Minister quits MoD to race at Le Mans

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Indy Politics

Lord Drayson has resigned as a defence minister in an attempt to live his dream of taking part in the 24-hour Le Mans race.

The 47-year-old Labour donor and former pharmaceuticals boss has taken an unprecedented leave of absence from government to compete in a series of qualifying events in the US. He hopes he will win the right to race in Le Mans itself.

Lord Drayson will be an ambassador for British "green cars". Driving a bio-ethanol fuelled vehicle, he came second in the British GT championship, allowing him to race in next year's Le Mans series in the US.

He told Gordon Brown in a letter yesterday that he had a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to take his racing career to the next level. The US series would be a key step towards his "eventual dream" of competing in the Le Mans race.

Lord Drayson said bio-ethanol cars would be allowed for the first time in the US races "so this is a wonderful opportunity to showcase British motorsport technology for environmentally friendly racing".

In a highly unusual move, Mr Brown signalled that Lord Drayson could later return as a minister. "I understand your desire to take up the extraordinary opportunity which has now emerged to achieve your lifetime opportunity," the Prime Minister told him. "While I am sorry to lose you I look forward to your return to government when your leave of absence ends."

Lord Drayson was regarded as a successful minister but was called a "Blair crony" after the Powderject pharmaceuticals company he founded landed a £32m smallpox vaccine contract from the Government after he donated £50,000 to Labour. An investigation found no wrongdoing.

The peer, an unpaid minister since 2005, is replaced at the Ministry of Defence by Baroness Taylor, a former cabinet minister and Labour chief whip. Lord Drayson's work on business regulation will be taken over by Pat McFadden, a minister at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

Bernard Jenkin, a former Tory defence spokesman, said: "The idea he is taking a leave of absence and is going to return to the MoD... is utterly ridiculous. This is a resignation and they are trying to hide that fact."