x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Legrand ready for ultimate test at Yas Marina Circuit

Yas Marina's events manager was destined for career in motorsport and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is her big moment.

A lucky break got Peggy Legrand her job here.
A lucky break got Peggy Legrand her job here.

ABU DHABI // For Peggy Legrand, there has been no escaping motorsport. It's an attraction that has taken her from Cologne to Abu Dhabi, where she is the events manager at Yas Marina Circuit.

This weekend's grand prix will be Ms Legrand's ultimate test.

But her path to this point has zigged and zagged like an F1 track. It all began in Australia.

When she found work in advertising, her company's accounts included Volkswagen and Audi.

And when she was with the sports equipment maker Puma, they won a deal with the F1 team Jordan to provide the team's uniform.

"Even when I wasn't working in motorsport, it was always tugging at me," she said. "I just couldn't keep away from it."

No kidding.

She then cut out the middle-man and found her first job that was directly in the world of wheels.

That was in 2004, when she started in the marketing department of Bridgestone Australia. Bridgestone is a leading provider of tyres to Formula One teams.

After that, she moved to the UK to work for Honda and then Toyota.

She had travelled the world with the Toyota Formula One team, working in its marketing department based in Cologne, Germany.

Then came the hiccup.

The carmaker Toyota was losing money by the boatload, and the high cost of its Formula One team was unseemly in a time of layoffs.

The team was officially disbanded last November 4 - just three days after the inaugural Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Ms Legrand was part of the team Toyota had sent to the Emirates.

Fortunately, she had made a useful connection during her time in the capital.

"I was lucky enough to have worked with Richard [Cregan, the chief executive of Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management, which manages the track]," she recalled. "He rang me and said he had roles available here, and I applied.

"When I first came here, I thought the city was great, the country was great, the race was great - so why not?"

Now, as Yas Marina Circuit's events manager, her ultimate test is this week's grand prix. The test, she said, stretched far beyond the race itself.

"My role is to promote ADMM and Yas Marina Circuit, as well as Abu Dhabi in everything we do. It's much more than just delivering an event. It is about how we present ourselves and how we represent the city.

"I love that part of the job. We want people to come back to Yas Marina and see it as an extension of Abu Dhabi's hospitality."

Since Sunday, she and her team have been inspecting all the new structures in the Oasis restaurant area, and in the various vending zones.

"We have to check it from a hands-on point of view. They have to have power, water and everything they need," she said.

Once the race is over Ms Legrand will be back in the office, looking at how to improve things for next year.

This year did not run quite to plan, though. The build schedule was delayed because extra service points in the Oasis areas were added.

"We gave ourselves lots of time," she said, "but it still wasn't enough."

Between now and the end of the year, there are about two events at the track each day. But even after that, there will be little let-up - Ms Legrand expects the track to host 300 conferences next year.

Away from the hectic run-up to F1, those conferences are her focus. There are drive days, when carmakers hire the track for clients to test-drive their newest cars, and corporate training sessions that include pit stop challenges, or even building race cars out of cardboard.

Ms Legrand said the facilities added this year had made the track a more attractive venue.

"They can use the Yas Hotel for accommodation and the media centre for conferences. If they want downtime, they can use the marina, the golf course or even the track."

And in an idle moment they can surf Facebook. If they check Ms Legrand's page, they should not be surprised at its motorsport theme. Her profile picture shows her with the champion racer Michael Schumacher and she lists Gran Torino among her favourite movies (Blazing Saddles is there too, so she's not all about the cars).

eharnan@thenational.ae