Autosport International is back. That’s certainly the feeling I came away with from the National Exhibition Centre after Top Step Communications’ annual visit last Thursday.
Professionally, ASI is a ‘must-do’ event; a chance to catch up with old colleagues and meet new faces ahead of another busy motorsport season, and a terrific opportunity for our clients from racing and rallying to make big announcements and press the flesh with potential partners.
I’ll admit, a massively soft spot for the event lurks inside me. Visiting in 1996 as an impressionable 11-year-old, I was delighted to win a PlayStation and British Touring Car Championship tickets as runner-up of the ‘Big Quiz’ on the main stage; one of several things that remain etched in my mind.
Meeting Sir Jackie Stewart – there to announce the establishment of Stewart GP and a Ford tie-in – Martin Brundle, John Watson, David Leslie and Matt Neal, watching Piero Liatti’s mega donuts in Subaru’s Impreza 555 in the Live Action Arena, and sitting in Gianni Morbidelli’s Australian Grand Prix podium-finishing Arrows grand prix car all contributed to an utterly mega experience.
Those wonderful early experiences were so fantastic that it saddened me to see ASI descend into a far less fever affair as the worldwide economic decline took hold on the motorsport industry a decade ago.
Don’t get me wrong, a massive Classic Team Lotus stand crammed full of ex-Jim Clark, Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell machinery is extremely cool, and organisations like the Historic Sports Car Club (who won ‘Historic stand of the Year’ this time around) and 750 Motor Club put on super-strong displays. But it’s not what the crowd comes for, is it?
It’s been steadily regaining lost ground over the past few years and for 2018, there was a tangible feeling that the show was getting towards being back to its best. Special guests included Formula 1 World Champion Nigel Mansell, Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran, and the winners of the past nine British Touring Car titles to mark the launch of its 60th anniversary season and unveil several new-car liveries for the year.
Better still was the use of the event for the global launch of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship, with every major driver and manufacturer vehicles from Citroen, Ford M-Sport, Hyundai and Toyota present, and for the launch of the all-new Ginetta LMP1 machine, with which the Yorkshire firm aims to take on the might of Toyota at Le Mans.
Add into this the biggest ‘Autosport Engineering’ section I can remember seeing – presided over by the irrepressible Tony Tobias, and it’s abundantly clear how much value the four-day January spectacular still holds for the industry.
It was great to see the show prove useful to our clients; JAS Motorsport, whose multiple title-winning Honda Civic Type R TCR formed the centrepiece of the award-winning Vital Equipment stand, WSR, whose Team Principal Dick Bennetts was an in-demand man from media from as far afield as Australia and Fox Motorsport, who made a team visit on Thursday.
Ok, so the Formula 1 launches are a thing of the past, but that’s more down to the current technical and testing regulations negating the benefit of completing a new car early or eating in to a driver’s contracted PR days, than any shortcomings of ASI.
Show Director Kate Woodley and her team have done a magnificent job to stop the event sliding into a state of irrelevance and instead maintained a one-stop-shop for industry insiders, motorsport media and – most importantly – an engaged fanbase.
Well done guys. We look forward to an even better show next year.
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