The very best of British

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To maintain Britain’s technological edge, Cranfield has organised a conference for the next generation of engineers, writers and designers

As some of you may have seen on the Motor Sport website, Cranfield University is hosting a History of Motorsport Technology Conference on July 3.

It’s part of a larger initiative, promoted by the Motorsport Industry Association (MIA) and the Motor Sports Association (MSA), called National Motorsport Week that runs from June 30 to July 8. The week, which is bracketed by the Goodwood Festival of speed and the British Grand Prix, is a celebration of British motor sport and a “very good thing” according to Sir Stirling Moss.

“Britain has long since led the world in motor sport and it is important for the industry that we attract newcomers to the sport.” The conference is not all about attracting young talent, though. “Yes, we are appealing to students,” says Cranfield’s Motor Sport Programme director Clive Temple, “but it will also be for writers, designers and engineers interested in motor sport.”

The day will be spent with key speakers – from ex-technical director of Team Lotus Peter Wright to ex-F1 designer Brian o’Rourke – talking about topics as wide-ranging as ground effects in the 1920s, F1 car design and development in the 1960s and ‘70s, F1 turbocharging, the Group C era, modern race car simulation development and even the Land speed Record.

Sir Jackie Stewart, who used to be the Chairman of Cranfield’s MSc Motorsport Engineering and Management course, will be the guest of honour and will address attendees.

“Some of the words I’ll be using that evening [at the dinner] will be based on observations about how important the British Motor Sport Industry is,” he told me. “It really only started in the late 1950s when two men – John Cooper and Colin Chapman – put the engine behind the driver. It changed the whole profile of the sport on a global scale. Jack Brabham won back-to-back championships with the Cooper and the industry had to reshape itself. Suddenly Britain took over with everything from gearboxes to radiators.

“I don’t think Britain has acknowledged what the British Motor Sport Industry has created economically in this country. When you look at the number of people employed in motorsport valley it is between 40-50,000. Probably 8000 of those work for small companies with fewer than 10 employees, but they’re world experts in what they do whether it’s looming, composites or even alternative materials.”

Universities such as Cranfield are helping to fill the new generation of engineers that these companies are looking for, but when I met the minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and skills, Mark Prisk (June issue), he was adamant that there weren’t enough coming into the sport. As sir Jackie points out, “Britain plays a very important role in motor sport, and if we don’t, somebody else will”. However, according to the three-time World Champion the industry doesn’t just need more engineers.

“I went to see the students doing the MSc course at Cranfield a lot when I was chairman,” he says, “and I will never forget going in once and seeing all their heads buried inside gearboxes or suspension. I said ‘look guys, you’ve got to realise something – you’ve got to go well beyond just being engineers. You’ve really got to be salesmen and you’ve got to understand marketing because if you come up with a new technology you’ve got to be able to sell it to a team’s technical director’.

“The other thing about many engineers in the British Motor Sport Industry is how well they convert their talents – look at Gordon Murray. The point is that you’ve got to go beyond being an engineer; everyone has got to have more than they think they need.”

The conference on July 3 will be just the sort of place where you will be able to pick up all that extra information. hopefully you will have enough time to book your place after reading this, so go to www.cranield.ac.uk to find out more

Ed Foster