Autosport International 2018: in pictures

The motorsport season always starts at Autosport International in January. The huge racing show always attracts the cream of the world’s racing drivers and teams, with legions of petrolheads all jostling to get up close to them for a selfie, scribbled autograph or simply a shot they can put on social media.

Last year’s race-winning Ferrari F1 racer was just one of hundreds of top-level racing cars fans can ogle: join us for a few hot laps of the Birmingham NEC spectacular.

Also be sure to check out the Ferrari-filled Autosport International Coys auction that will run during the show.

F1 star Fernando Alonso is taking another busman’s holiday this January by taking part in the Detroit 24 Hours. He’s driving a United Autosports Ligier JS P217, an example of which is on show at Autosport International. It takes pride of place near the main show entrance, so there’s no missing it, particularly as it’s a stunning-looking IMSA-spec racing car in its own right.

There’s added UK interest too – both of his teammates are Brits: rising stars Lando Norris is from Bristol and Phil Hanson is from Berkshire.

Rallying fans should be chuffed to bits – all the major 2018 WRC cars were uncovered at Autosport International this year. The reigning title-winner is the British-built M-Sport Ford Fiesta of Sebastien Ogier, and fans can also see new metal from Citroen, Hyundai and Toyota.

Just to underline how far removed these cars are from road-going machines, here’s the front of Toyota’s WRC-spec Yaris. It’s just a little bit more extreme than your stock Yaris Hybrid…

But it’s not just new cars on show. This immaculate Ford Escort Mk1 shows how things used to be done, albeit updated with modern-spec componentry. Rally engineers in the 1970s could only dream of working on a car in such comfort…

The Lancia Stratos was a relatively short-lived rally car that still has grown men go weak at the knees. Tales abound of those who actually saw it in action in the 1970s, going misty-eyed at the noise and the drama.

Ferrari has a 488 Challenge car on its stand. Why? Because it’s proposing a UK-specific series for people who may like the idea of owning and racing one, but not the time commitment dictated by taking part in the current European series.

If there’s sufficient interest, Ferrari may confirm a 2019 UK Challenge series in the next couple of months. If you’ve always dreamed of being the next Sebastien Vettel, and have the means to do so, this could be your first step on the ladder.

Porsche, of course, offers its own UK racing series, the Porsche Carrera Cup, and this is a support race on the prestigious BTCC calendar. It shows what could become of any fledgling Ferrari series – and, as a spokesman pointed out…

… Once you’re in the Ferrari racing family, the sky’s the limit. Maybe you might step up into a GTE-spec car such as this 458 and then go enter the Le Mans 24 Hours. Maybe you might buy an old factory F1 racer and drive it in the famous Ferrari Racing Days events. More than a few well-heeled Ferrari fans will be dreaming of what could be in Birmingham this weekend.

Autosport isn’t just about racing cars, though. It’s about everything else you need to engineer and run them – such as car trailers, of which the robustness of one was demonstrated here by parking an old Porsche Diesel tractor in the back.

The new Invictus Games Racing team was launched at the show. It’s fielding two cars in the top-level British GT Championship – and the cars are custom-built Jaguar F-Type GT4 sportscars custom-built by Jaguar’s specialist SVR division.

The first race is at Oulton Park during the Easter weekend; each car will be piloted by a professional racing driver and two injured ex-servicemen from the Armed Forces. It’s a high-profile campaign with serious intent: they might start off slowly, say team bosses, but the ultimate goal is to win races.

New to the UK racing scene in 2018 is the TCR UK Championship. Already running in Europe, it’s an alternative to the British Touring Car Championship, and includes cool cars such as the Seat Leon Cupra and Hyundai i30N. If it takes off in the UK, how will the BTCC respond?

Motorsport suppliers are always looking for cool ways to liven up their stands. Cue one 55 Ford Zephyr Super Pro racer – which, of course, uses NGK spark plugs…

Others like to draw the parallels between their road cars and racers – here’s a Renaultsport Clio Trophy alongside its racing equivalent. We don’t think we need to point out which is which…

New for Autosport International this year is a social influencers ‘corner’. Shmee150 is perhaps the most well-known of them, but we do rather like the look of Queen B’s gorgeous modified BMW E21 3 Series. Respect!

