit was located on a parking area at the city’s harbour area. As a temporary facility, there is little in the way of the infrastructure of the circuit still in place. However the lines marking the route of the final event in 2013 are still visible between the rows of imported cars.