Thursday, 8 November 2007

Lord Drayson goes racing in the USA

Lord (Paul) Drayson's departure from the government in order to concentrate on motor racing is widely covered in today's newspapers. I spent a fascinating day at Brands Hatch earlier this year interviewing him for an Independent feature about his racing career, which was topped off by a few laps of the circuit passengering Jonny Cocker - Drayson's talented young co-driver - in the peer's bioethanol powered racing Aston.

Some reports have suggested that there may be more to this development than meets the eye, but for me, the reason he gives for this change - that he wants to further his motor racing career while at the same time promoting the use of renewable fuels - rings true. When I interviewed him, he spoke openly about his desire to race internationally with the ultimate ambition of competing at Le Mans with a bioethanol-powered car.

As a motoring enthusiast and a firm believer in the benefits of biofuels, I can only wish him well in his campaign. As a UK taxpayer, I hope that his departure from government - described officially as leave of absence - doesn't turn out to be permanent. Defence procurement and supply, the area for which Lord Drayson was responsible, is a notoriously difficult part of the MoD, and with his strong business and engineering background, he seemed to be one of the few recent holders of the defence procurement post who was up to the epic financial and technical challenges involved.

One area in which he expressed a particular interest when I spoke to him was the possibility that the defence industry, with its very long lead times, might learn from Britain's successful motor racing sector, which innovates very rapidly and routinely incorporates these innovations almost immediately into its products. About a month ago, it was reported that the first meeting of UK motor racing firms and defence contractors had taken place - it will be interesting to see whether this initiative now continues and bears fruit.

Incidentally, the defence procurement job seems to attract motoring enthusiasts. The late Alan Clarke (of diaries fame) was one - Lord Drayson was another. I've got no idea whether the new minister, Ann Taylor, is a closet petrolhead, though.

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