The race is on.
Frenchman Jean Todt on Thursday placed his name into contention for the presidency of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), sanctioning body of world motorsport and umbrella organization for 221 motoring clubs.
Admired and at times reviled as a tough taskmaster, the Frenchman best known for leading Ferrari through an unprecedented run of six consecutive Formula One World Constructors' Championships and five consecutive driving titles between 1999 and 2004 joins his former rally driver Finn Ari Vatanen in the race.
Vatanen, the 1981 WRC champion, is a two-term member of the European Parliament who drove for a Todt-managed Peugeot team among the six teams the Finn drove for between 1974 and 1998. Vatanen, 57, most recently contested the Neste Oil Rally in Finland in 2003, finishing 11th among 35 classified finishers and less than 12 minutes behind the winner.
Todt, 63, weighs in as the favored choice to succeed four-term president Max Mosley, who this week wrote to the FIA's member clubs that he will retire when his current term ends. Todt's competitive experience, begun in 1966, spans World Rally Championship, the Paris-Dakar Rally, and sports car racing, in which his team won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Formula One.
"Following the decision of Max Mosley not to seek a further term of office and his unequivocal support of my candidacy, I have written to the FIA membership to inform them that I wish to stand for the presidency of the FIA," Todt said in a statement.
Todt, former CEO and board member of Ferrari who divested himself of all associations with the Italian company in February, said he intends to continue and expand "the outstanding work" of Mosley, who held a dim view of Formula One's carmaker-owned teams. Mosley's retirement announcement follows a barely settled row in which eight of 10 current teams, five of them owned by manufacturers, threatened to form a new racing series next year.
Mosley's leadership particularly showed in advances in road and motor racing safety, and on environmental concerns. Todt has been involved in FIA green and road safety campaigns as has his partner, Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh.
Vatanen says he stands for change. Appearing at last weekend's Formula One German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, the Finn cited two years of squabbling in the top level of sport that he said should stop, implying only leadership change would accomplish that.
Candidates in the election scheduled for Oct. 23 are required to put forth cabinet lists with as many as 22 names.
Whoever succeeds Mosley follows an outspoken president at once ruthless and charming who was seen by many as frequently exercising personal agendas, such as in the FIA's levy of a record $100 million fine on McLaren in a 2007 spy scandal. The team was stripped of constructors points in a season that with a strong car and drivers Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton was certain to have produced a championship. Mosley was seen as a factor in McLaren team principal Ron Dennis giving up his positions in Formula One, which he did before this year's Australian Grand Prix in favor of Martin Whitmarsh. Whitmarsh last weekend endorsed Vatanen's candidacy. While in Germany, the Finn also enjoyed a publicly staged handshake with Formula One's commercial rights manager Bernie Ecclestone.