Stephen Errity, GT correspondent
Autosport International 2012 report
Autosport International, the annual curtain-raiser for the European motorsport season took place in Birmingham, UK this weekend, and there was aplenty of new about the 2012 season emanating from the halls of the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) over the four days of the event.
Drayson launches all-electric prototype...
There was no shortage of attention for Drayson Racing Technologies’ newest creation: the Lola-Drayson B12/69EV all-electric LMP1 car. Although it looks similar to the familiar Lola LMP1 coupé chassis raced by Drayson's team in the 2010 American Le Mans Series, the car employs a host of advanced green technology, including lithium nanophosphate batteries, a wireless induction charging system, electrical regenerative dampers and recyclable body panels. Despite the impressive potential speed of the new car, a running time of less than 15 minutes at race pace means it's not yet suitable to take on petrol and diesel competition in a straight fight. Instead, Drayson says, it will be used as a technology demonstrator and a 'time attack' car to set new lap records for electric vehicles at circuits around the world.
...and IMSA joins the electric crusade, too
The FIA has already announced its intention to run a Formula E world championship for alternatively powered racing cars next year, but they're not the only ones. IMSA and the ALMS, working in conjunction with sustainable project management firm Quimera, are planning an electric vehicle series for 2013 as well. In the run-up to the series' launch, Quimera's electric GT car will perform demo laps at selected ALMS events this year. Current plans foresee several different categories in the championship, including prototypes, GTs, touring cars and single seaters.
GT3 comes to the fore
With GT1 World Championship, GT3 European Championship, Blancpain Endurance Series and numerous national championships and 24-hour races all running to GT3 regulations this year, there was no shortage of new customer cars for the category at the show. Having completed development running, including a couple of competitive race appearances in the latter stages of 2011, the JRM/Nismo Nissan GT-R GT3 car broke cover on Thursday in a very distinctive red finish. While it was being admired by the crowds in Birmingham, another example of the car was running in the Dubai 24 Hours, many thousands of miles away in the Middle East.
Aston Martin's DBRS9 was one of the original GT3 cars, and finally bowed out this year after six years on the international scene. But its replacement has now arrived in the shape of the fantastic looking and sounding V12 Vantage GT3. The car is being developed in conjunction with the British Beechdean Racing squad, but there's no word yet on whether any cars have been sold for 2012 competition.
Ginetta is a name more familiar within the UK than on the wider world stage, but that is slowly changing. After years of running its own one-make series, the Leeds company has now developed a GT3 version of its aggressive-looking G55 racer, offering an interesting alternative to the established choices such as the Audi R8, Porsche 911 or Mercedes SLS AMG.
Resurgent Lotus also had a bevy of customer cars on show, albeit none in the GT3 class. There was last year's GT4 Evora, as well as the GT-Cup single-make version of the company's flagship supercar. But the best looking exhibit on its stand was in fact a road car – the homologated version of the GTE Evora, looking stunning in a John Player Special-inspired gold and black colour scheme with red highlights.
Doubts continue over GT1 World Championship
Customer GT cars may not have been in short supply in the halls of the NEC, but optimism over the forthcoming GT1 World Championship was. Four teams (WRT Audi, All-Inkl Mercedes, Hexis McLaren and Vita4One BMW) have now committed to the series, with a fifth apparently confirmed but not yet announced. Only ten cars is still some way short of a full grid, however.
Speaking on the show's main stage, factory Aston Martin driver Darren Turner said what many were thinking when he mentioned that “everyone is waiting to see what happens” with the GT1 championship. Turner has been confirmed as one of the drivers for Aston Martin's factory assault on the World Endurance Championship's GTE Pro class, as well as being involved in the development of the new Vantage GT3 machine mentioned above. But it's not yet clear if he will return to GT1 with the Young Driver Aston Martin team in 2012.
Meanwhile, JRM team boss James Rumsey said it was unlikely his team would be defending their 2011 GT1 titles unless outside sponsorship could be found. The outfit will instead focus on supporting Nissan GT-R GT3 customers and running its HPD Acura prototype in the LMP1 class of the World Endurance Championship.
A transitional year for Porsche
The road-going model of the all-new 991-generation 911 has just launched, but it will be next year before we see a new racing version. Yet Porsche made up for the lack of a new racing car launch by bringing along the stunning 918 RSR prototype, first seen at last year's Detroit motor show. Although it's unlikely this car will ever be raced, the hybrid technology it showcases will be a key part of the company's new Le Mans prototype, currently being developed for the 2014 race. With the new 911 GT3 racer arriving in 2013, Porsche Motorsport is about to enter probably the most significant phase in its history since the glory days of the 956/962 Le Mans victories in the 1980s.
Monstering Pike's Peak
The challenge of conquering the legendary Pike’s Peak hillclimb in Colorado had produced some incredibly outlandish vehicles over the years, and British rallycross driver Liam Doran has now added a new contender to the fray. With the help of sponsors Monster Energy, DC Shoes and Forge Motorsport, he’s built an amazing Ford RS200 hillclimb special to tackle the daunting climb later this year. The featherweight 950kg car packs a proven 925bhp, which launches it from 0 to 60mph in only 1.7 seconds.
A tribute to Senna
The runaway success of Asif Kapadia and Manish Pandey’s acclaimed documetary has put Ayrton Senna firmly back in the consciousness of motorsport fans this year, and the Autosport show organisers responded to this with a dedicated display of some of the late Brazilian champion’s most significant cars. First up was the DAP/Barilla go-kart he used to finish runner up in the 1979 World Inter karting category. Two of the unfancied Tolemans from early in his career also made an appearance, along with the 1987 Lotus 99T, the 1988 championship-winning McLaren MP4/4 and the 1993 McLaren that Senna drove to possibly his most famous win at the European Grand Prix in Donington.
Click here to see the full photo gallery of the 2012 Autosport International.