Already one of the most established shows on the motoring calendar, Autosport International was as big and as popular as ever in a packed out NEC to celebrate the event’s 25th anniversary.
The show kicks off the motorsport season in style every year and hosts some of the biggest stars and most exciting cars over its four days, as well as giving smaller racing companies a chance to gain exposure.
This year saw 2014’s attendance figure of 82,000 well beaten, with ourselves being part of the mix and thoroughly enjoyed the first of two public days on the Saturday. We spent the best part of 10 hours walking the NEC’s floor, drooling over new and exciting models, listening to motorsport legends and witnessing the visceral offerings of the Live Action Arena.
Autopsport International has become a fantastic opportunity to be in the company of a meticulous selection of motorsport heroes and champions, and this year was no different.
Three main stages hosted a delightful range of past, present and future motorsport stars, ranging from the ever insightful David Coulthard to the very talented McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winners finalists and winner George Russell.
It was Scotsman and former Formula 1 ace Coulthard who kicked us off on the Autosport Stage and began by discussing his success over the winter in Barbados competing in the Race of Champions, before moving onto discussing the previous and next F1 seasons. Coulthard ran through the key points of the 2014 championship and the fierce battle fought out between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, while also commenting on the struggles of Marussia and Caterham, as well as young drivers, and the need of strong budget for both team and driver these days to gain entry to the top echelons of motorsport.
One of the most entertaining talks of the day featured BTCC champions Gordon Sheddon, Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan and current title holder Colin Turkington. To no surprise, the four made for incredibly good value and like typical touring car racers, were happy to poke fun at each other and also make note of any of their own misfortunes suffered last season. One memorable moment saw Team Dynamics man Neal be quick to explain Turkington’s dislike of Thruxton’s Church corner, which was revealed to originate from an accident in the past that saw a sensitive part of the Northern Irishman’s anatomy left a little bruised.
WRC champion and inaugural World Rallycross victor, Petter Solberg, was another guest that brought great insight with an injection of humour. The Norwegian, ever the showman, was full of little quips throughout his time on stage, but also admitted how he would consider a return to the WRC if the right circumstances arose.
Later in the afternoon saw the attention turn to a former and current WEC champions Allan McNish and Anthony Davidson, who discussed endurance racing and a wonderful season with Toyota for the latter. The duo also explored the excitement of the coming season and the ever increasing competitiveness of the series that will see a further addition of manufacturers enter the fold in all classes, not least Nissan in LMP1. The man replacing Tom Kristensen, Oliver Jarvis, also had a quick chat on stage to talk of his ambitions for his first full season with Audi Sport in 2015 and tackling Le Mans for a fifth time.
Coupled with Autosport International is the Performance Car Show, which gives visitors the chance to get close to some of the world’s most exotic new and old models.
This section of the event had Autocar magazine showcase some of their favourite cars of 2014, with models ranging from the fast and furious Lamborghini Huracan to BMW’s seminal i8. Meanwhile, the newly integrated Pie and Piston ‘local’, set up by motoring community favourites Pistonheads, offered a wonderful mix of traditional pub treats and stunning automotive examples. Punters were able to have a pint whilst overlooking a pristine Peugeot 205 GTi, the sensational Ferrari LaFerrari, a Jaguar XFR-S Shooting Brake and the lesser spotted Dodge Viper ACR.
In the opposite corner, it was possible to get close and personal with What Car?’s cars of the year that featured a line-up of the Porsche Boxster, the new Audi TT, the Ford Fiesta ST, the Land Rover Discovery Sport and top prize recipient the Skoda Fabia. Elsewhere, Noble pulled the covers off its M600 Speedster concept that sees its already acclaimed coupe get a targa roofline and a semi-automatic transmission for the first time.
Coys Auction house, meanwhile, had an eclectic selection of cars go under the hammer, with models including a Jaguar E-type convertible, an immaculate Alpina BMW 1600ti and a Porsche Speedster. Other classic models were on show at both the Motorsport News and Classic Car stands, allowing visitors a rare chance to get close to the likes of the Ferrari F40, Lamborghini Countach and the Jaguar XJR-15, as well as such motorsport examples as Nigel Mansell’s John Player Special Lotus F1 car and Michael Schumacher’s Mercedes Sauber C11.
Over at the F1 Racing grid were a range of Formula 1 cars led by Lewis Hamilton’s title-winning Mercedes-AMG car, along with entrants from its competitors and was a particular crowd pleaser and a unique chance to get so close to such high-end machinery.
Live Action Arena
Every ticket to Autosport International gave visitors the opportunity to see cars that were perhaps slightly less stationary. A lot less stationary, in fact.
The Live Action Arena showcased vehicles from numerous disciplines of motorsport, from Autograss Specials to National Hot Rods, and saw some dazzling displays on the oval track. Hosted by Sky Sports F1 commentator David Croft, the show enables various ‘for fun’ races for each formula that brought with it a mountain of noise, and from our point of view in the fenceless media pen, a face full of rubber.
Also brought onto the track were Autocar’s best handling cars of last year and What Car?’s triumphant cars of the year, in between wild lessons in drifting from Petter Solberg and doughnutting in a monster truck from Terry Grant’s ‘Swamp Thing’ for the 5,000-strong crowd.