Ever heard of Steeda? It’s billed as the best Ford tuner you’ve never heard of: Steeda is massive in America and is now entering the UK to help spice up Mustangs, Fiestas and Focus over here. This Steeda Q500 is a package of parts highly rated even by those within Ford itself.

How to make a Lamborghini Aventador even more standout? Treat it to a makeover by premium vehicle stylists Liberty Walk. Price? On application…

The new TVR Griffith is at the show; you’ll find it at the Rimstock Team Dynamics stand. It’s been treated to a flashy new wrap, meaning we’ll no longer need to grumble about the poor paint match on the doors.

How motorsport used to be done in the 1970s. This Richard Longman Mini 1275GT used to terrorise much bigger and brawnier machines in the British Touring Car Championship. On occasion, its nimbleness and agility used to beat them, too: Longman actually won the 1978 BTCC title outright in this plucky little Mini.

Do you have a rough old Mazda MX-5 that stands no chance of passing its next MOT? You could scrap it… or you could fork out £2,995 for this kit of parts and use the Mazda as a donor car. Hands up, who fancies a MEV Exocet?   

We’ll leave you with a tour of the 2017 F1 grid. This is the highlight of Autosport International for many – an unparalleled opportunity to get right up close to the world’s best racing cars.

Naturally, Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes-AMG title-winning machine takes pride of place, but Williams, McLaren, Renault, Sauber and, of course, Ferrari fans are not left short-changed, either.

Autosport International

How to do Autosport International

Autosport InternationalAutosport International is one of the leading motorsport shows on the planet. Whilst it might not quite be on the same scale as SEMA or PRI in the USA (they always go big over there), it is the premier show of its kind in Europe.

Split in to two stages, Trade and Public, the show hosts suppliers and race teams from all corners of the globe. You can buy just about every component imaginable for going racing at the show, and have the opportunity to speak directly to the people that work to design, develop and supply these parts. Coupled with that is the endless display of race cars from every discipline conceivable, from Top Fuel dragsters to current and historic F1, there really is something for everyone.

For most, ASI is an opportunity to catch up with old colleagues, nurture relationships and search for new business. During the trade days (Thursday and Friday), you will see meetings happening between teams and businesses from all over the world. It is an opportunity to regroup after the previous year’s racing, and align yourselves ahead of the season to come. It is your best chance to explore the new products on offer, and speak with the people behind them. Find those hidden advantages and extra efficiencies that will mean the difference between 1st and 2nd place in the Spring.

Now maybe you don’t work in motorsport, but have your sights set on landing a job within the industry. ASI is the perfect hunting ground for the season ahead. Without the pressure of actually running a car, you will find teams, and the managers, much more at ease then you ever would at the track. You will find them very welcoming, particularly to young, enthusiastic go-getters, and you will have the time to have in-depth conversations about your skillset, their requirements, and finding some middle ground that potentially means landing a job.

If this is you, then go to ASI armed with whatever you can to be special. A few dozen printed CVs is great to have, but make sure you don’t get them creased or crumpled in your bag. If a piece of paper is a little tatty, then it is doomed to become more so once you hand it over. Keep them protected in a folder, which has the added bonus of looking far more professional when you take one out. Make sure you have clear and concise contact details to hand, and if you can, get contact details back in return.

By the far the most important part of any interaction with someone will be the conversation. You want them to go away thinking that you are different to everyone else who approached them today. Have no illusions that you are the only personal looking for a job at ASI – it is a proven recruitment ground – but you can still stand out. Approach every interaction by making sure your audience knows what you can offer them. Sell yourself. Be confident, be interesting and be engaging.

Whoever you end up speaking to at ASI could well be your next employer, your next client or your next reference.

So, you’ve handed out CVs, you spoken with the big wigs at race teams and suppliers all over the show, and now you have a few hours before closing time. What to do…

An ASI action plan

Trade at Autosport International

If you are fortunate enough to attend ASI on the trade days (that’s the Thursday and Friday), then you will definitely want to check out Autosport Engineering. The entirety of Hall 9 is dedicated to the innovations and technology that makes motorsport work. You have the opportunity to get up close with some unbelievably expensive and exotic components, from gearboxes to brakes to entire engines, and speak with the people responsible for the clever trickery that happens inside them.

