OCTOBER 23, 2000

The showdown approaches at BAR

THE British American Racing team is finally to decide who is going to be in charge in the future.

THE British American Racing team is finally to decide who is going to be in charge in the future. Since the team began operating two years ago there has been a drawn-out battle for control between Craig Pollock and Adrian Reynard. Pollock has enjoyed the support of British American Tobacco, the controlling shareholder in the team. Reynard is now tipped to be offering to buy out BAT with a consortium of BAR management and other longtime allies. The group is believed to include BAR technical director Malcolm Oastler, former team manager Robert Synge and CART team owner Barry Green.

If BAT does agree to sell its 50% shareholding in the team, it will mean that Reynard and his colleagues will control 65% of the team. And if that is the case he will be in a position to oust Pollock when the board of directors meets again at the end of the month. If this happens Green is expected to become team manager.

In order to achieve this Reynard needs to raise around $100m to buy BAT's shares but the tobacco company seems to have had enough of Formula 1 and may simply take the money and run. The BAT-BAR sponsorship arrangement is due to continue until the end of 2001 but it is possible that a deal will be negotiated to see Lucky Strike continue for one more year. Reynard and his cronies would need to find the budget to run the team next year but his connections at Honda could result in the Japanese agreeing to pay for the engines, which would take off a considerable amount of pressure.

Our sources say that BAT has made the decision to return to the World Rally Championship where the 555 brand enjoyed much success in the 1990s with Prodrive and Subaru.

If that decision has been taken it would help to explain the resignation from BAT recently of Pollock's closest ally Tom Moser.

For the last couple of weeks there have been rumors suggesting that Reynard was negotiating to sell his share of ReynardÊMotorsport to David Richards's Prodrive organization. Two years ago Reynard attempted to float the company on the New York Stock Exchange in a deal which valued the company at $160m. The flotation was called off and since then Reynard has suffered a number of setbacks, including the return to competitiveness of Lola in CART, this has cut Reynard's profits in the United States and there have been a number of other setbacks including the loss of deals in sportscar racing with Cadillac and Chrysler. Reynard fell out with his sales director Rick Gorne, the man who had been largely responsible for the company's success in the 1990s, and several lucrative automotive engineering deals with big car companies have also come to an end. In recent months Reynard has had to lay-off a large number of staff. The value of the company has dipped considerably and we hear that Reynard agreed to sell his share (which is around 85%) for $45m.

This would be a good price for Prodrive to pay as the company would gain not only a major racing car manufacturing business in Britain but also a specialist transmission company (Gemini), an American racing car company (Riley & Scott) and an automotive research center in Indianapolis, complete with a state of the art windtunnel. In addition to all this, Prodrive will almost certainly land the BAT budget in the World Rally Championship for the next few years.

While some have suggested that this is the end of Adrian Reynard in motorsport, others believe that he wants to fulfil his ambition of owning a front running Formula 1 team. Honda ultimately wants to buy BAR but is not yet ready to do so because of the expense involved and if Reynard can win control of the team he will be well placed to build it up for a couple more years and then make a profit selling it to Honda.

Whether a Reynard takeover of the team will be greeted with enthusiasm amongst the current BAR staff is another issue. Inside the team there are a lot of people who feel that Reynard's influence at BAR has been rather less than constructive in the course of the last two years. If at the end of the day, however, everyone comes away with a good deal, it is hard to imagine that such a deal will not go ahead. Pollock is still fighting to hold on to the team which he has worked so hard to build up. Matters will come to a head in the next 10 days.

The most interesting thing will be to see how Jacques Villeneuve reacts to the news (if it is true). He might, of course, consider that he would prefer to move elsewhere next year. In which case Benetton would be willing to welcome him with open arms. All of this might help to explain the recent attempts to destabilize Giancarlo Fisichella...