Growing up just outside Dublin, the capital of Ireland, in County Kildare, Richard Cregan's passion was not football or rugby like many of his peers. Posters of a Porsche, Ferrari and classic Alfa Romeo adorned his bedroom wall. He loved cars and bikes, with his older brother, Andy, introducing him to life in the fast lane. "He used to do a lot of motorbike trials so I was introduced to motorsport when I was about five or six," says Cregan.
"That's when I realised this is what I wanted to do, to be part of all of this. At that time, Ireland was a relatively young country and developing its infrastructure, but I loved motorsport more than anything else. "Andy is my only brother so we had a great relationship. He was always very determined and that was one of the things that helped me choose my own career. "I did rally-cross for a couple of years, club level at the Mondello Park circuit in Ireland, and I think you need to compete in motorsport to understand what drives you.
"It helps you understand drivers and that's why you have so many team managers and team principals who have been involved themselves because they understand what it means to be driven by that same passion." His career saw him go from working as a mechanic with his country's national airline, Aer Lingus, to being part of Toyota's rise in world rally - winning four drivers' championships - and then Formula One.
Now he is ready to write a new chapter in his life and a enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which he dared not let pass him by. As the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Motorsports Management (ADMM) he knows he has a big challenge ahead, bringing the top events to the Yas Marina Circuit. Formula One will be the highlight on Nov 1 for the capital's debut race, but Le Mans 24 Hours, FIA GT and, quite possibly, MotoGP races could all form part of the year-round vision for the Aldar-developed circuit.
"Everything is here and we will consider any event that makes this circuit successful," he adds, his Irish eyes lighting up as he surveys the ambitious plans for the £40billion (Dh242bn) Yas Island project. "You don't get many opportunities like this. If you look at what we are involved in on Yas, it's part of a bigger picture. "The more you see and get involved with what's happening, then you see there's a vision there for the long-term future of Abu Dhabi. There's a 2030 plan and the great thing is you look at the plan and see it's actually happening and relate to it.
"Every time you go out there, you see another part of it being added and it's one of the few places in the world where that kind of thing is happening. "I spent many years with Toyota in motorsport and came to a point where I needed another challenge. "This opportunity came along and the minute I visited Abu Dhabi and saw what was going on I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. "I had been following news of the track like everyone else, but after the Bahrain Grand Prix last year, I went to visit.
"You then see the scale of the project and the commitment from Khaldoon [al Mubarak, chairman of ADMM], and all the other stakeholders and you know this is something special. "For me personally to see what was going on was amazing. In all the circuits I have been to around the world, I have never seen anything like it, even in the early stages. "You could see the vision, you could see the passion that created that. You knew this was something to be part of."
A popular figure in the Formula One paddock, Cregan admits to being a tough, but fair boss. His reputation flourished during his 24 years with the Toyota team, where he rose from being a mechanic with the rally team to becoming the team manager for the Formula One outfit in 2004. "I have seen both sides of motorsport, both with rallying and Formula One, so it helps," he says. "It has given me a great opportunity to work with people like Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Juha Kankkunen and Bjorn Waldegard.
"My motorsport hero was probably Ayrton Senna. He was someone driven by a passion. "Nothing could stand in his way if he wanted to win. He was very dedicated person and believed in what he was doing and believed in himself." That philosophy from the Brazilian driver, who died in 1994 after a crash while leading the San Marino Grand Prix, is something Cregan clearly shares. He is driven in his goal to achieve all he can, but admits family life is equally as important.
Life in Formula One can often mean many days away from home, but his wife, Patricia, sons Barry and Robert - a promising driver who took part in the Porsche Supercup last year at 19 - and daughter, Jennifer, have been supportive. Cregan may now get to see them a bit more, but his focus will also be on making Abu Dhabi's debut grand prix one to remember. "Of course we want it to be the best," he adds. "And I will be doing everything I can to help make that happen.
"Pressure is good. Everyone needs pressure and it's something I thrive on. You have to have a challenge and I think there are two things you to have in anything you do. "You have to believe in what you are working with and the creation you are working on. "The second thing is passion. When I first came to Abu Dhabi, my first impression was how friendly everyone was, but the other thing was how big a job I had taken on.
"Expectations are there. I've had great challenges in my life and career and had the opportunity to work with great people. "Going to Abu Dhabi is the same thing. It just drives you and makes you perform. "But I don't want anyone to look back and see what I did. I want people to look back at what we did, as a team. "That we have created something very, very special. That people will leave on the Sunday and they will want to come back because it was an amazing event in organisation, location and spectacle.
"It would be nice to have a legacy for all of us; that this was the pinnacle of all the grands prix. "I think everyone involved wants to work on achieving that and it goes back to the passion, the hunger for success. I didn't hesitate or worry about the challenge ahead. It only made me more determined to join the team." And he is determined to reach out to the audience in the UAE too, which will be no easy task.
When the A1 Grand Prix, an open-wheel racing series between nations founded by Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher in 2005, came to Dubai, it was a major disappointment to see thousands of empty spaces around the Dubai Autodrome in front of a watching world on television. The race was held on a Sunday, a normal working day for many in the Emirates, and Cregan is keen to avoid the same fate for the Formula One race, eager to lure the Emiratis and expatriates to motorsport's showpiece event.
That is why the prospect of a night race remains an option. "The track is being built to accommodate 24-hour racing so we can illuminate the track to the level needed for cameras and HD television," he says. "All those options are there, but nothing has been decided yet. "At the moment the race starts at 3pm, but we are looking at all the options. "For now, we are concentrating on getting the race ready for Nov 1 and that is a big task, but it doesn't mean we are not looking at the idea of a night race.
"It's more a Formula One Management (FOM) decision because of TV slots, but I want everyone to say this has been a fantastic event, and whatever we have to do to achieve that, we will do. "The crowds are what make it happen. We want to get them back year after year, and develop that racing mentality in Abu Dhabi and show that it can be done. "The biggest challenge is making it an Emirati experience. That the Emirati population understand what we are trying to achieve and why, and what motorsport is all about.
"The first year of the grand prix makes it special and we do have a capacity for 50,000 people. "I believe that between the Emirati and expat community we will fill that. "Ticket sales have gone really well and I also think there's an amazing passion there for speed and cars and one of our targets is to build on that and educate for the future." Emirati education is a key component in the long-term ADMM vision, but two developments in the past week will prove significant for this race and beyond.
This season's battle for the drivers' championship has taken a fresh twist with Jenson Button, the runaway early leader, being chased by his Brawn GP teammate Rubens Barrichello and Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, sparking hope of a thrilling title showdown in the Emirates. Then, crucially, came the news earlier this week that there would be no rival series and that Formula One would continue in its current format with all the leading teams in next year's championship.
Abu Dhabi has a seven-year race agreement in place with Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management and wants to see the top teams, such as Ferrari, taking part. It is amazing how many in the sport are excited about the grand plans for Yas Island and Abu Dhabi. Envious eyes are being cast in the capital's direction and, with its central location between Europe and Asia, it is perfectly placed to take advantage as motorsport reaches out to new parts of the world.