From new manufacturing techniques to advanced electronics, it is here that you will find the real nitty gritty of racing cars.

On the opposite end of the scale, and a personal favourite of mine, is the historic racing section of the show. Located at the rear of Hall 6, you will find some of the most expensive, most legendary and most renowned race cars from the very genesis of motorsport. The exact cars on display changes year on year, but you are guaranteed to see something special. Whether it be a Le Mans winning Ford GT40 from 1969 (that’s the one driven by the Jackies) or a Porsche 956 (that’s the Bellof one that holds the Nürburgring record to this day), you won’t be disappointed at the heritage and machinery on display.

Also on the to-do list is the section National Motorsport in hall 7. The intention of this vast expanse of liveried cars, bustling team areas and multicolour race trucks is to address the real grassroots levels of motorsport. You will find everything here from Club level motor racing all the way up to the British Touring Car paddock.

You will have the chance to understand what is required to take your first steps as a driver in motorsport, equip yourself with the clothing, helmets and car necessary, and begin a journey that could lead anywhere.

Now, whilst this is a longshot for most (present company included), it is exciting to see just how easy it can be to get involved. To seriously pursue motorsport as a weekend hobby can be a stupidly expensive habit, but entry level hill climbing or rally? That is within reach of many! Have some conversation, do some man-maths, and see what you can muster.

My final recommendation for the show is not the Experience Zone where you can have a try at a simulator or an F1 pitstop, or the Adrenaline Zone where you can passenger ride in an Autotesting car and try your hand at karting. It isn’t even the dazzling F1 area, where a plethora of current Formula 1 cars can be seen. It is the Careers and Education zone.

The Careers and Education section is tucked away at the back of Hall 8, and consists of surprisingly few stalls. You will see a few universities displaying Formula Student cars (if you don’t know what this is then asking is your very first conversation starter!), and a few motorsport specific colleges showing off how they can help everyone in the motorsport industry.

Whether you are still searching for your way in, or looking to move up the motorsport ladder, there is something to be learnt in this little corner of the show. Stop by and listen in to one of the Talk Shop presentations, where exhibitors and professionals talk to you about the industry, about the developments and about the future of motorsport. The itinerary of who is on stage is printed in the show guide so have a peruse and see which takes your fancy.

The Autosport International show is big. Arguable too big to do in a day. Hopefully now you at least have some direction on how to focus your time. Attending ASI is a fantastic experience for everyone with an interest in the industry, and the perfect opportunity to meet new people. Take the chance to educate and help yourself, to explore what motorsport has to offer, past and future, and most of all, enjoy the show.

Best of luck!

Paddy Hopkirk

Paddy Hopkirk is new president of BRDC

Paddy HopkirkRally legend Paddy Hopkirk is taking on another high-profile new challenge – president of prestigious racing driver association the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC). Hopkirk succeeds former F1 racer Derek Warwick, who’s stepping down after a decade of being involved in the running of the club.

84-year-old Hopkirk was elected during the Club’s AGM this week at Silverstone Circuit – it actually owns the racetrack and the famous BRDC clubhouse is a familiar sight during the British Grand Prix.

A BRDC member since 1965, Hopkirk has previously been a director of the club between 1993-2002 and a vice president since 2006. He joins a role call of presidents that also includes F1 stars Sir Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill. 

The BRDC used the appointment of Hopkirk to reveal a little-known fact: although he’s world famous for his rally driving career, which included victories at the Monte Carlo, Alpine, Acropolis and Australian Alpine rallies, he was actually elected a BRDC member for his racing career. 

Away from rallying, Hopkirk also scored class wins at Le Mans, Sebring, the Targa Florio and various other world-famous endurance events. His most famous win will always be the 1964 Monte Carlo rally though; he and co-driver Henry Liddon drove a red Mini Cooper S with the registration 33 EJB.

Paddy Hopkirk was also honoured with an MBE in the 2016 New Year’s Honours list.

NEXT> John Surtees, Paddy Hopkirk receive New Year’s Honours

Vauxhall Astra BTCC Power Maxed Racing

Vauxhall in BTCC return for 2017

Vauxhall Astra BTCC Power Maxed RacingVauxhall will once again race in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 2017 after signing a deal with upcoming team Power Maxed Racing.

