Racing and more in S’pore by night

Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
The New York Times

The first night race in Formula One history put Singapore on the sport’s map in 2008, and visitors to the 2010 Grand Prix this weekend will find that the city-state has not stopped innovating.

In the last year, Singapore has opened two integrated resorts with casinos, a number of boutique hotels and countless restaurants and clubs. While it is still far from being a city that never sleeps, Singapore is trying hard to demonstrate that it is more than just a place to do business, and the Grand Prix affords it a perfect occasion to do so on a large scale in front of many high net-worth individuals.

With the street track winding through the heart of the city and the race’s night setting, race promoters have always paid close attention to the entertainment component of the Singapore Grand Prix, both inside and outside the circuit zone. This year, the entertainment budget is slightly more than 5 million Singapore dollars, or $3.7 million, up from nearly 4 million dollars in 2009 and about 3 million dollars in 2008.

“A few other Grand Prix also have some entertainment, but I think it’s fair to say very little compared with the Singapore Grand Prix,” said Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore race and director of the concert promoter Lushington Entertainments. “Here it’s really about a multi-sensory experience, all dancing and singing.”

Last year, the main entertainment component, the F1 Rocks concerts, was staged at a separate venue, away from the circuit, although the race promoters also organized entertainment on the circuit. But this year, the Singapore organizers have considerably increased the headlining acts available within the circuit zone, with 10 different stages spread across four areas.

Several artists will be performing more than once and in different zones around the circuit. Missy Elliot and Chris Daughtry got the party rolling on Friday and Daughtry was to perform again Saturday, along with another American Idol alumnus, Adam Lambert, plus the R&B singer and Grammy Award winner Raphael Saadiq, the electro house music of the remix maestro DJ Tiga and the four opera sopranos of DIV4S. On Sunday, Mariah Carey is to headline a show including the singer-rapper Sean Kingston, among others.

“We want the Grand Prix to reach out to as many people as possible,” Roche said. “So with our music, we’re trying to appeal to a very broad demographic. There is a little bit of everything for everybody.”

The Chippendales, the Las Vegas male revue, will also be performing inside the circuit.

“We have a very high attendance from females, which is quite unusual for a motor sports event — it’s purely my guess, but I think it’s close to 40 percent — so we want to really capitalize on that,” Roche said.

For the Singapore Tourism Board, the Grand Prix is an opportunity to showcase the city-state as a compelling tourism destination.

“I think we’re the only ones who really run a whole 10-day season around the Grand Prix,” said Chew Tiong Heng, director of destination marketing at the Singapore Tourist Board. “For others, it’s mostly about the race; for us, it’s really not just the sport.”

“By extending the celebration over 10 days,” he added, “we have more reasons to promote the event to a bigger audience pool — race fans and non-race fans.”

He estimated that last year the Grand Prix brought in an additional 93 million dollars in incremental tourist receipts and expects this to top 100 million dollars this year.

The Singapore night race has been described by Bernie Ecclestone, promoter of the elite racing series, as “the jewel” in the Formula One crown. Its floodlit, 5-kilometer track, or 3 miles, around central Singapore glows like a luminous ribbon linking both historic buildings and the modern skyscrapers of the financial district.

This year, a new imposing backdrop to the race will be on view: the $5.5 billion Marina Bay Sands, an integrated resort with casino. Topping its three hotel towers, 200 meters, or 650 feet, above the ground, is the Skypark, a 380-meter-long rooftop deck with a 150-meter-long, infinity-edge swimming pool and a Ku De Ta bar, an outpost of the famed Bali beach-front restaurant-club. Although the cars zipping around below will be barely visible, this is likely to be one of the prime places to see the race and, of course, to be seen.

“This year, we unveiled to the world that Singapore’s transformation is now finally ready,” Chew said, referring to the opening of the Marina Bay Sands as well as Resorts World Sentosa and its Universal Studios theme park. “The Grand Prix is like software, while the two new integrated resorts are like the hardware of what we are doing in Singapore to position and brand ourselves as a vibrant city, a city that has its own unique mix and is a city of possibilities.

“We want to show we can make things happen, in our own unique way,” he added.

Outside the track area, more than 20 Formula One-related events have been planned during race week. The iconic Hollywood night club Avalon will open a permanent space at the Marina Bay Sands early next year, but it has already hosted a two-day event with the American rapper Flo Rida, the Australian electro duo Empire of the Sun and leading international D.J.s.

The Amber Lounge, a nightlife event at several Grand Prix races founded by Sonia Irvine, sister of the former Formula One driver Eddie Irvine, is touted as the ultimate after-party spot for star gazing during the Singapore race week. It was also hosting an Amber Lounge Fashion show, which raises funds for charities, the first time the event was held outside Monaco.

Other events, such as The Podium Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel or the Official Lounge at the Pan Pacific Hotel, are capitalizing on their proximity to the race track and the possibility that the drivers will attend.

“After traveling in Asia, it became apparent that Singapore really had an appetite for development and new, creative ideas,” said Steven Adelman, co-founder of the Avalon club. “When the opportunity came through our partners in Korea to get involved with the Marina Bay Sands project, it actually became a no-brainer.”

“Furthermore, the scene here has a lot of great energy,” he added. “Unlike others markets, such as New York and Los Angeles, I’ve done business in, people here are not as jaded, and seem to like to simply have fun.”

Chew said that while the Grand Prix was intended to be an inclusive event, involving locals, the government also sees the race as the opportunity to showcase the city-state to high net-worth individuals who come to Singapore for the race.

“It’s like a window,” he said. “The intention really is to get to this realm of high net-worth individuals to seriously look at Singapore in the way they’re looking at Monaco, for instance.”

This year, many corporations returned to again snap up hospitality suite tickets for their clients. Organizers increased by 5 percent the number of hospitality suite tickets to 10,500. The cheapest went for 3,500 dollars, in the Green Room, and the price rose for the Sky Suite and Club Suite, with the most expansive seat in the Paddock Club, at 8,000 dollars.

Patrons of the Paddock Club can enjoy an array of food prepared by the celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who flew in from New York with a team of assistants. Last year, the celebrity chef for the Paddock Club was Nobu Matsuhisa.

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