What better way to spend some of my afternoon after visiting Gaydon for a Jaguar/Land Rover Design and Engineering Tour than visiting the Prodrive heritage centre? I couldn’t think of any, so decided that would be time well spent for a car enthusiast like myself. And it really was, being the best automotive heritage centre I have ever visited.
It only came about through a last minute thought when I was checking out the location of the accommodation the night before, and I was surprised when it said Banbury, and this obviously led me to think of Prodrive, who I knew where based there because I have followed many sports they have been involved in for many years. So I visited their website, had a look around, and found they had a heritage centre, and I knew it was worth a look. Click on the link in the first paragraph to get visitor information about it.
Check out the Aston Martin GT1 Le Mans winner from 2007 on the left. This has a very special place in Prodrive’s collection, and I remember watching the Aston Martin’s race the Corvette’s and how difficult it was to beat the Corvette team as they are a very slick and successful team. It was a mighty achievement.
The heritage centre is great, I was really impressed with it. It’s very small, but perfectly sized for what it contains. It was also nice and quiet, meaning you could look around without people getting in the way as they normally do at heritage centres. This was especially useful when taking photos.
Whilst we were looking around, the person who runs the factory tour and oversees the heritage centre came over to ask if we were enjoying it, and we had a great conversation about motorsport in general. You could tell she, like all the employees was really proud of what Prodrive has achieved, and has a real enthusiasm for motorsport.
The 2004 B.A.R Honda was the most successful B.A.R F1 car, which was the last car before Honda bought the team out. That team is now present on the Formula 1 grid as Mercedes AMG Petronas. The 2004 F1 cars are to my mind, some of the best ever seen in motorsport, with a V10 engine that sounded unbelievably good, as well as being the quickest cars F1 has ever seen. Even today, cars are much slower due to regulation changes employed to slow them down to stop the sport becoming uncontrollably fast.
I love the little graphic on the side of the car, which illustrates key information about the car and the driver, in this case Jenson Button, who became F1 champion in 2009.
I remember it being mentioned that every employee of the team had their name placed onto the inside of both rear endplates. To see this in person was great, as I had never even seen an up-close photo of this, and was always interested as to the sizing of the names etc. I really think this shows the positive attitude that they will credit every employee involved within the F1 operation. I was really surprised to see this steering wheel, as although it was only from a car 9 years ago, I can’t believe how simple it looks. Nowadays there would probably be double the controls, and many dials and buttons would be used to control them.
It was great to see three of the Subaru WRC cars in position in the heritage centre, and highlights how the 1990’s was the heyday for the WRC, and how quickly things changed. In the middle is the white Subaru Legacy driven to victory in the 1992 Finnish rally by Ari Vatanen.
The most famous of all here though has to be a 1996 Subaru (Spanish WRC?) driven by Colin McRae in the famous blue and yellow 555 livery. It is rather strange I think sometimes to be so familiar with a car due to its extensive media coverage and then to see it first-hand as it looks quite different, looking much more aggressive than I remember seeing. I couldn’t help but notice the vents in the roof to provide much needed cooling for the driver and co-driver on hot rallies, something much more efficiently dealt with nowadays! The 2000 Richard Burns Safari winning car is a very interesting car to me, as it features a raised air intake and bull bar, designed to cope with the extra tough challenge that came with the Safari rally and would not be seen anywhere else. Nowadays this rally is not run anymore, and it is a shame as this was the toughest challenge of all.
One of my favourites strangely enough was the Rapid Fit Ford Mondeo Super Touring Car that raced in the BTCC in 2000, with the team becoming champions in the process. I remember watching races as a child, and loving the yellow and blue colour scheme. To me at that age, yellow was my favourite colour, but they just looked exciting to me and stood out from the rest of the grid, and I still think that now!
One of my personal favourites, the Ferrari 575 GTC that won the GT1 category at Le Mans in 2003. It is so close to the ground, which is needed to maximise the aerodynamics, but importantly it just looks great, with the classic Ferrari red, and sharknose that is not really present on current day Ferrari’s. I am not a Ferrari fan, yet this car caught my eye first when I walked into that room. I was really impressed with the Aston Martin LMP1 car there, as well as the fact Aston Martin had managed to get the 007 number for competition to play on the James Bond theme! The Gulf pale blue and orange colour livery somehow looks great whatever car it is placed onto, and this is no exception. It is amazing to see how low and wide a LMP (Le Mans Prototype) car is. I was lucky enough to see some LMP1 cars when I went to Goodwood last year, but here it was great to look around one with no distractions.
This 1984 Porsche 911 SCRS Group B rally car looks amazing, one of the best looking Porsche 911’s in my opinion. I love the Rothmans livery as well, like the Gulf livery above, it seems it looks good no matter what car it is placed onto. It’s a pity we’ll never see this livery used again now cigarette sponsorship is banned from motorsport. The MINI WRC car is impressive to see in the metal, and chatting to the person, she was informing us as to how many of the panels like the bonnet and rear door are made up from sections, rather than being one piece. This is all to save weight, and shows the hidden commitment to being the best. Kevlar is placed in front of vital engine components behind the grille to protect from stones. Even the badges are removed and replaced with stickers to save weight and improve the aerodynamics. I had never associated WRC cars with needing good aero, but she showed me many little details that were absolutely stunning, and you would never see watching it on TV. Expect in the UK you won’t see WRC on the TV, because the organisers of it never sorted out a TV deal… please sort it out WRC!
The Prodrive heritage centre really is an amazing place, with a great heritage and atmosphere. I would love to go on a factory tour there if I am in the area again.
Edit – 24/6/13:
I don’t normally edit blog posts a couple of months once they are published, but I felt in this case it was well worth doing, as I came across a fantastic video courtesy of /Drive on YouTube that really sums up Prodrive, their heritage centre and the amazing effort that goes into their Aston Martin Racing team for Le Mans.
Of course, I could not mention this video without expressing my sadness at the tragic death of Allan Simonsen, the Aston Martin driver in the #95 car in an accident at the Le Mans 24h last weekend. I would like to echo the thoughts of the motorsport world and offer my sincere condolences to his family and friends.