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Motorsport: Carbon Challenges and Business Opportunities


Motorsport must go low carbon – and there are significant business opportunities associated with this change. This was the message to come out of the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) Cleaner Racing Conference that took place at the NEC in Birmingham on 12 January 2011.

Chaired by Chris Aylett, CEO of the Motorsport Industry Association, speakers at the event included the Rt. Hon. Lord Drayson, Managing Partner, Drayson Motor Racing, and former Science and Innovation Minister; Richard Parry-Jones CBE, Industry Chair of the Automotive Council; and David Richards CBE, Chairman/Chief Executive of Prodrive, and Chairman of Aston Martin.


Adrian Moore,
Jonathan Neale,
David Richards CBE, Richard Parry-Jones CBE,
Chris Aylett

The purpose of the conference was to discuss the progress that motor racing is making in the area of low carbon, and to make a case for the motor racing industry selling its skills to the mainstream automotive industry.

It was said on more than one occasion during the event that followers of the old school of motor racing were like dinosaurs, and with attendances at motorsport events around the world falling and the average age of spectators increasing, drastic action was required to bring green cars into motorsport to make it more relevant and interesting, and to attract younger audiences.

The Automotive Council focus: low carbon and the supply chain


Richard Parry-Jones CBE (with the electric/gas turbine range-extender Jaguar C-X75 behind)

Richard Parry-Jones CBE, Industry Chair of the Automotive Council – an organisation that exists to support the automotive industry in the UK – gave the morning’s keynote speech.

From a slightly different perspective compared to the remainder of the day, which was comprised primarily of speakers from the world of motorsport, Richard gave the view from the leading, strategic edge of the mainstream motor industry. In this capacity, Richard has two key areas of focus: low carbon, and the supply chain.

On the low carbon front, Richard stressed how challenging the targets are for emissions reduction from new cars over the coming years, and help in achieving the targets would be welcomed from all angles, including from the world of motorsport.

The challenge on the supply chain side is that many jobs have been lost in this area in the UK over recent years, especially in terms of tier 1 suppliers to the motor manufacturers, and in R&D capability, but the car industry wants to bring the supply base back to the UK. The good news is that the UK has very strong powertrain, premium, niche and, of course, motorsport sectors.

From any challenge comes opportunity, and there is a huge opportunity right now for automotive companies in the UK to come up with solutions to help the industry go low carbon. The UK has many small automotive businesses, but in many cases they are too small to supply to the major car manufacturers, or even to their tier 1 suppliers (all of whom require a wide range of skills and very exacting quality standards from their potential suppliers); however the way to get round this is to collaborate. Collaboration has already been done very successfully through the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) low carbon demonstrator programmes.

Richard believed that the perception of technology transfer taking place from motorsport to road cars was actually a myth, as motorsport and production cars have gone down two very different roads over recent years. However motorsport companies could bring their skill sets to collaborations, including rapid development times and the willingness to experiment – both very useful qualities for technology demonstrator projects.

If successful low carbon demonstrators were developed, the next challenge would be how to produce them in larger numbers. Which led back to the discussions about the UK’s automotive industry supply chain, with the need reinstated to bring back R&D and more high-tech manufacturing. At the moment tier 1 suppliers in the automotive industry in the UK primarily just ‘screw together’ difficult-to-engineer items that are produced overseas. It was agreed that this trend could be reversed, and that the low carbon agenda is the way to make this happen – and the motorsport industry could help.

It was agreed by virtually all speakers that a fundamental reappraisal of the rules governing motorsport would be needed to better encourage low carbon innovation within the industry, as the rules currently don’t support green technologies. For example, the rules mean that the Porsche 911 GT3 R Hybrid, with its flywheel that recovers energy that would otherwise be lost while braking, is not allowed to compete in most motorsport series.

The overall consensus, after much debate, was that motorsport rules should support cars to be the fastest and to use least energy – using whatever technology – although some form of cost-cap should be implemented.

It was pointed out that although motorsport rules generally don’t encourage green technologies, Le Mans did allow diesel cars to enter, and the subsequent success of diesel Audis in the race did lead to extra sales in the showroom.

