The gilded palace of British motorsport’s governing body has, for the past 30 years, actually been a dowdy single-storey office block tucked away on a Colnbrook industrial estate below the flight path into Heathrow. As a base, it’s underwhelming (and noisy), to put it lightly. But that’s all about to change as the MSA – now known as Motorsport UK – takes the next step towards a revolution that promises a shot in the arm for racing and rallying at the grass-roots and club level.
“The organisation has been in Colnbrook for 30 years and I’m sure there were good reasons back then for moving from Belgrave Square, which sounds like quite a nice place to be…” says CEO Hugh Chambers. “Over time, it’s been viewed as increasingly distant from our membership and there’s no real relevance to our location. It has no proximity to any motorsport businesses and it’s in no man’s land.”
Next year, a new HQ will be established, not at Silverstone as was expected but at Bicester Motion, the 444-acre site based at an old RAF airfield that is fast becoming a central automotive hub. Situated bang in the middle of the so-called ‘Motorsport Valley’, the new home will, Chambers promises, “change the very nature of the governing body from a bunch of people stuck in an office issuing licences to one that has its members at its heart and has a facility to be developed where we can invite people to engage with us”.
The move will follow in two stages, as Chambers explains. “The first phase will be moving into a building leased from Bicester on their new technical site,” he says. “That will allow us to put a stake in the ground and frees us up to redevelop our existing building, which we own, to sell it with a change of use to warehousing. When that is completed, we can then push the button on an option to purchase a plot of land at Bicester, on which we would then build a specific building for us. By doing so, we can conduct this entire exercise in a cost-effective way.”
The new base, he says, will help enable the body to become more relevant and useful to its sport and 43,000 members. “The organisation has boxed itself into a corner of being a governing body in the traditional mould of issuing rules and regulations,” says Chambers. “But we are in the entertainment business and there’s a bit of Darwin needed. We have got to evolve to match the market.”
The long-held cynical view of the MSA, as a staid organisation that feathers its own nest with licence fees, will take time to change, and Chambers’ revolution has a long way to go. Fifty-five miles up the M40 should be a good start.