On Tuesday 7th October, Prince Andrew, His Royal Highness The Duke of York, made a special visit to Lola Group’s state-of-the-art facilities in Huntingdon. After serving for 22 years in the Royal Navy, The Duke of York is now the UK's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment. The Royal visit was supporting Lola Cars 50th Anniversary celebration in 2008.

Upon arriving The Duke of York was cheered by a group of pupils from St Peters School in Huntingdon, all waving Union Jack and Lola flags to greet the Royal visitor. The young party had eagerly gathered next to Lola’s impressive car display, that included the A1 Grand Prix Team Malaysia Lola-Zytek and the all-new Lola B06/80 LMP1 Coupe of the Charouz Racing System that recently recorded a superb 2nd placed finish at the Silverstone Le Mans Series round.

Fresh from his weekend success at Zandvoort, A1 GP Team Malaysia driver Fairuz Fauzy was on hand to talk the Duke of York through his spectacular Lola machine that brought the team four race victories in the World Cup of Motorsport since its inception in 2005.

The Duke of York was accompanied by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Hugh Duberly Esq CBE. They were welcomed by Martin Birrane, Executive Chairman of the Lola Group. The Royal tour of Great Britain’s longest-serving manufacturer of racing cars started with a visit to the company’s design office. Julian Cooper, Head of Engineering, introduced the Duke to his highly acclaimed team who presented latest technology at Lola designers disposal such as FEA (Finite Element Analysis) programmes and the latest CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) software. The current Lola team follow in the footsteps of famous designers that have worked under the yellow and blues colours of Lola, including Tony Southgate, Patrick Head and John Barnard.

The next section of the visit enabled Andrew Manahan, Group MD of Lola Group, to reflect upon the multi-faceted aspects of Lola, whose winning technology now expands in to the Defence and Aerospace industries. The Duke was introduced to Lola Composites staff, who have been instrumental in the design and build of Defence exhibits on show. These included the Talisman Unmanned Underwater Vehicle, the Voodoo UAV (Un-manned Aerial Vehicle) and a scale model of the new Mantis UAV developed jointly by BAE Systems and the Ministry of Defence. Having secured contracts with some of the biggest names in defence and aerospace, Lola has signalled that these areas of industry are an expanding area for a company widely renowned as a leader in motorsport technology.

The Duke of York was then escorted to the assembly area where he spent time discussing Lola’s illustrious race history with two of the company’s longest serving employees, John Church and John Bedrikovs, who have both been with the Huntingdon-based marque for 37 years. It was a fitting area to meet such experienced Lola personnel as one of Lola’s most famous race cars, the iconic T70 Mk111B was being ‘re-born’ with one of the latest Continuation cars being readied for a proud new customer.

Dr John Davis, who heads up Lola’s highly advanced and renowned Technical Centre granted the Royal party a rare insight in to how a windtunnel programme is conducted. Known as one of the best commercially available facilities in the UK, the 50% scale Lola tunnel gives Lola and its customers the benefit of a full research and development programme in a confidential setting.

At the end of the visit, HRH The Duke of York was presented with a pair of limited-edition Lola 50th Anniversary cufflinks, which are based on the design of the 1969 Daytona 24 Hours winning Penske Lola T70 MkIIIB. The Duke was then invited to unveil a commemorative 50th Anniversary plaque to mark his action packed visit to the Lola factory.

As a fitting finale to the morning’s activities, the Lola LMP1 Coupe of the Charouz Racing System, which is powered by a V12 Aston Martin engine, completed a pit stop demonstration on the Lola courtyard, under the watchful eye of His Royal Highness. At the end of the demonstration, Charouz Racing System driver Stefan Mucke received a richly merited round of applause for his dramatic entry in to the ‘pit bay’ that left a strip of rubber the length of the directors car park!

The enviable position of Lola has been consolidated since 1997 under the ownership of Martin Birrane, whose vision has helped make Lola into a worldwide contender in many aspects of design and technology.

Birrane, himself a successful racer of many Lola cars over the years, commented, “It was a privilege to introduce His Royal Highness The Duke of York to our latest technical capabilities and the talented team that we can draw upon here in Huntingdon. The Duke of York provides an important role for companies like Lola, as we continue to gain international recognition and keep British industry at the forefront of leading edge technology."

"To welcome a member of the Royal family to be a part of our 50th anniversary celebration was a great honour for everyone involved with Lola. These are very exciting times for the company. Since 1997 we have grown and we now look towards the future to expand our winning technology for another 50 years in a variety of exciting industries.”

Lola Cars 50th Anniversary celebrations continue on Sunday 12th October when a parade of up to 16 Lola designs drive through the streets of Huntingdon, with the cars forming a spectacular ‘paddock’ in the town’s historic market square.

All pictures by Jakob Ebrey.

HRH The Duke of York views the Talisman UUV with members of the BAE Systems and Lola.

Driver Stefan Mucke shows HRH The Duke of York and Martin Birrane around the Lola B08/60 LMP1.

Lola Executive Chairman, Martin Birrane greets HRH The Duke of York.

Martin Birrane with A1 GP Team Malaysia's Fairuz Fauzy.