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Boris Rotenberg elected Russian Automobile Federation president

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Credit: SMP Racing

Boris Rotenberg, one of the most powerful businessmen in Russia and the owner of SMP Racing, was elected president of the Russian Automobile Federation on Saturday. He replaces Viktor Kiryanov, who ran the federation for twenty years.

He has operated SMP Racing since 2013, taking its name from SMP Bank that he and his older brother Arkady founded. Using Rotenberg’s BR Engineering prototype cars, they primarily competed in sports car series like the FIA World Endurance Championship, where they won the 2015 LMGTE Am title, the Blancpain Endurance Series, European Le Mans Series, and GT World Challenge Europe. Rotenberg has also dabbled in driving for the team.

SMP was due to open a Formula 2 programme and had hopes of extending into Formula One, having heavily backed Sergey Sirotkin’s road to the latter and his F1 employer Williams Racing, before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 led to their withdrawal from international motorsport. Since then, the team has mostly focused on domestic championships and driver development.

Shortly after the invasion, Rotenberg was sanctioned by the British government and European Union as a member of President Vladimir Putin‘s inner circle. He and Arkady, both childhood friends of Putin, have been under sanction by the United States since 2014 in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea; the brothers ran Stroygazmontazh, one of the world’s largest oil infrastructure builders which constructed the Crimean Bridge. SMP Racing’s European bank accounts were also blocked following the annexation. Despite the penalties, a 2023 investigation by Le Monde found the Rotenbergs have continued to maintain their wealth, which includes a net worth of over USD$1 billion apiece, through proxies and allies abroad.

As RAF president, Rotenberg stated his intention to focus on building a domestic Formula 4 car with SMP Racing and BR Engineering, promoting youth karting, and organising hybrid events that combine esports and real-life racing. He also drew from the political power he wields as an oligarch, declaring another priority was to “[strengthen] international cooperation with partner countries from Asia and BRICS countries.”

BRICS, comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, is a loose coalition that promotes itself as rivalling established geopolitical blocs like G7. Russia and China, already close allies especially in the wake of the invasion, have also collaborated on racing endeavours like the Silk Way Rally. One of the largest rally raids in the world, the Silk Way has often been used to boost Russian soft power in Asia.

“The scope of responsibility of the RAF is not limited to our joint projects, and now I consider the main goal to continue what I started, to organise support for the further development of all motorsport disciplines and to achieve new victories,” said Rotenberg. “I thank everyone who voted for my candidacy today. I look forward to receiving suggestions and proposals from the leaders of the regional federations, which we will definitely consider in due course.

“I believe that the decisions we develop together for the development of Russian motorsport should be advocated at the level of the Ministry of Sport of the Russian Federation.”

Outside of racing, Rotenberg was previously head of the Russian Judo Federation and FC Dynamo Moscow, and also owns Russian Premier League club PFC Sochi.

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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