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Friday, 10 March, 2000, 21:28 GMT
Keeping the wheels turning
Jaguar F1 car
UK motorsport is worth 3bn a year
The Formula One season, which began on Sunday with the Australian Grand Prix, holds a special interest for many UK businesses.

Although the races take place around the globe, the sport is underpinned by a thriving UK industry that employs 50,000 people and has a total turnover of around 3bn a year.

About 3,000 UK companies are involved in motorsport. At their annual showcase in January - the Autosport International 2000 exhibition in Birmingham - the industry was urged to make more of its export potential.

Half of that 3bn is generated by the engineering side of the industry, and of that, 60% comes from overseas earnings.

Machine worker
UK motorsport companies are major exporters
Many businesses accept that without exports, they would not survive.

"There's not a huge market in the UK," says Chris Aylett of the Motorsport Industry Association. "If you start up a successful small business, you can immediately become global."

British Trade International, the government's new export promotion division, is backing a campaign to secure UK firms an even bigger share.

"The primary market is Europe, followed closely by the US and Japan," says Mr Aylett. "But almost any developed nation that has its own car-owning public soon uses those cars for some kind of motorsport, examples being India, Malaysia and Thailand."

Trade missions

Representatives from 80 countries recently spent a week in the UK visiting various companies and attending Autosport 2000.

UK trade missions this year will visit Canada, Japan and Brazil, and there will even be a UK motorsport show in Tokyo.

The industry covers everything from bodywork and exhaust and ignition systems to event organisation and photographic prints.

Xtrac gearbox
Xtrac makes gearboxes for a range of sports cars
Xtrac is a gearbox manufacturer based in Berkshire, where it employs 180 people. It began in 1984 supplying cars taking part in rallycross and the Paris-Dakar Rally.

A change in the regulations for World Championship rallying in 1986 meant there was suddenly demand for specialised transverse gearboxes for four-wheel drive cars, which Xtrac was able to exploit.

Formula One clients soon followed, and now make up a large part of the company's business. Xtrac supplies the gearbox components for the new Jaguar car.

The export success of the motorsport sector led to Xtrac receiving the Queen's Award for Export Achievement in 1992.

"There is no other country that can compete with us with regards to Formula One cars, competition cars, engines, transmissions or whatever. Everything is based in England," said Xtrac's managing director, Peter Digby.

'Motorsport Valley'

The strengths of the industry have meant that it has continued to thrive as an exporter despite the problems caused by high sterling levels, although they are starting to bite.

Chris Aylett believes that success is based on strength in depth in a small region - an industrial cluster known as Motorsport Valley has developed in a swathe across central England.

"You can build a Formula One car within a 30-mile radius of Birmingham - there's nowhere else in the world you can do that," he says.

More than half those employed in the motorsport industry work on the engineering side, a factor which is being used to attract more people into engineering, which has recently endured sluggish recruitment.

There are now even university courses offering degrees in motorsport.

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08 Mar 00 | Motorsport
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