Fiona Rees: “Seeing the event delivered is what I enjoy the most”

When we see racing on TV or at circuits in person, we can often forget the hard work that goes on behind the scenes to get the cars out on track. Fiona Rees is the FIA World Touring Car Cup’s Team Coordinator meaning she arrives at the circuit before any of the teams to ensure everything is set up and ready for their arrival, as well as also being the main point of contact for any queries over a race weekend. I spoke to her about her career in motorsport, the importance of organisation and dealing with problems before they arise.

From a very young age, Fiona was involved in motorsport through her parents’ passion, with her father even having raced himself. “My parents met through rallying so a childhood of muddy rallies followed. My father won the 1987 British Autosport National Championship as a co-driver so my teenage memories are of maps and service books all over the living room floor, and World Rally Championship (WRC) and F1 coverage on TV. The thirst to travel was also instilled at a young age from the stories and photographs of faraway lands from World Rally Championship events in China, Malaysia, Kenya and Indonesia. But believe it or not I didn’t want to be involved in motorsport, I had had enough,” she explained.

Growing up fascinated by the destinations that racing travelled to, Fiona decided she too wanted to see the world. However, she also wanted to work in marketing and so went on to study Business Administration with Marketing at the University of the West of England. “My plan was to travel – of course! – and I wanted to get into marketing in London. I studied business and marketing and was set, but life had other plans. A family loss put me on another path, and namely one to spend some time in Spain on the WRC in 2006 where I saw how rallying had changed. This was the top end of the sport now and watching these guys and girls at work and how my father fitted into that as SWRT (Subaru World Rally team) Team Coordinator, I knew that this was something I wanted,” she told me.

Photo credit: DPPI Photo Agency

After reigniting her love of motorsport, Fiona began looking at how she could spend more time at rallies. “I started working with the merchandising company on WRC events on their stands. A few events in I was asked by the company managing Subaru World Rally Team catering to join their team and I jumped at the chance. I did everything: mopping floors; peeling potatoes; serving up the team lunches; set up and pack down. I viewed every opportunity as one to learn something, to show how serious I was about being involved,” Fiona said. Having shown her passion and commitment, when an opportunity arose at another team in 2007, SWRT’s Team Manager recommended she apply. “He knew that the RML team were looking for a Team Coordinator for their World Touring Car Championship (WTCC) project. Paul (Howarth) mentioned this to me and encouraged me to apply,” she described.

“I felt so lucky to be given the opportunity”

Securing the position at RML, who were working with Chevrolet, Fiona became their Team Coordinator. “This role was perfect for me,” she said. “I had a real 360° view of the workings of a team. Booking all travel for the drivers and team; managing driver PR schedules; all driver race wear and team uniforms; floats and currencies; and attendance at management meetings. At the same time, I had an interview at an F1 team, but I understood that the role was limited. I felt so lucky to be given the opportunity at RML, guided by Mark Busfield, where I really had the trust and freedom to get involved in all aspects of the team.”

In December 2010, Fiona moved to London as she pursued a different route in motorsport. An existing entertainment travel management company was looking to set up a motorsport department, and needed someone with experience in this. “Although this took me out of the paddock, it was invaluable as it meant I was immersed in all series to build the business. Using the experience of moving an FIA World Championship team around the world for the last few years, I was now working with a host of different teams to manage their travel in F1, WEC, WRC, WTCC, GP2, and GP3. It opened up motorsport as whole to me, taking me out of the Touring Car category, but I did miss my WTCC ‘family’ and the goal of going to a circuit to win,” she said. Organisation was key in this role with her often having multiple teams travelling at once. “On one weekend I could have five teams out at different championships. You never knew when a flight change was needed or an extra hotel room – try finding rooms lastminute for Le Mans 24hrs! Organisation has been the key word throughout my career, and seeing problems before they happen,” Fiona explained.

Photo credit: DPPI Photo Agency

After just over three years out of a paddock, she moved on to her current role with Eurosport Events as the Team Coordinator for the FIA World Touring Car Championship and European Touring Car Championship, which later became the FIA World Touring Car Cup, or WTCR. “(It was) the start of another adventure! Not only moving back into Touring Cars full time, or moving to the promoter side, but moving to live in Paris,” the Team Coordinator said. Fiona’s role encompasses many areas as the main point of contact for all team relations. Speaking of her responsibilities, she said: “no day is the same. I manage all event administration, entry lists, accreditation and passes, plus manage the official season test event. I work with each circuit for all pre-event planning; be it renting obscure equipment or planning install of our wi-fi and also manage all overseas catering for the full WTCR paddock. I also work closely with the FIA attending Sporting Working Groups for developing the series as well as the Touring Car Commissions. This is where regulations and the future are voted on.”

“You never know when a red flag is coming…”

On a race weekend, most of Fiona’s work is actually done before the races even start with her travelling to and from tracks and offices; arranging passes and equipment; assisting the Race Director and trying to pre-empt any issues. “This job takes me to Eurosport’s Paris office, the FIA in Geneva, testing, circuit recces and then the 10 race events on top. On a race weekend I arrive before the teams with our Event Manager to ensure we are set up and ready for install, management offices are set up and any potential problems identified. Pre-event start I am busy with general queries, doing the administrative checks, assisting the Race Director for the drivers’ briefing and issuing any last-minute updates to the event paperwork or schedule. Overseas I will be ensuring teams’ equipment we have rented has arrived and that they are following any specific set up guidelines issued to them. As my role is predominantly planning the event, once it starts I can breathe a little! But not too much, you never know when a red flag is coming…” Fiona told me.

Photo credit: David Noels

Motorsport can be unpredictable both on track and off, with Fiona and her team often having to adapt to solve lastminute problems. Although this can be difficult, it’s the challenges that can often lead to the most rewarding outcome. “Being adaptable and flexible to change is key, and most of the time it’s the elements you can’t control. We have had to handle late freight due to hurricanes which put a whole event into one and a half days and storms affecting timetables while onsite. I strangely enjoy the challenges, a new event on the calendar in a faraway country, perfect! Seeing the event delivered is what I enjoy the most,” she explained.

“I can honestly say that for what you put in, this sport delivers back twofold in rewards”

As she has described, Fiona often finds the best moments of her career are after challenges, however when it comes to her career highlight, it’s in a previous role that brought her the most joy. “My absolute highlight was in 2010 with RML winning the FIA WTCC Drivers’ Championship for the first time with Yvan Muller and the FIA WTCC Manufacturers’ Championship with Chevrolet. Nothing can describe those moments,” the Team Coordinator said.

With a wealth of experience organising logistics in multiple motorsport championships, sometimes all at the same time, Fiona’s role is one for those who can multitask, think on their feet, and pre-empt problems before they arise to ensure a solution is quickly found. Speaking of her advice for others, she was keen to express that any women particularly, shouldn’t be discouraged by the male stereotypes, saying: “I have seen changes in attitudes in the past 15 years. The work the FIA is doing to promote women in motorsport, and websites such as this, really show there is a place in the sport for hard working women. Motorsport takes up a part of your life and those who show their passion will be noticed and will find a career. Seek out any opportunities, at local circuits, meetings, with teams. Be knowledgeable and ask for advice. I can honestly say that for what you put in, this sport delivers back twofold in rewards.”

(Heading photo credit: DPPI)