The Bidford Upon Avon team will run two Vauxhall Astras as official manufacturer entries in 2017. The cars will be current-gen Astra hatch models – the reigning European Car of the Year.

Two Ellesmere Port-built shells have been supplied to the team and work is now underway building them into 2017 BTCC racers (and, if these digitisations are anything to go by, pretty awesome-looking 2017 racers at that).

Vauxhall Astra BTCC Power Maxed Racing

Adam Weaver, team principal of Power Maxed Racing, said: “We are incredibly pleased and proud to be working with Vauxhall and to be the team that brings this iconic and highly successful brand back to the BTCC.”

Alan Gow, BTCC series director, added: “It is fantastic to be welcoming Vauxhall back to the BTCC as a manufacturer entry. Its history and pedigree is there for all to see and I have no doubt that the highly professional and experienced team at Power Maxed Racing will be great partners.”

The team has still to announce its driver line-up but promises more in the near future. This year, it ran Hunter Abbot, Emmerdale actor Kevin Fletcher plus a number of races for Dave Newsham – and also ran a successful test for ambitious Mini Challenge racer Rob Smith.

Volkswagen WRC champions

Volkswagen exits World Rally due to dieselgate

Volkswagen WRC championsVolkswagen has pulled the plug on its World Rally Championship programme due to the spiralling costs of the emissions scandal and the cost of developing new emissions-free tech.

But the firm is quitting as champions – announcing its withdrawal from the sport just days after clinching its fourth consecutive manufacturers’ world championship titles at the Wales Rally GB.

In total, since joining the sport in 2013, Volkswagen has won an amazing 12 world titles. Its drivers have competed in 51 rallies and won 42 of them, along with 621 special stage wins.

No other car has proven as successful in WRC than the Volkswagen Polo R. So its withdrawal is a major deal indeed.

Volkswagen board member Frank Welsch blames the fact the Volkswagen brand “is facing enormous challenges,” not least the continued fallout from the emissions scandal.

In response to it, Volkswagen is spending big to fast-track a new range of zero-emission electric cars. Volkswagen Motorsport director Sven Smeets conceded that “our vision is firmly ahead, because we are aware of the great challenges facing the entire company.

“We want our realignment to contribute to the success of the Volkswagen brand. From now on, the focus is on upcoming technologies in motorsport and our customer sports range.”

This scaled-down, significantly lower-cost refocus for Volkswagen Motorsport will see the brand compete in the growing TCR touring car series and, in the U.S., the Global Rallycross series. The firm will also develop a new lower-budget Polo R5 rallycar, that customers will be able to buy from 2018.

Volkswagen has guaranteed nobody from the 200-strong motorsport division will lose their job as a result of it pulling out of WRC.

The Volkswagen WRC withdrawal comes just days after Audi announced it is pulling out of the FIA World Endurance Championship, again in an effort to help Volkswagen Group cut costs. The latest development there is Volkswagen agreeing to a near-$15 billion settlement for U.S. customers affected by the emissions test cheating scandal.

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racer

We race in the MINI Challenge: live blog

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racerThe MINI Challenge is one of Britain’s most popular one-make series, that has grown and grown in recent years. There are more than 60 cars in the championship – and the weekend, we’re racing one of them.

The series has four classes, and we’ve jumped straight into the top-line MINI JCW class. A 255hp 2.0-litre turbo racer with sequential gearbox, slick tyres, a wealth of telemetry and umpteen other tech delights.

It can genuinely claim to be a mini BTCC touring car.

Find out how we get on over the weekend… latest updates come first!

Sunday

1010h – weather update/2
You can watch MINI Challenge racing on Channel 4. Its presenter, Andy Jaye, is worried…

1000h – weather update
It dawned misty. It’s still a pea-souper. And, as the clocks have gone back, it gets dark at 1630h. Which will make today… interesting.

Weather update: still misty. No racing yet, alas! @miniuk

A photo posted by richard aucock (@richardaucock) on

0945h – team-mates

0915h – food check

But what do @miniuk Challenge race drivers and their teams eat, you ask? Answer…

A photo posted by richard aucock (@richardaucock) on

0900h – car check

Early morning alignment check. @miniuk

A photo posted by richard aucock (@richardaucock) on

0830h – weather check

Saturday race 1

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racer

I headed into race 1 with no confidence after having it ruined by qualifying. One step forward, etc. For hours, I’d been anxious, unsettled, annoyed, embarrassed, the full kaleidoscope of emotions. I’d come here to find out just what it was like to be a racing driver. I was certainly finding that out.

