Friday 15 November 2019

Obituary: David Marren

PR chief who was at heart of Ireland staging World Rally Championship races, writes Martin McCarthy

EXPERTISE: Dave Marren
EXPERTISE: Dave Marren

David Marren, who died recently after a short illness, was at the heart of an amazing era where Ireland and Irish people held significant influence in world motor sport - F1, sports car racing and the World Rally Championship.

Exactly 20 years ago - late autumn 1999, Eddie Irvine, with that distinctive shamrock on his red helmet, was battling with Mika Hakkinen for the Formula One World Drivers' championship. The Newtownards driver was leading the famed Scuderia Ferrari - thanks to an ascension through the ranks greatly assisted by Dave Marren. But that particular year, Dave's focus was on Jordan Grand Prix, where he looked after the sponsorship of the team for Gallagher plc and their brand, B&H. Eddie Jordan's team were winning Grand Prix races and in the mix to win the FIA Constructors' Championship - thanks to drivers Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Damon Hill.

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Irvine ultimately finished 1999 as runner-up in the F1 Drivers' Championship, while Jordan Grand Prix were third in the Constructors' Championship - ahead of greats like Williams. 1999 was a pinnacle year for Irish influence in F1 - but when a round of the coveted World Rally Championship was brought to Ireland by Motor sport Ireland in 2007 and 2009 - Dave was at the heart of it, thanks to his expertise in global sports marketing and intimate knowledge, skill and reputation with Government, the sport's governing bodies, competitors and backers.

He was on first-name terms with Bernie Ecclestone, Jean Todt, Max Mosely and team owners and managers up and down the pit lane - thanks to his charm, entertaining personality and insight into shaping commercial arrangements that could work for everyone.

Michael David Marren was born in Dublin, the eldest of five children of Nuala and Enda Marren. Enda was prominent in Fine Gael politics - derived from his Mayo birthplace and his profession as a successful Dublin-based solicitor.

Dave grew up in South Park, Foxrock, and had the idyllic Dublin suburban childhood surrounded by family and friends and enriched with a strong rural influence gained from summers in Mayo and Ballybunion. He went to school, initially, in St Brigid's NS Mart Lane, and followed in his father's footsteps to Rockwell College, and finally transferring to Blackrock College for his Leaving Cert.

Even at this early stage, he had the motor sport bug and with classmate Colm Doherty went down to Stuart Cosgrave's Mondello Park to see the amazing cluster of local stars whose eyes were firmly set on getting to the UK and following John Watson into F1. The daring exploits of Derek Daly, David Kennedy, Michael Roe, Kenny Acheson, Martin Donnelly and Bernard Devaney inspired Dave.

After a brief spell in UCD, he started work in PR with Bill O'Herlihy, home to a dynamic band including Pat Heneghan, Eileen Gleeson, Sean O'Connor and others. Shortly thereafter he transferred to London where he worked with Graham Bogle of Charles Stewart, the agency working on the massive Philip Morris company account.

Their Marlboro F1 World Championship team consisted not just of Grand Prix heroes John Watson and James Hunt - but also nurtured youngsters with talent. This enabled underfunded, promising drivers get a platform to show their talent - and Eddie Irvine was one of those who benefited most. With Dave's support, and thanks to Ralph and Angie Firman's brilliant Van Diemen cars, Irvine won the Formula Ford Festival and later the UK F3 Championships and went on to Japanese F3000 to make his fortune before getting to F1 in late 1993.

In parallel, Eddie Jordan was climbing his way to the top, as a team owner, winning the F3 Championship with Johnny Herbert (1987) and then F3000 series with Jean Alesi (1989) and by 1991 he was in F1, armed with the gorgeous Gary Anderson-designed 7-Up car. Philip Morris owned other brands, such as Montblanc, and marketed in other sports, most notably golf. Dave was heavily involved with The World Cup of Golf in 1989 and 1990. At the end of 1993, Irvine made a sensational F1 debut for Eddie Jordan and there he stayed until Marlboro-backed Ferrari took him at the end of 1995.

The scale of F1 is vast - 350m TV viewers of the 20 or so races held around the globe and involving so many of the world's best marketing organisations.

In 1996 Gallaher plc opted to start an F1 programme with Jordan - having had Le Mans success with Silk Cut Jaguars and John Watson, which Dave Marren had been also heavily involved with. Gallaher marketing director, Nigel Northridge, who lived in Delgany, was in charge and commissioned Dave to look after the sponsorship.

The highlights were Killiney-based Damon Hill's epic win at Spa in 1998 and Frentzen's wins in France and Italy in the glory year of 1999.

As F1 grew bigger, the corporates took over and the privateer teams like Jordan became untenable and were being sold at the end of 2005. There had been dreams of rekindling an earlier golden era, 1929-31, when Ireland hosted Grand Prix in the Phoenix Park - but while that did not happen, Ronan Morgan and Sean O'Connor did bring World Championship Rallies to Ireland. Rally Ireland ran in 2007 and 2009 and Dave Marren was central to both. These events were the inspiration for the current cluster of Irish drivers at the top of world rallying - Kris Meeke, Paul Nagle, Craig Breen and others.

Though sport was never far away, David was first and foremost a family man. He married fellow PR practitioner Geraldine McCarthy in 1989 and was father of twins Carl and Dave and daughter Rebecca. David was gregarious, wonderful company, witty, insightful and immensely popular - even with those who were the butt of his endless pranks.

He made light of his recent illness and it is testament to the man that so many turned out for his funeral in Blackrock, including many leading names from world motor sport.

He was born March 2, 1960 and died September 24, 2019.

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