Prodrive is one of the world’s largest and most successful motorsport and technology businesses. Whilst the company is perhaps best known for motorsport, today it is just one part of an organisation, which in the last decade has diversified to become a technology business working in a range of sectors and providing a range of services.
Thirty-four Fellows and guests were greeted on arrival at Prodrive’s splendid new facility in Banbury by Jackie Irwin, a long standing employee and self confessed petrol head. Jackie’s knowledge and passion for everything about Prodrive was truly amazing and we could not have asked for a more enthusiastic and entertaining host.
The tour started with Jackie telling us about the history of Prodrive, from David Richards’ early days as a co-driver for the legendary Ari Vatanen through to the present day.
Since 1984 they have won six World Rally titles, four Le Mans 24 Hours titles, three FIA WEC titles, four British Touring Car Championships and the Le Mans Series among many other national and international race and rally series.
On display in the reception area were Colin McRae’s WRC winning Group A Subaru Impreza and the Global Rallycross Mini RX. As we went into the factory area we were greeted by some of the iconic cars that have proved so successful for Prodrive in both rallying and racing, including:
1984 Porsche 911 SC RS (Henri Toivonen – European Rally Championship)
1986 MG Metro 6R4 (British & Irish Rally Championship)
1990 BMW M3
1996 Subaru Impreza Group A WRCC
1996 Subaru Impreza – (Richard Burns)
2000 Mondeo Super Touring
Prodrive employ 450 staff at the site in Banbury and a further 200 at their composite site in Milton Keynes. Work is not confined to motorsport and Jackie explained to us that Prodrive are involved with Ben Ainslie’s America’s Cup challenge, NASA space projects as well as work for speed freak Guy Martin amongst other projects.
We were also privileged to see the stunning Prodrive P2 road car, a two-seater sports car based on a Subaru R1 with a Subaru Impreza WRX STi engine. The car was styled by Peter Stevens, who also designed the McLaren F1. The P1 was tested by Top Gear and is the only car to make Jeremy Clarkson sick after driving round a circle of cones extremely rapidly to demonstrate it’s computer controlled differential system’s anti-understeer capabilities.
Jackie showed us the machine shops where components are manufactured and fabricated. Wiring looms were being pre-worked for race cars to reduce their weight from 50 kg to 25 kg, which for the Aston Martin Le Mans prototype would cost £140,000. The preparation work on both private and factory run Aston Martin GT4 and GTE Le Mans for the World Endurance Championship series and Le Mans 24 Hours was particularly impressive. The tub for GT3 Aston Martin, for example, is glued together for strength and takes 24 hours to complete.
The two hour visit simply flew by and Chairman Peter Lewis-Jones finished by expressing the group’s appreciation to Jackie for her time and enthusiasm in providing us with such a fascinating insight into the diverse world of Prodrive. It was a real privilege to have been given such an interesting and informative visit.