It’s a pilgrimage all motorsport fans take to start off the racing season. The long or short haul to the NEC in Birmingham in mid January, depending on where you live, always means it’s time once again for the Autosport International Racing Car Show. Spread over almost all of the venue’s many halls, it caters for everyone’s tastes, be they F1, WRC, sportscars, touring cars, single seaters, historics, oval racing or even karting. To me, the racing season hasn’t properly started until I’ve been there.
Myself and Dad left at 6:30am and took the 3 hour journey down to Birmingham. Stopping midway at a service station to grab breakfast and a copy of Autosport magazine, we parked up and promptly shared a taxi with 3 other guys down to the front entrance to the NEC. Once in, it was to the Atrium to pick up our Paddock Passes, and we entered the show in Hall 6.
This was significant to me because in this hall was where my current employers Classic Team Lotus had their show stand up, with the large British Racing Green transporter towering over great Lotus cars such as the 79, 102 and 38B. We stopped to say hi and then decided to make our way over to the Live Action Arena for the 11am show. Luckily, capitalising on an over by HMV on tickets to the show, our Paddock Passes gave us front row seats for the show, which made it all the more enjoyable. There were the usual short sprint races by the Autograss cars, BRiSCA F1 Stock Cars, Formula Palmer Audi’s, Rallycross etc as well as a few displays by Fifth Gear presenters Vicky Butler-Henderson and Tiff Needell. Then came two very special cars – the Lancia Stratos and my favourite rally car of all time, the Audi Quattro. Seeing this 5 cylinder, 550hp, 4WD monster in live action for the first time was great to experience.
After a great live show, which ended with Jenson Button turning up in a lorry tractor cab to say hi, we made our way to the F1 Racing stand to meet up with some of my friends from Sidepodcast – Jackie, Kimster, Pat and Chris to name a few. Dad decided to leave me to it so he could have a wander round the show himself, whilst I stayed with the SPC lot. Coincidentally, on the stage behind us were 3 of the Peugeot Le Mans drivers, one of them being our favourite Franck Montagny. I promptly got in line to get his autograph along with Alex Wurz and Nicolas Minassian. I shook Franck’s hand and had a quick chat to him. He is a really nice genuine guy and we all wish him the best for Le Mans this year.
Lunch quickly followed, and we all sat down and chatted for a while. Myself, Chris and Pat all decided that we quite fancied a go on one of the show’s many simulators situated around the various stands. After looking at a few we decided to settle on the Mobil 1 Simulator, which comprised of a full scale F1 car which moved around on a rig depending on what the car in the game was doing on track. It was a bit of a wait, but we all managed to get a go. We even made a bet that we’d all put £5 in and whoever got the fastest lap would result in winner takes all. Sliding into the simulator, I managed to quickly get up to speed on my warm-up lap. Knowing where I stood in terms of how fast I could go, I promptly pushed as hard as I dared without risking going off the track. At the end of it all, I posted a 1’09.1, which turned out at the time to be the fastest lap of the day! Although I wasn’t too dignified getting out of the rig, as all my change from my left pocket had fallen out and rattled around the cockpit while I was driving! Pat and Chris were subsequently a bit slower, and I swiftly made £10 in the process! Thanks guys!
I decided after this to meet up with Dad again, so I left Pat and Chris to it. On the way, I stopped over at the Classic Team Lotus stand again and had a nice chat with Clive Chapman, my boss. We agreed for me to come back with Dad so they could meet and have a chat. I found Dad in the Oval Racing section and decided to head over to the McLaren merchandise stand so I could pick out something that Dad could buy me as a belated Xmas present. Before this, I visited the 30 Years of WRC stand and took a few pics of the MG Metro 6R4, Peugeot 205 T16 and Lancia 037, all Group B rally cars. Also, we stopped at the 60 Years of Autosport stand and I got to snap the Audi Quattro S1, my favourite incarnation of my favourite rally car. But eventually we made it to the McLaren stand where I settled on a new 2010 silver McLaren zip shirt, which I tried on the next day and fit me perfectly. Then it was time for me to spend some cash, so I followed that up with a black Rubens Brawn GP t-shirt, the 2009 F1 Review DVD and another DVD with over 2 hours of raw footage of Group B rally cars taking part in tarmac hillclimbs from 1989 to 2006. All worthwhile purchases, I can tell you!
With the final stop over to CTL once again, after Dad and Clive had chatted for a bit, we decided to make haste and leave the show for another year. For us, we considered it one of the best years we’d been to the show since we started attending. The reason for this? Well, my friends over at Sidepodcast all mainly enjoy and talk about F1, so from their point of view although there are features concerning it, they’re few and far between compared to what else is there. For me, because my taste in motorsport is much broader, I can appreciate and enjoy a lot more of the cars on display. This is why I think most of them don’t really consider all that worth the money. I certainly do, anyway.
So, Autosport 2011? If it’s even half as good as I found this year’s, hell yes.