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Autosport International 2008
RML AD Group at Autosport International. Issued January 12th 2008

Autosport International – General Review

The venue for the first raft of major sportscar announcements to come out of this year’s Autosport Show turned out to be a single, if generously proportioned platform immediately adjacent to the main Autosport stage. At just before eleven, having just uncovered the new Subaru Impreza STI rally car, Prodrive boss David Richards turned to the other side of the stand to reveal the new livery for this year’s Aston Martin GT1 Le Mans challenge car. Certainly one of the trade’s best-kept secrets for some time, the sight of a DBR9 in the illustrious pale blue and orange colours of Gulf Oil drew gasps of admiration from the six-deep crowd. The conjunction of two brands with such a lengthy Le Mans pedigree (exactly 40 years since a first victory in the case of Gulf) is an evocative combination and one that is sure to attract a strong following from the 80,000 British supporters who traditionally attend the 24 Hours.

With the works Aston Martin programme confirmed, Richards was then happy to announce another well-concealed development from Prodrive – the revelation that Aston Martin has created an engine suitable for LMP1 application, and that the company’s first customer is to be Charouz Racing. More significant than that, the vehicle to benefit from this innovative move is to be Lola’s new B08/60; the first customer-available LMP1 coupe.

Lola first announced plans for a coupe nearly eighteen months ago, and the Huntingdon company has worked diligently in the meantime to ensure that the company’s tradition for designing race-winning cars will be upheld by this exciting new chassis. With 2008 also being Lola’s fiftieth anniversary, the debut of the B08/60 is doubly significant, and bringing the strength of Aston Martin to the package looks like dealing a winning hand. The marriage of the new coupe with the V12 engine was made possible by a change in the ACO’s regulations that permitted the use of the heavyweight but ultra-powerful GT1-derived engines, provided they came from a source that had seen at least 1000 units produced. Aston Martin easily exceeded that requirement, yet also had a race-proven engine that had already won at Le Mans – indeed, as Richards reminded everyone, all six DB9s entered in last year’s 24 Hours went on to finish; no mean achievement.

As prototype drivers, including Mike Newton and Tommy Erdos have observed, the fastest GT1 cars are every bit as quick (in a straight line) as the best in LMP2, so the there’s no doubting that an LMP1 chassis powered by the AM V12 will have all the power it needs, despite the additional bulk inherent in a road-derived engine. Charouz was the only team to give the all-conquering Peugeot 908s a run (of any kind!) last year, so the thought of a coupe with Aston Martin power and Prodrive know-how could, at last, see a petrol-fuelled car challenging the diesels. The Charouz Lola Aston Martin is expected to make its public debut in early March at the official Le Mans test at Paul Ricard in France.

There was more news from Lola, however, with the announcement that their new B08/80 coupe has also been purchased by Speedy-Sebah Racing to run in LMP2. The outfit intends to compete head-to-head with Lola’s open-topped prototypes, including RML’s MG EX265, although the team’s choice of engines has yet to be confirmed. Rumours persist that it might be the Mazda-commissioned AER, the Mazda MZR-R, as employed by B-K Motorsports for their Lola B07/40 in the ALMS and already chosen by Quifel ASM for their Le Mans Series Lola in 2008.

Another area of Hall 6 hosting a wealth of unveiling was the CR Scuderia stand, backed by one of two impressive transporters being displayed by the recently created team. The mastermind of racing co-drivers Chris Niarchos and Andrew Kirkaldy, CR Scuderia had already revealed an ambitious programme for 2008, including excursions in British GT and FIA GT with a quartet of Ferrari 430 GTs (including the first 2008 spec GT2 car to be shipped) and single-seater Formula Renault.

Unwrapping the three cars on display didn’t expose any automotive surprises, but the livery did. Prominent branding for Sky Broadband revealed what is believed to be generous backing form one of the world’s leading media organisations. The FIA driver line-up has been named as Niarchos and Kirkaldy in one Ferrari, and Tim Mullen with 2007 GT2 Le Mans Series champion Rob Bell in the second.

Of interest to those who followed the MG Lola last season will be the discovery that Graham Malyk (above left, with Ferrari 430 tail-end and visitor) will be one of CR Scuderia’s truckies this season. Graham was RML’s Number One truckie in 2007, and had the misfortune to take a hefty tumble immediately after the end of the Silverstone race, breaking his left hand and resulting in long-term damage to his thumb. He’ll require further surgery, but hopes for a full recovery.

Finally, as we wrap up this review of Le Mans and MG-related news, a rare sighting of no less than three MG SV roadcars on stands at Autosport International 2008. Two of these imposing cars were conspicuously positioned right beside the entrance to Hall 6, sharing space with a monster truck.

They proved to be the products of MG Sports and Racing Europe Limited, the company set up by William Riley (of the same eponymous automotive family) following his acquisition of the original Longbridge-based but largely independent MGS&R from Price Waterhouse. That followed the demise of MG Rover, but like the gestation of the SV itself, it’s a complicated story and many of the details are, as yet, far from clear. The essence appears to be that the intention is to have the SV back into production shortly from a purpose-built manufacturing plant located just outside Blackpool. The link with Italy, where the SV’s chassis were constructed, appears intact, while the new factory’s workforce is expected to comprise of many former-TVR workers.

The two cars on display were badged as MGs, but Riley has declared a hope that the re-born SV could eventually see a similar re-birth of the Riley name in sportscar manufacture. More on this if/when we can determine some facts.