Primarily a racing car show, this also provides a platform for some of the smartest minds in the engineering world who want to turn their hands to the ultimate road and track day cars, which is what we're interested in.

Technology and personality

All eyes in the motoring world may be on Detroit right now, but there’s another extravaganza going on in the UK as the leading lights of the motorsport world gather at Autosport International.

Primarily a racing car show, this also provides a platform for some of the smartest minds in the engineering world who want to turn their hands to the ultimate road and track day cars, which is what we’re interested in.

Take, for example, Roger Clark Motorsport’s demonstration car, comfortingly named The Gobstopper. But don’t be fooled by the sweet name, this home-brewed Impreza is hotter than 10 bells Chilli.

The 2000 model Impreza has been fitted with a wide-body WRC kit, WRC-style suspension that goes well beyond adjustable dampers and incorporates racing rose joints, alloy front arms and a quick steering rack. Then there are the 355mm front discs with six-pot callipers. But none of this would be enough to secure the star of the show award for a base car that is almost seven years old.

The engine is, though. As this two-litre turbo is now pushing out a simply ridiculous 850bhp. That comes from a complete rebuild and a monumental Garret GT40 turbo that 9ff declared a little too big for the 911 Twin Turbo. Lag should be an issue, but apparently it isn’t, as this leviathan hits 100mph in just over three seconds and comes fully fitted with launch control to avoid melting the tyres and demolishing the driveshafts off the line.

This car is destined for the drag strips and race tracks of Europe, including the Nordschleife where they hope to break the production car record. Of course that’s a record veiled in confusion as the Radical’s 6m55s benchmark isn’t recognised in various nations, but whatever happens it’s sure to be a hell of a ride.

And the good news is that most of the parts are off-the-shelf and available from Roger Clark Motorsport. They’ll even build more or less a carbon copy, if you have £100,000 burning a hole in your pocket.

Mitsubishi unveiled the basis for the Evo X in Detroit, but in Birmingham was the curtain call for the Evo IX – the MR. Powered by a 366bhp version of the two-litre turbo that it also uses to conform to WRC regulations, just one version of this model will be available and only 200 of those will be sold in the UK.

This is not technically a full international works effort, as UK tuner and motorsport maestro RalliArt and independent tuning giant HKS takes the FQ-360 and does grand things with it. Now this car has been developed over the course of 14 years and there isn’t much left to tweak. But such things as titanium alloy fins in the turbocharger and a smaller compressor inlet all add up, though and even help gain 3 per cent better fuel economy despite the improved performance.

The Lancer Evolution FQ-360’s performance underlines its reputation as one of the most affordable supercars on the road. This is a practical, five-seater saloon car that can sprint from 0-60mph in just 3.9 seconds and on to an electronically limited top speed of 157mph.

The engine upgrades are accompanied by subtle but effective changes to the Evo’s MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension. Eibach springs have been introduced to complement the Bilstein shock absorbers. These new springs lower the ride height by 10mm at the front and 5mm at the rear, which enhances the car’s high speed stability and allows the Super Active Yaw Control (Super AYC) system to function more effectively.

The only problem with the Evo, if you can call it that, is that it’s a four-seater supercar and there is the obvious potential to do so much more with the drivetrain. So a small engineering concern in Dudley, arguably the least glamorous part of England has done the obvious thing and combined the drivetrain with a carbon-fibre chassis and body to create what can only be described as a roadgoing missile.

With an engine that can be tuned up to 500bhp through any number of proven means and a kerbweight of just over 1000kg for the track version and 1170kg for the fully decked out road car, it will be plenty fast enough. There aren’t any figures yet, but with the four-wheel-drive system pilfered from the Mitsubishi it will go round corners as fast as anything on the road.

Autosport International wasn’t just a rice burning festival, though, and there were plenty of small yet punchy motors on display.

Renault bought its new Clio Cup car, which has been voted the Trackday Car of the Year by Track and Race Car Magazine – one of the first to get a sneak preview in a multi-car track shootout. Considering the road warriors that make up this class, that’s a hell of an achievement.

The Regie’s mighty mini might have less than 200bhp, and be front-wheel drive, but it’s still a ball of a car. There were 650 of the original Clio Cup sold to compete in one-make racing series around the world. The Clio Cup has launched touring car drivers, provided some of the most entertaining racing known to man and a trackday car for those looking for something a little different. It’s a touring car on a budget and the legendary hot hatch experience taken to the extreme.

Another trackday fiend launched at the show was the GTM GTR40, a machine reminiscent of the Ariel Atom thanks to its exoskeleton design but with F1-style wings it will have proper downforce. The first models will come with a 220bhp Honda Vtec powerplant that will propel it to 60mph in under four seconds and on to 150mph. And all for the price of a bog standard Mini Cooper S, possibly less.

GTM, like many others, is jumping on the green bandwagon, too, as this trackday special has the potential to run on biofuel, according to the press release. That’s borderline stupid, as any car has the potential to run on green fuel, with the right engine. If they do, we will applaud at the time.

International racing was well represented, too, with the International Formula Master series launching in opposition to the European F3 Championship. Using a two-litre racing car with slicks and wings that boasts 250bhp and weighs just 550kg including the driver, it will be lightning fast. But a one-make series has other concerns, like exposure. A support role on the World Touring Car Championship ensures they’ll get their name in front of the major manufacturers, and weekly Eurosport coverage will take them to the masses.

New championships launch every year, and disappear the next, but this one has the support and overall packaging required to become a success. They have built it, now the drivers must come.

There were all sorts of other delights at Autosport International, including the Aston Martin N24, the Nurburgring 24 Hour spec AMV8 that should sell in droves on looks alone. Aston Martin is back into racing in a big way and customer cars are an essential part of the business plan, although the V8 project started with a bunch of volunteers at the factory racing a production car. Eighth place in the Bahrain 24 Hours seems to have given this project momentum and the customer orders are expected to flood in. If nothing else, it sure beats an F430 for a trackday toy for the seriously wealthy.

Jaguar’s return to sportscar racing took physical form at the show, too, with the unveiling of the GT3 XKR developed in association with Apex Motorsport. This car will enter the FIA European GT3 Championship and, with the lightweight aluminium body and supercharged 4.2-litre engine, should be a potent weapon as well as a gorgeous car.

With Aston Martin about to head into new ownership, there is real potential that this car could be transferred into a roadgoing super Jaguar, too. At the moment that is nothing more than idle speculation, but there will be a healthy demand should Jaguar decide to press ahead with a 500bhp halo car.

It wasn’t all new cars at the show, and there were plenty of classic Le Mans cars, F1 machines and greats from yesteryear. The pick of the litter, though, must have been Juan Manuel Fangio’s 1957 Maserati 250F. This is a car that took the legendary Argentine to the World Championship and it would take a bottomless pit of money to buy.

Of course with just 270bhp at its disposal and tyres skinnier than a modern day supermodel, just, this car probably wouldn’t keep up with a decent hot hatch today. But that’s not the point, it was still one of the show’s stars and rightfully so. It’s a piece of history, one which the crowds in Birmingham would never have seen without this extravaganza of motorsport.

And there were celebrities, too. Former World Champion Damon Hill opened the show and Antony Davidson and other motorsport legends turned out to greet the crowds and answer questions on stage. And this blend of old and new, technology and personality, has made Autosport International a unique event in the show calendar. Long may it continue.

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