MAY 21, 2001
Jaguar Racing to build its own Maranello
The need to find a home for a dedicated motor sport facility has been one of the key issues facing Ford's competition bosses over the last two years, since the buy-out of the Stewart Grand Prix team and racing technology company Pi. Jaguar Racing still operates out of the original premises of Stewart's team in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, but the site is felt to be too small for what is one of the most expansive - and expensive - Formula 1 projects in existence.
Cosworth meanwhile operates in an outmoded collection of a dozen buildings in the suburbs of Northampton, and a state-of-the-art facility has long been called for. Originally it was intended to build a giant 'Ford Motorsport Campus' on a 54-acre section of Silverstone Circuit's land, but this plan fell through when no agreement between Ford and the circuit owners, the British Racing Drivers' Club, could be met on the cost of the project.
Silverstone was one of four potential homes for the Campus, the others being a site in Milton Keynes, a site adjacent to the Rockingham speedway and finally the Gaydon facility for which it seems Ford has finally decided on. The Gaydon move comes as no surprise as Ford already owns the site. In 2000 the site was included along with current incumbent Land Rover in a $3 billion buy-out from BMW, as the Germans sought to abandon Rover Group after unsustainable losses. It is close to Jaguar's headquarters in Coventry and, as a result of its military past, it is well-protected and screened from the outside world. It is thought that the only obstacle at Gaydon that made Silverstone the initially preferred alternative is that the 1500-strong work force of Jaguar Racing and Cosworth could be retained without loss through relocation, as both Milton Keynes and Northampton fall within a reasonable catchment area of the circuit. A move to Gaydon would require large scale upheaval amongst the workforce and doubtless many people will be forced to relocate or quit the operation rather than commute across the Midlands.
Among the many advantages Gaydon also has to offer, other than those of economics, are the ready-made vehicle testing laboratories, design offices and workshops in the 26,000 square meters of buildings already erected. There are also 35 miles of test track and vehicle proving ground that would amply furnish the Ford's Maranello-like base with its own Fiorano test circuit, with a little redevelopment.
"It makes the most sense but it has not been officially blessed yet," said Jaguar Racing principal Bobby Rahal. "The land is there and although there still has to be some planning permission, most of the work has been carried out in the past. We can fast track that."
Gaydon also plays host to the popular British Motor Heritage Museum, established by the Rover Group as an intriguing collection of domestically-built road and competition vehicles from the late 19th Century onward. The building and its grounds also passed to Ford via BMW while its contents remain largely Rover property, having come from the many British manufacturers that eventually merged as the British Motor Corporation and ultimately became known as Rover. There will be no adverse effects on the museum through the appearance of the Ford Racing complex, however. "We won't be affected by the buildings or the test track," said a spokesperson for the museum, in which pride of place goes to the three Monte Carlo-winning Mini Coopers of the 1960s. "There is room enough for everything on the Land Rover site."