A sell-out crowd made the pilgrimage to the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham last weekend last weekend for the Autosport International racing car show.
As always, the Autosport International covered all forms of motor sport, from grass roots karting, club racing and stock cars, right through to historics, WRC, endurance and Formula 1 racers and drivers.
Supplementing Autosport International was the Performance Car Show, showcasing a few of the latest road-going cars and enthusiast clubs, as well as displays from a handful of specialist sports car makers and tuners, such as Zenos, Noble and Urban.
A special feature, tracking the evolution of the hot hatch, covered each of the major hot hatchbacks that moved the game on time-after-time over the past 40+ years, including the pioneering Simca 1100 Ti, as well as the later VW Golf GTi, plus the car voted the world’s greatest hot hatch: the Peugeot 205 GTi. Later hot hatches, such as the Ford Escort Cosworth and RenaultSport Megane R26.R completed the display.
The accompanying picture gallery will give you a good flavour of the wide variety of competition machinery to be seen at the NEC show, with GRR’s own Henry Hope-Frost offering his personal insight into the many interesting drivers and motor racing personalities that he interviewed live on the Autosport Stage during the event, which you can read here.
Williams Heritage showcased some of its F1 cars from throughout the team’s extensive history, including the Williams-Ford FW06 as well as Nigel Mansell’s Williams-Renault FW14B.
The FW18 that won Damon Hill the 1996 F1 Drivers’ Championship also formed part of the iconic Williams line-up, with Hill on hand to review the car, having officially opened the show on the first public day. ‘The FW18 was designed for me, I just felt so at home in it and had some of the most enjoyable qualifying laps I’ve ever had in a racing car,’ he said. ‘It was a very nimble car and had big power from the 3.0-litre V10. Aesthetically it just looked so right too.’
Also drawing interest was the Classic Team Lotus stand, which unveiled its latest project on the first day of the show. The Lotus team will be restoring the only turbine-powered F1 car in history, the Type 56B, with the aim of returning it to the racetrack and Goodwood at some time in the future.
The Historic Sports Car Club marked the 50th anniversary of the its first race with a special display of its HSCC championship-winning cars, including a delightful 1959 Lola MK II.
Other fascinating competition cars dotted around the NEC’s many halls included the final F1 racing Hesketh, the 1975 308D, plus everything from historic go-karts, through to a rare Kurtis 500, and on to 2016-season racers, such as the new Ginetta G57 and Arrinera Hussarya GT prototype endurance racers.
The 2015 Le Mans-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid was joined by the debuting Ford GT WEC, which will compete in the 2016 season with drivers including Brits Andy Priaulx and Marino Franchitti at the wheel.
The Ford will see the marque’s return to Le Mans this year in the LM GTE Pro class with the all-new GT, 50 years on since the GT40 finished first, second and third at the famous 24 hour race. The all-new factory programme will see Ford try to emulate some of that 1966 success. ‘I’m massively excited to be a part of Ford racing, coming back to Le Mans, half a century after the original GT40,’ Marino Franchitti told Henry Hope-Frost. ‘It’s such a beautiful car and it drives even better than it looks.’ Andy Priaulx added: ‘Ford’s engineers have not compromised on this car at all. It’s built to win – I can’t wait to continue putting some testing miles on it.’
Over at the Coys auction, there was a varied mix of road, race and rally cars going under the hammer. Highlights of the sale included a rare RHD 1974 Ferrari 246 GT Dino, which sold for £220,000, plus an ex-Ford works Escort RS Cosworth (£45,000), a 1982 ex-Russell Brookes Vauxhall Chevette rally car (£72,000) and a Lamborghini tractor (£7,000).
Some Autosport visitors got to see a range of powerful machines and skilled drivers put on a show of drifting, precision car control and nail-biting stunts in the Live Action Arena, with key highlights including the Jaguar C-X75 from the latest James Bond film SPECTRE, three-time FIA World Champion Petter Solberg and drift team Team Japspeed.
Driving an historic 1983 Williams-Cosworth FW08C, Williams F1 racer Felipe Massa put on a real spectacle, sliding the historic car out of corners and then burying the throttle on the straights. Massa commented that it was a real honour to drive the FW08C. The FW08C was provided by Williams Heritage and was campaigned in the 1983 F1 season by Keke Rosberg and Jacques Laffite. It was also the first F1 car driven by legendary driver Ayrton Senna, who begged Williams team founder Frank Williams for a test and got his chance at Donington in July of that year.
Photography by Gary Axon