Half an hour before the race, the team pushed the cars down into the assembly area the the bottom of the pitlane. It was sunny and, as I walked behind, I remembered I’d forgotten my sunglasses. So I’d have to face all the stares at the amateur in the guest car without the security of my shade shield. Bizarrely, I was also wondering what I’d forgotten. Helmet, gloves, balaclava… what else do you need to go racing?

Ah, a radio. Which team manager Oli had. All MINI Challenge drivers are wired into race control so they can tell them off from the control tower. Belted, helmeted and settled into the car for the start, I hoped the one and only time I heard them would be for the radio check.

Race time. First, assemble on the grid. Then do a green flag lap to desperately get some heat into the brakes and tyres (I weaved furiously as I didn’t want a repeat of qualifying), then find your spot on the grid. I was row 13. Please, be lucky.

The red light flashed on in the distance (I could just see it past the massive aero wing of the car in front), so I followed Oli’s instructions: 4,000rpm and, when it goes green, feed in the clutch smartly but not with a bang, short-shift to second with the clutch, be relatively sensitive on the throttle, then you’re good to go. I got away OK. They bustled a bit in front, but I wasn’t last, and I made it through the first corner with just a dab of drama – nothing like the full-on sideways stuff of the car in front.

Behind me, thanks to a somewhat controversial protest in qualifying, was BTCC driver Jeff Smith. Blimey. He had a 10-second penalty and was clearly a man on the mission. He was soon with our gaggle of three cars, and I wasn’t going to get into his way going into the fiddly quick stuff. The crowd, and the marshall with the blue flag, had come to see him, not me, so I dived out his way. I was now at the back. This could only go one way.

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racer

But, sitting in my Audi earlier, having a quiet 20 minutes’ think, this is exactly what I’d aimed for. Qualifying was such a setback, I needed a confidence boost. Finishing the race with not a single moment with the car, with consistent lap times and a feel for it, was exactly what I wanted to do. So I bedded down.

By the end, I was delighted. I didn’t pass the cars in front, but I was catching them. I was running similar lap times and, as the results later showed, I wasn’t the slowest guy on the grid. I was up to pace; I had the pace to run on the MINI JCW grid, of sorts. And again, I knew where I could go quicker. I just didn’t want to get too cocky that time out because confidence matters so much. And there were still two races to go the next day.

In the pits, sweaty helmet off, race engineer (and multi-talented entrepreneur) John was there waiting for me. “Well done.” That meant a lot. Others took the glory but I was pleased myself, for different reasons. I’d learnt a bit more about what it’s like to be a racing driver and, while it’s still impossibly hard, it seemed a bit less insurmountable than this time yesterday.

One of the best bits was when team-mate James Turkington came up, cheery as ever, to find out how I’d got on. He’d had a good race but was keener to hear about me. The pleased smile said it all. I was back where I was at the start of the day. Hopefully tomorrow I could make progress again…

Saturday qualifying

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racer

Qualifying was horrible. All the good feeling I had from testing, gone in an instant. What was so incredibly frustrating was the fact I knew all this. Kinda knew what I was doing wrong. Yet still over-drove and did it all. Blame the pressure. Because I wasn’t expecting it, it overwhelmed me and put me back to square one.

Prominent in my mind was the fact qualifying is only 20 minutes. No problem if you’re a Lewis Hamilton, but a bit of an issue if you’re a bloke off the street. I put in my fastest lap deep into the session yesterday, once I had confidence withe car. To do this from the off was another matter entirely.

And so came the first spin, when I tried to reenact the heroics I felt yesterday through Hamilton. One 360. Later on, I tried to go flat into the Bombhole. Cue another 360. It wasn’t going well: that was 20% of my laps gone. I instead stepped back, confidence shattered. The aim was simply to post a lap time, whatever it was. I almost did it clean too, with just the one hot lock-up into the final corner.

