When the 2010 Formula One season opens in Bahrain next week a new team will line up on the grid.

Its name is just as iconic as the likes of Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz, but unlike its competitors in the world’s most famous and lucrative motorsport series the two cars entered by Virgin Racing will be taking part in F1 for the first time.

The team is also unique in being wholly British owned and for the North-East there is an extra reason for taking pride in its achievement – Virgin’s director of racing is none other than the Entrepreneurs’ Forum’s reigning Entrepreneur of the Year and North East businessman Graeme Lowdon.

As the co-founder of Nomad Digital, one of the region’s most innovative and exciting new businesses of the last decade and the world’s leading provider of data communications to the transport sector, Graeme is used to maximising any opportunities that come his way.

The recent imposition of cost controls on F1 has been just one of those opportunities and the catalyst for the motorsport team of which he has been non-executive commercial director, to move up a gear and join the big boys.

As a highly successful Formula Renault and Formula 3 team, Manor Motorsport provided a training ground for F1 world champions Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton. But until now, Formula 1 itself was so far out of reach that Manor did not even consider trying to climb to the top echelon of their sport. “It was almost as if there was no point in looking at going there because the business model of F1 just didn’t present any opportunity at all for a company like Manor.

“It’s not as if we said ‘if we work really, really hard, we’ll get there’. It was just a complete impossibility, explains Graeme.

So making it is not a dream come true or even an ambition fulfilled; it’s a case of the chance has come and now the team must make the most of it.

There has been the opportunity for new teams to enter Formula One for a while but it was only ever a realistic option for a motor manufacturer or team with immense backing from an international, household name business operating on a global scale.

In Virgin, Manor found its global commercial partner last year when it became clear that F1 was a real possibility.

The FIA, the sport’s governing body, announced that it was looking to alter the model under which companies could compete, in particular limiting expenditure.

“That changed everything,” says Graeme. “It’s become a different competition. It was ‘spend as much as you want to be competitive’. Now we’ve got a model where the amount of resources you can employ is strictly limited so it’s a very different model and one which we think we can be good at.

“When we set up Nomad it was because we saw a dislocation in the market and developed the technology. The F1 opportunity is very similar in that there is a dislocation and it’s completely rewired how that industry will work.”

The restrictions are not as simplistic as putting an overall maximum figure on spending. They cover things like the number of people a team may employ (though not how much it pays them); the amount of time a car can be wind tunnel tested; the amount of computing power utilised and so on.

The aim is to bring costs down to where they were in the early 1990s within three years, though inevitably estimates of what this figure was vary widely. The ballpark teams are said to be aiming for is £40million a year.

Manor was already a successful race team, but in Formula One teams must design and build their own cars. For that, they teamed up with Nick Wirth, who had previously worked with March, Simtek and Benetton as chief designer before becoming disillusioned with the economics of F1 and leaving the sport in 1999. Clearly ready to return under the new regime, Nick and Manor quickly reached an agreement.

By May 2009 they had applied to enter Formula One in 2010, giving them around six months to design a car ready to test and ultimately compete with the world’s best.

Crucially, they needed a competitive engine and with that secured from Cosworth, Manor Grand Prix, as the company is now known, was ready to take its proposition to Virgin.

Sir Richard Branson’s brand made its debut in F1 last year as a sponsor of Brawn GP, which went on to win both the constructor’s and driver’s titles with Jenson Button.

Graeme already had contacts within the group, and Virgin Trains is one of Nomad Digital’s biggest customers, having installed equipment on its Pendolino and Voyager railway fleets.

Graeme explains: “They were looking for a lot more out of F1 than simply putting stickers on a car. They wanted to be an integral part of building something new.

“Virgin is a challenger brand and so being part of the challenge of entering F1 as a new team is perfect.”

The team was officially launched as Virgin Racing in London on December 15, unveiling its driver line-up of German Timo Glock and Brazilian Lucas di Grassi.

Manor will also compete in the GP3 series, which supports the F1 calendar in Europe, which it will use to develop and nurture young talent.

“It’s what we used to do for other F1 teams, but now we’ll be doing it for ourselves,” Graeme explains.

He first became involved in motorsport in the early 1990s while working in Switzerland where he and his wife Wendy were involved in the sponsorship programme of an Indy Car team and subsequently set up Eiger Racing.

