Martin Birrane, former driver and owner of the famed constructor Lola and the Mondello Park circuit, has died at age 82.
The Irishman’s interest in the sport reached the heights of racing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where he made his first start in 1973 and contested the great French race 10 times through 1998. A GT class winner in 1985, Birrane’s love for vintage racing maintained his interest while developing a successful and profitable career in British real estate.
It was the downturn in fortunes for England’s Lola Cars in the mid-1990s after an aborted Formula 1 program ruined its financial holdings where Birrane stepped in and saved the renowned marque. After buying Lola and restoring the business foundation it was lacking, the company grew with a revitalized CART IndyCar chassis, a large order of new, spec FIA Formula 3000s, a harder push into the sports car markets with today’s versions of LMP1 and LMP2 models, and a welcome embrace of the marque’s racing history through restorations and recreations of its iconic cars.
Altogether, his role in keeping Lola afloat and in good standing until its eventual dissolution and sale to Canada’s Multimatic in 2012 elevated Birrane to a place of significant stature within the sport. Lola’s last major international victory came at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2007 where Binnie Motorsports, led by owner/driver Bill Binnie, was victorious in his Lola B05/42 chassis. ACO president Pierre Fillon, whose organization oversees the circuit and event, paid tribute.
“We have lost a man who worked tirelessly for 50 years in motoring and motor sport,” he said. “Martin Birrane was a driver, team boss, car maker and circuit owner. He knew every facet of a motoring world for which he held such passion. It is a very sad day. My warmest thoughts and sincere condolences go to his family and loved ones.”