Trouble was, behind me, unbeknown to me in my panic, was my team-mate for the weekend, Charlie Butler-Henderson. Reigning champ and in the hunt for the championship himself. Into the first corner, he was right on me, which was a panic-riddled stress (by this stage, I didn’t actually know it was him). I stayed on my line and fluffed letting him past into the second corner. He understandably wasn’t happy. Neither was I.

I ended up two seconds slower than yesterday. Any progression I’d made, eradicated. This wasn’t part of the gameplan. I should be two seconds up, not two seconds behind. I’d gone into the session knowing where to make up the time, and ending up losing it all hand over fist. I can’t describe how brassed off with myself I was.

Motor racing is cruel. It leaves you standing against the barrier, alone, at the end of qualifying, trying not to hide from everyone, as you screwed up so you shouldn’t rush off and go underground. Take the helmet off, let everyone see you, suck it up. It was the most gruesome half an hour I can remember, with a million thoughts rushing through my head and a frustrated sense of powerlessness at what I considered idiocy. It was all on track and going so well before I got in the car. What happened?

Feel for the drivers who screw up. You don’t know what they’re thinking, but believe me, it’s horrible.

Prologue – Friday testing

Motoring Research races a MINI Challenge racer

The MINI Challenge JCW car is a mini BTCC car. Yeah, right, you might think. Believe me, though, it is. The slick tyres, the turbo engines, the low centre of gravity, the sequential gearboxes: if you want to know what a touring car is like to drive, drive a MINI Challenge JCW car.

Don’t take my word for it. Listen to one of my team-mates for the weekend, Rob Smith. He’s fresh from testing a BTCC Chevrolet, with one eye on a season in 2017 (yes, he’s that good). Verdict? It took him five laps to get up to speed in the BTCC car, after racing MINIs so hard all year. So much is similar, the sensations are familiar. The biggest thing he had to get his head around were the monster brakes BTCC cars run.

Me, I don’t quite have Rob’s experience. I turned up at 8am on Friday morning at a bright and blissful Snetterton without a clue what to expect. My remit was, as a bloke who had a race licence by dint of the fact he’d done three race weekends in 12 years, and nothing since 2013, ask himself how hard can it be anyway. Like you, I shout at the TV and mutter under my breath when watching motor racing. OK then, smartarse, someone gave me the chance to ask myself, let’s see how you get on.

From road to race in one weekend. And this is why the first session of practice was so horrific.

For starters, I didn’t know the car. That’s what testing’s for, you may say. Yup, but I didn’t know the track, either. Something else that was kinda important was me not knowing how to be a racing driver. Jeez, I’m the guy who gets 30mpg from Bentley Bentaygas. What I was about to do was quite a few stages removed from mooching down the M1, no matter how hazily I remember that Britcar race from eons ago in a Mazda MX-5.

So I went out and it was like learning to drive all over again. You know when you feel quite astoundingly clumsy, clueless and out of your depth? That. I went into it, naively, in road car mode, and within a couple of laps, felt like I was sat in the Mastermind chair being asked about a specialist subject about which I had not a clue.

The first impressions were electrifying. This is a stripped-out 255hp turbo MINI. It’s blindingly fast. With no heat in the front tyres, too fast for the grip available. The gearbox needs a positive action. The rear end is angry and all too ready to kick you if it senses you don’t know what you’re doing. Steering, immediate and wired. Oh, and it’s loud, and the gearbox whines, and the diff whines, and it’s hot, and every sense is assaulted. Bang! It was like being chucked out of an aircraft holding a parachute with no instructions on how to use it.

I clumsily drove around, Tried to stay out everyone’s way. Went off. Went off again. Had moments I’d be delighted with in a car, with the full-on dab-of-oppo action, but which gnarled me no end here because I was making no damnned progress. Simply flustering with what line to take, what gear to be in, when to choose my moment to jump out of the way of the hand behind me.

It defined deep end stuff. Think you can drive? Think you can tell Matt Neal a thing or two, because you’re quite tidy across the Evo Triangle? You won’t know what’s hit you. I was you in that first session and trust me, it’s horrible. You feel like the amateur you are and simply want to skulk off, ashamed, at anything you’ve ever said about any racing driver ever. They were all doing magic on the circuit while I was getting in their way being a liability.

