Friday, January 13, 2006

T#12: Autosport International

So today I’ve been at the first press day of the 2006 Autosport International show at Birmingham’s NEC. What gives?

At a basic level, Autosport International is a motor show for racing cars. But it is also an arena for engineering excellence, aftermarket add-ons, and increasingly a launch pad for new vehicles in the UK (especially when we only have a “proper” motor show inconsistently). Motorsport celebrity interviews and faces abound, t-shirts are hawked, subscriptions are begged for, and an infinite amount of paraphernalia and bumph is pushed at you in logoed-up plastic bags. There’s also a live action arena, where fans willing to stump up some extra cash can see various forms of racing machinery screech (literally: the surface seems like every multi-storey carpark you’ve even been in, plus 10) round an indoor track. Oh, and a bunch of inappropriately clad young women for you to get your picture taken with. Assuming you’re into that sort of thing.

Trends and themes? Well, Lamborghini style rising doors were popular on the less traditional, more tuner orientated exhibits. Prodrive’s David Richards was getting all the good press – more on that shortly. Everyone seems to agree that Formula One is boring, and can’t understand why rallying isn’t getting as much attention as it should. You can’t walk five yards in any direction with colleague Sean without him bumping into someone he knows. And I couldn’t believe how many oiks were in there, especially considering that it was supposed to be a press day. Blargh.


Ok, ok, get to the point. The big reveal of the day was the Prodrive P2, which had its worldwide official unveiling at the show, courtesy of the aforementioned Mr Richards. In case you’ve missed it elsewhere, the P2 is a bespoke two-seat sports car concept based on Subaru Impreza STi running gear, integrating substantial clumps of Prodrive’s automotive know how – including a couple of special features you won’t see any where else at this moment: ALS and ATD.

The Anti-Lag System (ALS) is adapted from the Subaru World Rally Championship car that Prodrive is responsible for. Anti-lag works by igniting unburnt fuel in the exhaust in order to keep the turbo spinning at lower revs – hence the bangs and flames you get with a WRC car; the P2 road car application is much more sophisticated, however, with Prodrive claiming that it can ‘control the turbo speed to within one per cent at almost any engine revs.’ What this actually means is much better throttle response at lower revs, and potentially vast improvements in efficiency and fuel economy:

‘With an anti-lag system, you could in theory replace a normally aspirated, two litre engine with a turbocharged one litre engine. This would typically reduce fuel consumption by about 25 percent without any loss in performance.’ So says powertrain engineer, David Hemming. A similar theory, albeit very much different execution to Volkswagen’s Twincharger engine, which uses a supercharger and a turbocharger to get two litre performance out of a 1.4.

ATD equals Active Torque Dynamics, which is a Prodrive developed system that uses active differentials to achieve similar results to the other cars’ ESP equipment. The aim is to keep the car pointed in the intended direction of travel; the claimed advantage is in the way ATD redistributes the torque, rather than braking the wheels, making for faster forward progress.

The P2 started life as an engineering exercise – an opportunity for Prodrive’s employees to show what they could do, without the constraints or prerequisites commanded by their work with other manufacturers. But there are whispers that a similar vehicle could be produced for in the region of £40,000. The chassis itself is a heavily modified variant of the Subaru R1, while the exterior styling was handled by Peter Stevens, who was also on hand to see the vehicle committed to harsh light of (press) day. Stevens was responsible for the MG SV, and you can see similarities in one or two of the lines – especially towards the rear shoulder. It’s an aggressively compact form, where the arches barely contain the track width, the overhangs are short, and the creases are sharp. It’s a little awkward around the fussy front end (perhaps a bit too much Judge Dredd...), but overall loveable and chunky. Being Prodrive, I imagine it goes some, too. The engine is rated at 344bhp, and estimated performance figures are 0-62mph in sub four seconds, and a 170mph top speed. Lovely.



Another road car outing was that of the Connaught Type-D GT Syracuse. Connaught itself is a resurrected marquee, famous in Grand Prix circles during the 1950s; the current ensemble plays out of the West Midlands. The Type-D looks like a saloon car that got hold of the wrong kind of anabolic steroids, and then some – it even has bulging headlight covers. It left one of my colleagues feeling a little queasy, but I actually love it: it looks like nothing else out there – maybe, possibly think Bristol for 2020? The part that really gets me, though, is not only the commitment to a lightweight structure, but the kickass concept of a two litre, supercharged V10. The plan is for it to push 300 brake, though the originally bandied suggestions of a hybrid version seem to have faded out of sight, unfortunately. Aesthetics is in the eye of the beholder…my biggest question is who is going to buy the thing?


Other launches included the Virago, from another West Midlands’ based specialist sports car maker, the 2006 Subaru WRC car, and the 2006 Mitsubishi Group N rally car. Notable supporting cast came in the form of the Aston Martin DBR9, a Ferrari Enzo, a Porsche Carrera GT and new 911 GT3, lots of touring cars, a static re-enactment of part of last year’s Monaco Grand Prix, LOADS of rally cars, and a hall full of classics including 100 years of Grand Prix racing.

The live action arena includes some pretty cool stuff, too. We got to see someone bend their classic Lotus Cortina for one thing (can’t promise that every time, folks). The Marches off-road vehicles were entertaining – you could tell they were really trying; it’s amazing how far over a Range Rover will lean without taking out its door mirrors by falling on them – and the nutcases on the supercross bikes come with a definite “don’t try this at home” warning. Might be worth taking a sweep stake on which of his vehicles stunt ace Terry Grant is going to break, though (in our case it was his fire-breathing Impreza – but that was ok coz I saw it at MPH ’05); however, if you look at the picture below closely you’ll spot there isn’t anybody actually in that Rebel…and that might have something to do with him, also.


Biggest disappointment? The Maybach Exelero, which was a mock-up rather than an engineering model. Worst car? An aftermarket Honda Civic with the nastiest rear end treatment I’ve ever seen bar none. Best car? Quite possibly the 1967 Eagle T1G-Weslake as driven by Dan Gurney – though there are any number of exhibits I would happily go home with; getting to see the P2 unveiled was a big highlight for me. Maddest wheel arches? A fight between the Renault Megane race car and the Ford Fiesta RS. Best stand? Tunit…as they had the prettiest models in the best outfits… (Tunit performance enhance diesel engines – just to prove I was in fact paying attention; anything from your average TDi up to and including HGVs, tractors and combine harvesters. I kid you not.)


That was my 2006 Autosport International.
How was yours?


Links:

Autosport International

Prodrive

Connaught (The site still mentions the hybrid, so perhaps I'm a little hasty...)

Tunit (Oh, what the hell!)

Terry Grant

And introducing tonite's sketch [internal]


Pictures: all mine (and un-edited! Fingers crossed for CRTs...) with the exception of the second to last (the Tunit models), which is courtesy of my friend and colleague, Sean Moriarty.

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