The opportunity for the UK automotive industry: disruptive technologies


Rt. Hon. Lord Drayson

The Rt. Hon. Lord Drayson, Managing Partner, Drayson Motor Racing LLP, former Minister of State for Science and Innovation, and now Honorary President of the MIA, gave the afternoon’s keynote speech.

In 2007 Lord Drayson competed in the British GT sportscar championship, racing a unique bioethanol-fuelled Aston Martin DBRS9, achieving a historic first win for a biofuelled race car.

Prior to that he made his fortune in the biotech industry, but he is now investing in green motorsport. He’s seen disruptive technology from small companies result in a huge step-change in the biotech industry, and he’s expecting a similar occurrence to happen in the automotive industry.

Lord Drayson said that we’re at the fastest rate of change in the 125 year history of the car industry – and it’s a fantastic opportunity for small UK automotive companies. GM showed what happened to a car maker that didn’t change with the times, with bankruptcy being the result. However the share price of GM is now on the up – and Lord Drayson saw this being due to the return of innovation.

Innovation is the one big thing that is now required, and it means that an industry that has been predictable for years is now completely unpredictable.

Applying the disruptive technologies concept to motorsport, Lord Drayson saw much motorsport in America, along with its falling spectator numbers, being the ‘old school’, whereas new initiatives such as the all-electric TTX GP bike series are the new technologies that are likely to engage a younger generation and displace the old way of doing things.

Speakers during the day made the point that for years the car industry knew – or thought it knew – where it was going, and what the answers were. Now, with the huge emissions reductions required, it doesn’t know which solution will be the correct one to bet on.

It was agreed that motorsport can help with this, by experimenting and giving answers to questions – quickly. However more green technologies would have to be allowed into motorsport to facilitate this – which in turn would make it more relevant, engaging and entertaining. Again, the request was that we need a basic change in the way that motorsport is governed – at the moment the system doesn’t allow change, although the audience wants it.

Delta Wing Racing Car Concept

There was a fantastic presentation from Ben Bowlby about the Delta Wing racing car concept, an idea for a new racing car, originally designed to compete in the Indy Car American race series, with half the drag, half the power, half the weight, half the fuel and half the cost than the current V8s in the competition – but which still has the same speed. Perhaps in a similar way that GM in America couldn’t see the need to produce more efficient cars, Ben’s proposal hasn’t been taken up – yet.

EEMS Accelerate project


Delta Motorsport E4 Coupe

One car that is now ready is the E4 Coupe from Delta Motorsport (no relation to the Delta Wing racing car concept). Delta Motorsport is a UK-based motorsport engineering company which has developed an electric sports coupe through the EEMS Accelerate project, which has accessed funding from the Technology Strategy Board. Delta Motorsport was due to enter its car in the American Progressive Automotive X-Prize competition, but a fire in the factory had other ideas. The electric Westfield iRacer and the Lightning GT are the other exciting cars that are part of the project, which is a great example to show what the UK can do in the area of ultra-low emission performance cars.

Launch of the Enviro Sportscar Series

Finally, the conference also included a presentation about the launch of a new race series, Enviro Sportscar. The presentation was not from an eco-warrior, but instead from Keith Bartlett, whose background is in V8 drag racing at Santa Pod – a sport which he admitted has hardly changed in 50 years. Enviro Sportscar will be launched in 2012 with a limited series, with a full-blown series in 2013. The aim is to showcase new technologies, through circuit racing, drag racing, and ‘city-centre’ challenges.



Chris Aylett, CEO of the Motorsport Industry Association

Does Enviro Sportscar sum up the conference? Rather than a gradual greening of motorsport over many years, perhaps we’re back to disruptive technologies being the answer – moving straight from petrol V8s to ultra-low carbon cars. It may sound radical. But if motorsport wants to remain relevant and engaging then all it needs to do is look at current motor shows to see how many V8s there are compared to new low and ultra-low emission models. The answer won’t surprise most people, but it may come as a shock to the dinosaurs of the motorsport industry.

Paul Clarke

By the way, to see how motorsport can provide entertainment and at the same time showcase the latest low emissions vehicles visit the 2011 Cholmondeley Pageant of Power event .