But here’s the interesting bit. For the first time, I had data. I was driving terribly but at the end of the session, I could find out just how terribly I was driving and compare it with a professional who wasn’t terrible. How intriguing…

Josh drilled down immediately what was going on. I didn’t have enough confidence. Brakes were all over the place, throttle was tentative in the extreme, gears were guesswork, the lot. 20 minutes later, I had a set of instructions. Brake later, and harder. Be more positive on the accelerator. Try these gears. Have fun.

I did all that, and after second practice, ended up five seconds a lap faster that I was previously. Blimey.

And so it continued. I started becoming a lot happier in the car. I was more consistent. I was still seconds off the pace of the quick guys, but it was edging down to getting up with some of the others – more importantly, I knew where I was losing time. Just, frustratingly, didn’t yet have the confidence in the car to make it up.

If I were a racing driver, this would come a lot quicker. But I’m not. So it would have to be an analytical step-by-step process, one where I try to understand it all, rather than just dive in and try to scrabble some speed out of nowhere. Which is why I left the circuit for my night in a Travelodge relatively happy with my first-ever day’s testing as a racing driver.

Porsche Le Mans racer driven through London

Porsche 919 Hybrid in LondonPorsche has staged an incredible stunt on the streets of central London. Driver Mark Webber has demonstrated the Le Mans-winning 919 Hybrid racing car on the road in a four-mile early-morning dash from Park Lane to Westminster Bridge. Join us to see how the world-first event unfolded…

Why was Porsche doing it?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

Porsche staged the radical demonstration run to showcase its hybrid technology. In convoy with Webber’s 919 Hybrid was a new Panamera 4 E-Hybrid, which makes its official debut later this week at the Paris Motor Show. “The starting point is the track and we transfer it to the road,” said a Porsche spokesman. “We want to show Porsche hybrid technology can enhance, rather than hinder performance”. And what a way to do it.

Were the roads closed?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

Even at 6am, it’s almost impossible to close roads on a weekday in London. Porsche’s solution? A full team of outriders giving Webber’s 919 Hybrid a police escort throughout the course. Just one slight problem: the rolling roadblock meant Webber had to stick strictly to the speed limit, despite having almost 1,000hp under his right foot…

Where did the course go?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

After starting in Park Lane, Webber drove his 919 Hybrid south and onto Piccadilly, heading into London’s West End and through Piccadilly Circus. He then went down towards Charing Cross and Embankment, past Parliament Square and over Westminster Bridge.

Cop this

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

Passers-by caught Mark Webber being briefed by the Metropolitan Police: Porsche called them “top blokes” on Twitter.

Dawn chorus

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

After setting up through the night, Porsche fired up the engines of the 919 Hybrid at 6am, providing rather a loud wake-up call to the wealthy residents of one of London’s most exclusive postcodes.

Did Webber just do the one run?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

Amazingly, after reaching Westminster Bridge, Webber turned around and headed back to Park Lane, before repeating the run. This was despite the early morning traffic. Webber really did mingle among the commuters rushing to beat the London Congestion Charge start-time at 7am.

What is the Porsche 919 Hybrid?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

The Porsche 919 Hybrid is the firm’s LMP1 racer in the World Endurance Championship for sportscars. It combines an innovative 2.0-litre V4 petrol engine with an electric motor to produce well over 900hp, giving it unbelievable performance and economy on the racetrack.

Is the Porsche 919 Hybrid successful?

Porsche 919 Hybrid in London

The 919 sports-prototype racer is very successful indeed. It made its race debut in 2014, won the driver’s championship and constructor’s championship in 2015, and is currently on course to do the same in 2016. The 919 Hybrid has also won the world-famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race two years running.

Porsche racing car on the streets of London: in pictures

Check out more images of Porsche’s amazing early-morning run through London in a Le Mans-winning race car…

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BMW at Le Mans in 1999

BMW is going back to Le Mans

BMW at Le Mans in 1999BMW has announced it is returning to the FIA World Sportscar Championship in 2018 with a new GTE racer to take on Ferrari, Ford, Aston Martin and Porsche.

The news means BMW will return to the Le Mans 24 Hours race for the first time in several years and is something the firm is “particularly looking forward to”.

