Over the past 25 years Autosport International has established itself as the industry’s annual kick-starter, marking the transition between last season and next. It’s a place to get the past year out of your system and shake off the Christmas rust, but for most of us it’s also the first event on the calendar. The atmosphere is one of anticipation, and it’s always a feast for the eyes.
This year, the main headlines surrounded the British Touring Car Championship. The UK’s most popular series seemed to be in a state of limbo heading into the show – at least in terms of driver line-ups – but some of the confusion was settled over the weekend. Triple Eight announced 2013 champion Andrew Jordan as replacement for the departing Jason Plato and unveiled the new Pirtek-liveried MG6 on the BTCC stand. Next to it was the new Infiniti Q50 of Support Our Paras Racing, the new team that is being run as a non-profit organisation, with all proceeds going to its eponymous charity.
The biggest touring car news of the weekend, however, was West Surrey Racing’s announcement that it had signed Andy Priaulx. The three-time world champion hasn’t raced in the BTCC since 2002, when he won at Knockhill in a Honda Civic.
Just as much talk was reserved for the drivers who haven’t yet put pen to paper, among them reigning champion Colin Turkington. A lack of sponsorship prevented him from defending his crown in 2009 and there’s a genuine fear that he might be facing a repeat in 2015. Let’s hope not.
Along with Priaulx and Jordan, the main stage was its usual hive of activity, with several British and international stars making an appearance alongside host Henry Hope-Frost.
Allan McNish was there, as were his successors as sports car racing’s top Brits: Toyota’s world champion Anthony Davidson and Audi racer Oliver Jarvis. Petter Solberg made an appearance and confirmed his intention to defend the World Rallycross Championship this season… before tearing up the live arena.
It goes without saying that, away from the stage, the main attractions were the cars. Plenty of modern machinery was dotted around, but hidden in the corners were some real historic gems. The Silverstone Classic area was impressive: one highlight was a late ’90s Lister Storm, which still looks absurdly muscular even next to the burly design of some modern GTs.
Project Brabham had a host of cars on display further into the hall, ASI marking the initiative’s first public appearance. David Brabham and son Sam were on hand over the weekend, and were touched by the reaction. “We’ve been staggered by the level of interest and goodwill towards the project from the industry and public,” said David. “It’s been pretty special to have the first opportunity to meet so many of our Project Brabham members and to see the merchandise being so popular. We’ve been inundated with enquiries.”
If you happened to wander past the Motor Sport stand over the course of the weekend, you might have noticed a significant crowd. That’s because we were lucky enough to have an Eventuality simulator set up; our own efforts weren’t exactly up to snuff, but we were (often) joined by the McLaren Autosport BRDC Award finalists: Alexander Albon, Ben Barnicoat, Sennan Fielding, Seb Morris, George Russell and Harrison Scott, who all got stuck in, cajoling each other at each go.
It would be remiss not to mention the fastest time over the weekend, set by Oxford Brookes student George Simmonds. He posted an impressive time of 1min 10sec around Goodwood in a Porsche Carrera Cup car.
It seems hard to believe that there are contemporary F1 drivers who weren’t born when Autosport International first took place in 1991, but we’ll no doubt be seeing them on the main stage in years to come. That’s why people keep flocking to the NEC: like the Goodwood Festival of Speed, ASI is a great place to get close to people and cars that aren’t usually so approachable. Alex Harmer
For more on Eventuality’s simulators go to www.eventuality.co.uk