A decade ago, they were approached by John Booth, the Yorkshire-born owner of Manor Motorsport and now Team Principal of Virgin Racing. Graeme’s input helped the team to expand and build a new factory at Rotherham and of course now enter Formula One.

The team will retain its Yorkshire base, while the cars are designed and built at Wirth Research in Bicester, Oxfordshire, and its commercial offices are at Virgin HQ in London.

With the first race just days away, Graeme sounds surprisingly cool and calm.

“It’s an exciting challenge. You have to have respect for it but at the same time you can’t be overawed,” he says.

“There are an awful lot of faces we know in the paddock, people who have been through the team in the past. We have hired some excellent people from other teams who were keen to join us because they share our way of doing things, and we have a huge amount of experience in the team.

“There is definitely a level of excitement; there’s no point doing it if you don’t relish the challenge and the opportunity.

“Our aim is to earn the respect of our fellow competitors and our objective is the same as any other race team and that’s to do the very best that we can.”

Graeme says he will not make every race this year, but with his F1 team travelling the globe and visits to clients and Nomad offices, which are spread from Newcastle to Calgary and Beijing, there is no doubt he will be clocking up the air miles in 2010.

Nomad has gone from strength to strength since raising £8m worth of investment in 2006 to fund the roll out of its revolutionary wireless broadband connection on trains.

The company is revolutionising the quality of broadband connections on the move for both passengers and train operators with its technology that sends signals from base stations on land to trains moving at nearly 200mph.

Its first customer was Southern Railway, for which Nomad speculatively built the service on the London-Brighton line. The Heathrow Express, US railroad and the Dubai Metro followed. The Scandinavians have also adopted the technology, with Norway’s national rail operator, Nordes Statsbaner (NSB), using Nomad’s system on 280 trains. Last November, Nomad added Dutch transport company NS Intercity to its portfolio.

“We had anticipated that a lot of the projects that are coming through now would ideally have happened earlier but we have little control over that,” says Graeme.

“The work we are doing is pretty innovative and the market we are in is a massive global industry with a lot of ongoing large capital projects so decision making can take some time.

“We are happy that we should be able to maintain growth as planned now that the market has momentum and we will be seeing quite a few deals in the next 12-18 months.

“We are doing more and more overseas projects and a lot markets have very high growth. I think we will see a good, steady build up of our presence in these markets so we can open new offices and strengthen the ones we’ve got.

“This phase of business for Nomad is all about building turnover and profit; a straightforward growth phase.”

Originally from Corbridge, Graeme grew up in Stocksfield where his dad owned a building company as well as a collection of cars. An engineer by profession, Graeme’s first post was with NEI Parsons, which sent him off to Singapore, where it built power stations, then Switzerland.

After deregulation of the electricity sector, Graeme came home in 1996 and created Industry On-line where people in the industry could exchange information, communicate and trade,. The internet was really still in its infancy but he secured investment from 3i in Glasgow.

Graeme then met Nigel Wallbridge, who had a similar business. They amalgamated to form Just2Clicks (J2C) which was then floated on AIM in early 2000.

Nigel then moved to Canada, where he discovered wireless businesses doing interesting things. Regulations in Europe were about to be lifted, so the entrepreneurial pair, having looked at various applications for their own wireless technology, decided to target the transport sector.

Graeme says: “It was another case of a rapidly changing market where there would be new opportunities. It required things to be invented. It was very difficult but it offered a massive market if we got it right.”

Nomad was launched in 2002 and this year revenues are expected to be upwards of £10 million.

For Graeme, 44, it has always been about the thrill of spotting a gap in the market and creating something to plug the gap and ultimately be successful. In other words, being truly entrepreneurial. Which is in part why he has been a suporter of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum from the start.

He says: “If an economy is booming at a regional level, then the opportunities to improve facilities and generally improve the benefits for everybody are more prevalent. That benefits everybody in that region, whether they are in business or not.”

Being chosen as the Forum’s Entrepreneur of the Year is an honour.

“It’s from people who know what they are talking about and who know what they’re doing. People argue endlessly over what entrepreneurship means but fundamentally most people involved in the Forum are familiar with the various challenges of getting a business off the ground.

“To get recognition from your peers is always a good thing and in that sense it’s something I am proud of.”