Autosport Show Highlights: Thursday

@MNmotorsport

Our team of national reporters pick their highlights from the first day of Autosport International. For ticket information, click here.

WRC 2018 season launch, by Graham Keilloh

The opening day of the 2018 Autosport International was well and truly a World Rally Championship takeover as the official launch of the 2018 WRC season took place at the show.

It is the first time a top-tier FIA World Championship has been launched at the show in its 27-year history. Each manufacturer team contesting the full season – M-Sport, Hyundai, Toyota and Citroën – unveiled their respondent 2018 machines, which will remain on display at the Autosport main stage throughout.

Plenty of drivers and championship luminaries were on hand and were interviewed on stage throughout the day, indeed all competing WRC teams, drivers, co-drivers and team principals will be present at the show.

Rob Austin’s Alfa BTCC reveal, by Luke Barry

“I hope the car is going to be as good as it looks,” remarked Rob Austin as the covers were taken off the Alfa Guiletta he’ll race this BTCC season. Since it was announced at Rockingham last year that Simon Belcher’s HMS Racing team would build the car, anticipation has been fever-pitch.

After months of waiting the car is now ready and looks as good as fans were dreaming. The question now will be how competitive is it?

We have to wait until that question can be answered, but for now we can be content that this Alfa project will be operated as a ‘Dealer Team’. For anyone of a certain age that’s spine-tingling stuff.

Jaguar I-Pace eTROPHY, by Lee Bonham

As Formula E continues to go from strength to strength, and with Jaguar’s own programme gathering momentum at the start of Season Four, the launch of the I-Pace eTROPHY could not be more appropriately timed.

The I-Pace was centre on the Jaguar stage, and it stands out even among the variety of machines, for several reasons. The I-Pace may be marketed as a sports car, but it has the dimensions of a typical family SUV and it would not be described as a diminutive machine. What is fast becoming a trademark turquoise livery gives the race machine even greater presence. The thought of twenty of these electric tin-tops competing on tight city streets is mouth-watering.

Sunoco Challenge prizegiving, by Graham Keilloh

The Sunoco Challenges are quite something. And today at Autosport International 18 year old British GT4 champion Stuart Middleton was awarded a cheque for $250,000 for winning the Sunoco Whelen Challenge and British GT3 champion Rick Parfitt Jr got $35,000 for taking the Sunoco 240 Challenge. Moreover it gets Middleton a drive in the forthcoming Daytona 24 Hours and Parfitt one in the BMW Endurance Challenge support event.

And in Middleton’s case it’s in a championship-winning car and team which topped ‘mock qualifying’. A win is not out of the question, and all just 18 months on from driving Ginetta Juniors. Little wonder he was “speechless” when he got the call to confirm he’d got the award.

Social Influencers Hangout, by Lee Bonham

The Autosport Show brings together eclectic machinery, and the PistonHeads aspect always highlights some of the most desirable road cars. Yet the ‘Social Influencers Hangout’ brought a unique aspect this year.

The display features five vehicles, comprising Archie Hamilton’s lurid pink Audi R8, the appropriately named Baron Von Grumble’s BMW S 1000 RR Sport bike, Queen B’s gorgeous E21 BMW 3 Series, GasKings’ Nisan GTR and the stealth of Schmee 150’s Mercedes AMG GT-R. The focus is on one of the basic founding principles of many an individual’s interest in cars and motor sport: coolness. That may seem a childish thing to celebrate but a display that celebrates the wilder side should be a cause for cheer.

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