Motor Sport takes a stand

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Despite the current doom and gloom, the racing community put on a great show at Autosport International. And we were there too

As we headed up the M40 bound for Birmingham in freezing January we couldn’t help but wonder what exactly we’d find in the cavernous halls of the National Exhibition Centre. The Autosport International racing car show, the traditional curtain-raiser to the motor racing season, has grown to an impressive size over the past 20 years. But given the state
of the world we are living in at the moment, would it be as grand this time around?

Well, we wouldn’t go as far as to make any ill-considered claims about ‘green shoots’, but the motor racing community sent out a very clear message at the show: yes, we’re feeling the pinch, but life – and business – don’t just stop during a recession.

A change in layout made it difficult to judge whether the show was smaller than usual, but if it was we didn’t notice. It still took a whole day, and then some, to take in everything on display, and the general mood of the 850 exhibitors seemed to be surprisingly optimistic. How refreshing.

And as ever, the crowds arrived in force. Over the four days (first two for trade, the second two for the public) 84,000 visitors descended on the NEC. On the Saturday, always the busiest day of the show, just making your way from stand to stand required both patience and the passing skills in traffic of Ayrton Senna.

Motor Sport’s stand proved very popular, much to our delight. We featured a tasty selection of GT cars from yesterday and today, and the idea was clearly a crowd-pleaser. The seven cars were: the Porsche RSR and GT3 Cup racer featured on last month’s magazine cover; Lamborghini’s new Super Trofeo Gallardo one-make racer; CR Scuderia Racing’s British GT title-winning Ferrari 430 GT; Apex Motorsport’s Jaguar XKR GT3, which contrasted nicely with the gorgeous ex-Roy Salvadori Lightweight E-type sitting beside it; and last but certainly not least the very popular Aston Martin DBRS9.

The Aston has just been acquired by Beechdean Motorsport, which used the opportunity on our stand to promote its range of dairy ice creams. Imagine our dismay when they offered us an ice-cream counter to draw more people towards us on the Saturday morning… Mint choc chip for lunch it was, then.

When we could prise ourselves away from the ice cream, there were the usual attractions to keep us entertained, such as the high-decibel Live Action Arena and the indoor kart circuit (see p116). Special features that caught our eye included the Lotus collection of Grand Prix cars, the HSCC’s range of F2 and F3 cars (next door to us) and the David Coulthard stand, which featured a range of his racing cars dating back to his first kart. It was a fitting way to mark the end of a great career, and Coulthard opened the show on Saturday to resounding applause. He starts his new job as a BBC pundit safe in the knowledge that he is as popular as ever with the NEC crowd.

The days when F1 teams used the show to launch their latest cars are sadly long gone. But when you get racing people together in one room (or rather, a couple of hangars) there’s always plenty of topical conversation. On Friday morning Donington Park’s success in gaining planning permission to develop its circuit for the 2010 British Grand Prix was the subject on everyone’s lips. Motor Sport took the chance to quiz chief executive Simon Gillett about his plans (see Grand Prix News, p12), then hot-footed it to the Motor Sport Safety Fund Sid Watkins Lecture which this year featured Murray Walker interviewing McLaren boss Ron Dennis. When Murray asked for questions from the floor, the BRDC’s Tim Parnell stood up and gave Ron the opportunity to air his views on Donington. “I applaud anyone coming in to Grand Prix racing creating competition,” said Dennis. “But I struggle to understand how the economics of Donington will work. They’ve got a massive investment in the infrastructure and I don’t understand how we’re going to get in and out of the place – although I can tell you I’ll be in a helicopter.”

Yeah, thanks Ron. But there was plenty of sympathy for his view. As Gillett is more than aware, the only way he can silence the doubters is to, in his words, “deliver”.

Motor racing is heading into perhaps its most uncertain season ever, or at least since the energy crisis of the early 1970s. But the people who make it happen week-in, week-out have always been quick to adapt to challenging circumstances. For once, on one subject at least, everyone in the NEC was of a like mind: the show must go on.