BMW will be hoping to repeat its success in 1999, its first and only win as a constructor – despite entering the race regularly since the 1930s. Its legendary M1 racers from the early 1980s were particular highlights, while the 1970s 3.0 CSL and 3.5 CSL are cult racing cars today.

The 2018 car won’t be a full-on LMP1 racer to take on the title-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid and previous all-conquering Audi R18 e-trons, though: instead, it will compete in the booming GTE class which this year has welcomed the attention-grabbing (and Le Mans 24 Hours-winning) Ford GT racer.

Racing experts are already speculating a racing version of the next-generation BMW M5 or M6 is the likely new car that will mark BMW’s return to FIA WEC GT racing; the firm currently races the BMW M6 GT2 in the United States.

“The way the WEC has developed so well makes us confident that the re is a big future for GT racing,” said BMW motorsport director Jens Marquardt.

BMW confirms new motorsport strategy

The Le Mans announcement came as BMW revealed its new motorsport strategy, which will see the brand compete in:

  • DTM German touring cars
  • FIA World Endurance Championship
  • U.S. IMSA SporsCar Championship
  • FIA Formula E
  • GT3 and GT4 sportscars
  • Dakar Rally (with MINI)

The Formula E announcement is particularly significant – BMW is to team up with Michel Andretti’s Formula E team, “in order to familiarise itself with processes in this innovative series, and to check the possibility of a works involvement in the future”.

This adds further kudos to the fledgling all-electric single-seater racing series, which has recently been buoyed by the official launch of Jaguar’s new official works Formula E racer.

There is, however, no news of any involvement in Formula 1. BMW withdrew from F1 seven years ago and shows little desire to go back there. Instead, it is focusing on a broad, diversified motorsport strategy that includes BMW M, BMW and MINI, all branded under a new BMW Group Motorsport division.

Sir Chris Hoy ELMS

Sir Chris Hoy to race in 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours with Nissan

Sir Chris Hoy Le MansSir Chris Hoy will drive for Nissan in the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours race – fulfilling a three-year accelerated driver training programme to convert him from multiple Olympic gold medalist to racing driver.

Described as by Hoy as the pinnacle, he says that “to get the news that I have the seat for Le Mans is amazing. I still can’t quite believe it.

“It’s exciting but there are a lot of steps to take between now and then so I’m trying to focus on the short-term. I’m also incredibly excited that I’m going to be starting on the same grid as all these legendary drivers.”

Sir Chris Hoy

The news was revealed at a special event in London’s O2 Arena where it was confirmed that Hoy will become the first-ever summer Olympic medalist to race in the Le Mans 24 Hours event. It comes three years after Hoy retired from cycling and started to focus on motorsport, initially as a hobby.

Nissan soon took him under its wing: it entered Hoy into the 2014 British GT Championship in a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, before graduating him to the 2015 European Le Mans Series in a Nissan-powered Team LNT Ginetta.

With some success: Hoy and co-driver Charlie Robertson win the 2015 LMP3 driver’s title.

For 2016, Hoy will be driving with French racer Andre Pizzitola and Brit Michael Munemann, in a Nissan-powered Algarve Pro Racing Ligier JS P2 (pictured below). As well as the Le Mans 24 Hours on 18-19 June, the trip will also race at the opening two rounds of the European Le Mans Series, at Silverstone on 16 April and Imola on 15 May.

Sir Chris Hoy: from two wheels to four

Sir Chris Hoy Le Mans

An eleven-time world champion, Sir Chris Hoy has six gold medals and, at the London 2012 Olympics, became the most successful British Olympian ever. He’s also the most successful Olympic cyclist.

“The time from my racing debut to getting a Le Mans drive has been short,” he admitted, “but many GT Academy athletes have done the journey even quicker. It’s incredible what can be achieved with the right support and the right people around you,” Hoy said.

“I’ve been very lucky to have that. I’ve had some great driver coaching, some great advice from the drivers themselves and I’ve had access to the simulator.

“The biggest thing in my motorsports career is Nissan has continued to provide new challenges for me. Just as I was coming to grips with the GT-R NISMO GT3, I was promoted straight away to the LM P3 prototype.

Surprisingly, he reckons the most straightforward step up is actually entering Le Mans. “The LM P2 car I’m going to race at Le Mans is the easiest and most intuitive car I’ve ever driven.”