x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Keeping the Yas wheels rolling

The former mechanic at the helm of efforts to have the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix running on schedule says his motivation is simple: failure is not an option.

In his office, Richard Cregan, the chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, has an artist's impression of a jam-packed  Yas Marina Circuit on race day.
In his office, Richard Cregan, the chief executive officer of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, has an artist's impression of a jam-packed Yas Marina Circuit on race day.

ABU DHABI // Richard Cregan always had a knack for making things work. His racing career, he said, was unspectacular. After working for decades as a mechanic for Toyota, he was named team leader of its Formula One team in 2004.

And now he is helping something even bigger run smoothly: the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The County Kildare native heading the entire operation for Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management (ADMM), the race organisers, said that if he had not moved to Abu Dhabi in January, he would probably be well into his 25th year with Toyota, still living in Germany. But now Mr Cregan, 49, faces the challenge of making sure that the circuit is delivered on time and meets all safety requirements, and ensuring that all his staff go home happy at the end of the day.

He acknowledges that the move from running an F1 team to running an F1 race is an enormous jump. "There are a lot of unknowns in it for myself. I am looking at the business from a different side of the fence," he said. "The challenge is having a project that is so big and knowing that it, No. 1, can't fail and, No. 2, has to be delivered on time. "In my previous job, I was leading a team of people to achieve [something in] a race every second weekend. But here there are a lot of unknowns because everything is new."

Just as the slightest bump in the 5.55km circuit could affect a driver's course, the key, Mr Cregan said, was identifying minor issues that might have major repercussions. "You are out on the circuit looking around, looking for things that may be a problem, recognising the fact that what may seem like a simple problem could become a big problem and you have to be ready to take that forward and not be afraid to ask a silly question," he said.

"Really, there are no silly questions with a project like this." Half of Mr Cregan's week, including the weekend days, is now spent on Yas Island, moving between the cabins of his staff, the track designers and the developers, Aldar. Even with three months to go, 12- to 14-hour days are normal for Mr Cregan. He remains affable, however, despite the workload. The race is likely to be watched by more than 600 million people worldwide and Mr Cregan said it almost certainly represented the largest event ever in the UAE.

With these factors in mind, he knows how much responsibility is on his shoulders. "Following on from 24 years with Toyota to the situation I am now in ... I feel very honoured and privileged and I felt the same about being team manager for Toyota," he said. "When you achieve your goal and reach a position you have been looking for, you have to respect that and the people around you who have made that possible.

"When I see the opportunity I have been given here with Yas Marina Circuit, I have to understand the magnitude of it. Failure is not an option - that is it. I like that kind of pressure and that kind of challenge." After seven years of working with the Toyota F1 team, four of them as team manager, Mr Cregan is a familiar face to those behind the scenes of the sport. In his time in F1, the team competed in 120 grands prix, with their drivers finishing on the podium eight times. They were not the most successful of teams despite being, in Mr Cregan's words, "well funded, put it that way".

The father of three remains popular in the sport, evidenced by his brief visit to the Bahrain Grand Prix in April, where he was unable to travel more than a few feet in the team paddock before being met with a hug or handshake. The familial atmosphere is something he hopes will be replicated at ADMM's offices, where the staff of 30 will almost triple in the coming weeks. "You would travel to between 18 and 19 races per year, so you find yourself being like a big family," he said. "You have your family [with teams like] Toyota, McLaren, Ferrari ... But there are very different relations on track than, for example, back at the factory.

"In Toyota's case, the track was usually 90 to 100 people and back in the factory you are looking at 700 to 800 people. There is a completely different feeling to travelling together, experiencing the highs and lows, success and failure. You really get to know people, how you can depend on other people, what their strengths and weaknesses are. One of my main goals is to make sure all of the ADMM staff feel part of that team. Each and every one of us is a link in a chain."

On a wall inside the office of ADMM on Yas Island hangs a sign informing its staff of what lies on the horizon: "Abu Dhabi Grand Prix: 14 weeks to go!" Mr Cregan says there is a "huge buzz" surrounding the preparations and it is tangible, even if the circuit does not quite resemble the computer-generated images that line the office. The most immediate pressing date on the calendar is Aug 1, when a delegation from the FIA, the world motorsport governing body, will arrive in Abu Dhabi to perform one of the final track inspections at the Yas Marina Circuit.

Although it will not be the final green light for the race, it will be a significant milestone in confirming the circuit's readiness. After that, Aldar will hand the track over to ADMM on Sept 1. Even though some additional cosmetic work will be carried out, "a few licks of paint" as Mr Cregan put it, most of the work will be complete. On Oct 1, ADMM will hand over the circuit to three separate organisations, as is the requirement at each circuit. Representatives from the FIA will move on to the island to handle the sporting and technical side, Formula One Management staff will look after the teams' interests and All Sport, a Swiss company, will look after the advertising side.

"I have always loved motorsport," Mr Cregan said. "But no matter what experience you have in motorsport, nothing prepares you for the atmosphere of F1 in terms of the sounds, the senses. "What people can experience when they arrive at the Yas Marina Circuit is really an experience they will want to come back to." rhughes@thenational.ae