STRI head of consultancy, Richard Stuttard, speaks to Ten Furlongs about our role as principal contractor for the plan, design and management of the inaugural turf track in Saudia Arabia at King Abdulaziz Racecourse, host of The Saudi Cup.
Ten Furlongs (TF): Please tell us more about the work done by STRI Group for the King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
Richard Stuttard (RS): Firstly, we should note that STRI is delighted and honoured to be selected by his Excellency Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al Faisal as the Principal Contractors for engineering and construction of the new turf track at King Abdulaziz Racecourse.
Striving to achieve the wider National Vision 2030 we believe this facility will form part of a network of world leading venues in the region and create a global powerhouse of natural turf racing.
Our team has provided an end-to-end design and build solution to Riyadh Equestrian Club working to a brief of developing a turf racetrack of world leading standard.
TF: What is special about the new track designed and installed by STRI Group for the King Abdulaziz Racecourse?
RS: Prince Bandar’s vision was to create a track which will perform to the highest possible standards and has been constructed using the finest materials available. To meet the needs of a winter race in Saudi Arabia, the track has been established with a “cool season” grass species – ie a species usually found in more temperate climates.
This grass thrives in the winter climate of Saudi Arabia and, when combined with a special blend of stabilising fibres incorporated into the mix, it provides a surface which not only performs exceptionally well but also looks visually stunning.
In addition, the entire design, build and establishment of the track was undertaken in a record-breaking period of just six months, requiring a large-scale resource input to achieve such a fast turnaround.
TF: How did you start the initial design and preparation work? Did you have any concerns about growing and maintaining the quality of grass required for a turf track in Riyadh?
RS: STRI has made its name developing elite sports surfaces across the world and our in-house R&D combined with global network means that we are able to adapt to even the most challenging of situations.
The key challenges associated with this project were timescales and climate. Following the engagement, our teams of researchers and consultants quickly established the most effective way of producing a surface that would meet the needs of our client and our on-the-ground mobilisation was almost immediate, to ensure we made the most of the time available to us to deliver.
TF: What were the elements involved when designing and building for a world-class racecourse? Were there any concerns?
RS: Engineering a track of this standard is a highly complex process requiring input from world-leading experts in drainage, irrigation, construction materials and biomechanics.
The primary constituents that make up the track are relatively few in number, but the type and amounts of those constituents are critical to making the track a success. First steps are to understand the baseline environment of the development site. Our team conducted a detailed study of the site including a comprehensive review of climatic conditions.
From there, an extensive materials selection regime was undertaken, taking a range of sands and gravels from around the Kingdom and testing them for their compatibility to create a firm surface ideal for racing. This rootzone, once mixed with stabilising fibres, provides the perfect medium within which to install the grass surface.
The construction process itself was rapid and extensive resources were drafted from across the GCC to excavate the existing track material and install the new. Timing was critical and the earth movement work had to be completed at breakneck speed as we needed to be ready to sow with the cool-season grass species as soon as temperatures reached the optimal level.
Once sown, a daily bespoke maintenance regime was developed to ensure the correct levels of water and fertiliser were applied to maximise strong sward establishment.
Deep rooting was critical to develop a grass surface that not only looked fantastic, but also held together under the stresses created by a galloping horse. After several months of careful maintenance, we are delighted to have presented and demonstrated, during the recent test event, a track that is befitting of this prestigious race event.
TF: What does STRI specialise in? Please tell us about some of your other landmark projects.
RS: STRI specialises in the design and construction of elite sports surfaces. We have a large team of technical specialists devoted to developing the latest technologies and construction techniques relating to sports surface development.
We are world leaders in cutting edge R&D enabling our team of designers to create the highest quality playing surfaces in the most efficient way. Coupling our design capabilities with our construction services allows us to deliver a project from the very beginning to the very end.
In our 90-year history, we have supported a wide range of sporting environments, from international tournaments such as the FIFA Football World Cup, Wimbledon Tennis Championships and The Open Golf Championships, through to the Olympic Games. We operate from multiple offices around the world servicing clients globally.
Our involvement in racing and equestrian facilities is extensive, working at internationally renowned racecourses for more than 20 years. In 2012, STRI designed and built the equestrian course for the London 2012 Olympic Games and have delivered racing and equestrian projects around the world including Ascot, Longchamp, Churchill Downs and Eagle Farm.
TF: How do you provide sustainability and design for the future?
RS: Sustainability underpins STRI’s approach to all design projects. Our R&D teams are continually innovating technologies to make developments more sustainable, through the construction and operational phases of their lifecycles.
This not only relates to sustainability from a climate perspective, with the key pressures being water and resource use, but we also work with clients to design facilities which will fit their business model needs in the short, medium and long-term.
For example, water use per capita in the Middle East is amongst the highest in the world. Current forecasts suggest that local aquifers will run dry in the next 20 years. STRI develops technologies and techniques to reduce the water requirement of natural turf.
TF: How do you choose which projects to get involved with?
RS: We have made somewhat of a name for ourselves as being problem solvers. We have the capability to meet the needs of a client in situations where the requirements of the project may be deemed challenging or unsustainable.
HRH Prince Bandar’s project in Riyadh is a great example of this – the timescales, climate, resource availability and the need to have a surface of exceptional quality all make this project a challenge.
However, it is exactly those kinds of projects that we relish the opportunity to get involved in.
TF: Passion is defined by values such as continuously moving forward, innovating and improving. What are the values by which you see STRI defining this passion?
RS: The STRI Group’s mission is to deliver outstanding services and solutions to every client. To achieve this, we employ talented, visionary and passionate people who have a burning desire to succeed. It is only when we collaborate and integrate ideas across the STRI Group that we can help to shape and create the future global sporting landscape.
STRI’s central tenet is to be forward-thinking, ambitious and brave, yet remain true to our core principles of excellence, improvement and solutions rooted in science. It is by these values that we define our passion as they breed excellence across teams and drive business success.