Saturday 18 November 2017

Motorsport: Abu Dhabi's 'Secret Irish Grand Prix' the envy of watching world

As America gets reacquainted with Formula One for the first time in five years this weekend, it's hard to imagine Austin, Texas, matching the spectacle of what some have taken to calling 'The Secret Irish Grand Prix'.

Two weeks ago, Abu Dhabi played host to the best and most dramatic race of recent seasons with two Irishmen essentially pulling the strings.

Kildare man Richard Cregan is chief executive of the extraordinary Yas Marina circuit, which it is estimated cost €1.3bn to construct. And Dubliner Ronan Morgan was clerk of the course for a race won by Kimi Raikkonen and electrified by Sebastian Vettel twice charging from the back of the field to a podium finish.

Morgan is maybe best remembered in these parts as the long-time rally co-driver of Billy Coleman. But he also won 10 Middle East Championships alongside Mohammed Bin Sulayem, current vice-president of the FIA.

And it is this connection that led to Morgan, his wife Anne and daughter Suzi, settling in Dubai four years ago, from where he works for the Automobile Touring Club of the United Arab Emirates.

The incident-filled Abu Dhabi GP may have thrilled the world, but for the clerk of the course, it amounted to a form of torture.

Morgan watched the race from an utterly silent control room with maybe 20 people monitoring 36 TV screens, scanning every single metre of the five-and-a-half-kilometre circuit.

"You would definitely age," he chuckles of the virtual two-hour race, sitting next to FIA race director Charlie Whiting.

But the race was lauded afterwards, global kudos falling the way of Morgan and his 700-strong team, but also the Yas Marina circuit which Cregan took charge of four years ago after almost a quarter century involvement with Toyota in both rallying and F1. Morgan and Cregan (left) have known one another for 30 years and the close relationship between circuit and event organiser is the envy of other races on the F1 calendar.

So, the chances of a Grand Prix coming to Ireland? "Not really practical," concedes Morgan. "It wouldn't warrant the investment because nobody makes money out of a Formula One GP now, other than the promoter and teams."

Irish Independent

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