Why FIA presidential race reminds Reid of his WRC days

Robert Reid is Mohammed Ben Sulayem's deputy in the race to become the new FIA president


Robert Reid knows this feeling. He’s been here before. It’s just the suit that’s different. Very different.

It’s a big week this one for the 2001 World Rally Champion. Big week for him, his 14-time Middle East Rally Champion potential president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and for the opposition, Graham Stoker and Tom Kristensen.

It’s election week.

“It’s rally week,” smiled Reid. “Honestly, the feeling is very similar. I woke up on Tuesday and it was like the recce had started. We’d done all of our testing and we’d moved into the service park and now the countdown to the start has really begun.

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“The stress was all there last week, but this week it’s time for the business to begin.”

For this week, all eyes are on Paris. The World Motor Sport Council meets on Wednesday and Thursday night is the big ceremonial event. It’s the Gala, when champions are celebrated from around the world of motorsport. Friday is day one of the one-day presidential election event.

“If I was going to compare the run-in to this week, it would have to be compared to the Portugal pre-event test in 2000. For that event, Prodrive had prepared a new Subaru, the P2000. We back-to-backed it against the previous car, the WRC99 and it was a second per mile faster. That just doesn’t happen. That test gave Richard [Burns] and everybody at Prodrive so much confidence.

“Now, I’m not saying we’re over-confident going to this week. What I’m saying is that we’re going to this week knowing that we’ve done everything we could. We’ve turned every screw, double-checked the data and fine-tuned every last detail. We know we’re in the best possible position.

We’ve turned every screw, double-checked the data and fine-tuned every last detail. We know we’re in the best possible position Robert Reid

“Having worked with Mohammed and with Carmelo [Sanz de Barros, candidate for head of senate] and Tim [Shearman, candidate for deputy president mobility] and everybody in the team for a long time now, I know we’re in the right place, with the right mindset going into Friday.”

Talk to Reid or Burns during a recce and you’d get fairly short shrift. That was their time. They were focused, nearing the zone and pulling together a plan.

“Targets,” said Reid. “We’d have a plan for every stage. We knew [Colin] McRae would always go out really hard and try to put a marker down. There was never any panic. We just stayed in touch and then, when our timing was right, we’d strike.

“As a team, for the past year or so we have been planning, strategizing and getting ourselves in place to react, to respond and to be ready. Like always before a rally with Colin, there’s been some talking done. Like always was the case with Richard, we’re ready to do our talking on Friday.”

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Post-recce, pre-rally was always a key time for Reid. It was time to tidy or re-write the notes. Time to sharpen his pencil and to zip up his bag.

“The pencil’s sharp now and we’re getting very close to the point where the bag gets zipped up, safe in the knowledge that everything we need is in the right place.

“There’s no doubt that this has been really hard work. OK, physically, nothing compares with what a World Rally Car on the loose can do to you, but mentally, this has been a full season with an awful lot of hard work.

“Like a few years ago with Richard, we’ve scored very well in Africa; certainly, we’ve achieved the equivalent of the two Safari Rally wins in three years I managed. It’s the same for Asia Pacific. We scored our breakthrough victory on an APRC round in New Zealand in 1996 and the gains made, the triumphs achieved by the whole FIA for Members team across the Asia Pacific region are very, very similar.

Richard Burns, Subaru Impreza Gr. N, 1995 Safari Rally

“While I haven’t competed in the Middle East and North America so much, Mohammed and I have spent a long time with the people from those regions. Understanding the people, the culture, the clubs and the organisations is definitely something we’ve achieved. Diversity is vital to the future of motorsport and it’s something that sits very much at the heart of our organisation.

“So, we’ve won in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas. But this final round is Europe. It’s Friday and, you can be sure, the concentrated, single-minded attention to detail is just the same as it was 20 years ago.”

And if you had to name this season, Robert?

“Easy. It’s 2001.”