Martin Birrane, entrepreneur, racing driver and owner of Lola Cars and Mondello Park, has passed away, on Saturday June 9, at the age of 82
Martin Birrane was rated among Ireland’s most successful business people, having built the London-based Peer Group property portfolio to its current worth of £190 million. But his route to success, like his favorite sport, motor racing, was colorful and varied. At the age of 17 he left school and took a boat to England; from there he spent three years travelling the world and then studied hotel management in Geneva.
In 1958, aged 22, he married Susan. In search of new opportunities the young couple emigrated to Canada, where Martin discovered he had a talent for selling real estate, eventually starting his own business in the UK in 1960. The motor sport bug also began to bite, as he drove a Pontiac and started watching motor racing on television. His success continued in the UK as he bought and sold a variety of businesses.
Back in England he did ‘anything and everything’. He had bit parts in films; appeared on the stage and in variety shows and commercials. Asked recently what he wouldbe doing if he hadn’t become a successful property entrepreneur he said, “I’d probably be back in show business”.
In 1983, he acquired a major shareholding and became Chairman and Managing Director of Peer Properties Limited, later renamed Peer Group plc.
In every respect Martin Birrane was a winner, who had motorsport in his blood. He successfully competed in all types of racing for 42 seasons, including the Le Mans 24-Hours on 10 occasions, achieving a podium finish in 1980 and then winning the GT class in 1985 in a BMW M1. Setting the Irish land speed record in 1990 was another memorable achievement on an unopened stretch of the M50 when he had to make hazardous high speed turns at each end of the measured kilometer to beat the record. Martin’s final race was in July 2007 in his beloved Lola T70MK3B..
In 1997, he purchased Lola and then re-built the company, turning it into a thriving success. Under his stewardship Lola diversified into new areas of business including aerospace, as well as automotive and motor sport. Winning races and championships on both sides of the Atlantic, including IndyCar titles with luminaries such as Nigel Mansell, his cars were always winners. Since Lola Cars stopped manufacturing racing cars in 2012, the Lola Group was still under his direction and continues to run one of the finest, most technically advanced wind tunnel facilities in Europe.
In 1986, Martin Birrane purchased Mondello Motor Racing Circuit in County Kildare, Ireland. Martin described it as “a wasteland in need of some tender loving care.” He invested heavily in the venue and today it is the only permanent motor racing circuit in the Republic of Ireland with an FIA License. It has hosted FiA Sportscars, BTCC and British Superbikes. He was busy with arrangements for events to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Mondello, the 60th Anniversary of Lola cars at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July, and also his diamond wedding anniversary, when he died so suddenly. Those events will now become tributes to the great Martin Birrane and his incredible achievements.