GT & Sportscar News from Autosport International 2009
Issued January 15th 2009
GT & Sportscar News from the
Autosport International is reputedly the most significant
and influential motorsport show in the world, and the 2009
event (January 8th-11th) came at a time when the industry
is facing perhaps its most challenging season in half a
century or more. Every level of the sport looks set to suffer
as the economic situation worsens, and the withdrawal of
Honda from Formula 1 (early December) may prove to have
been just the tip of an ever-deepening iceberg.
came on the first trade-day of this year’s Show (Thursday
8th) that the decision by Subaru to pull out of the World
Rally Championship after more than 20 years will result
in significant job-losses at Prodrive in Banbury. The former
championship-winning team represents roughly 20% of the
company’s business, according to Prodrive chairman
David Richards. He took the opportunity of Autosport International
to deny rumours that he was in the frame to take over the
former Honda set-up in neighbouring Brackley. After discussions
with potential backers in Kuwait, Richards ruled out a return
to the team he managed for three years (2002-2004) citing
sky-high costs in F1 and the likelihood of an uncompetitive
package this season as the reasoning behind his decision.
was some positive news from Prodrive, however. While sales
of Aston Martin road cars have slumped by 45% in the last
twelve months, and short weeks and lay-offs are threatened
at the main factory at Gaydon, Autosport International was
the opportunity for Prodrive to reveal the two latest versions
of the marque’s Vantage race car. Pristine in gleaming
ice-white, examples of both the GT2 (first revealed a year
ago, and successfully campaigned last season by Drayson
Barwell Racing) and GT4 variants were on display.
Friday Drayson Racing confirmed that the team would be entering
a bio-fuelled version of the Vantage GT2 in selected races
in this year’s Le Mans Series, ALMS and endurance
races in the Far East, with Lord Paul Drayson and Jonny
Cocker again co-driving the car. The team also has ambitions
of entering the GT2 Aston at Le Mans for the 24 Hours.
there were conflicting stories about Aston Martin’s
factory options. The work’s team’s DBR9s have
won the GT1 class in the 24 Hours for the past two years,
but factory driver David Brabham suggested that Aston Martin
would be unlikely to be defending the title in 2009. Instead,
the success of last season’s Aston Martin-powered
LMP1 Lola Coupe, raced by the Charouz outfit, appears to
have raised the prospect of a factory move into prototypes.
will note that 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of Aston
Martin's first (and only) overall win at Le Mans, in the
DBR1 currently campaigned in classic events by Strakka Racing.
Perhaps a move into LMP1 with a pair of prototypes might
be the factory's best chance of repeating that achievement.
even if there will be no works DB9s at Le Mans this year,
there seems every chance that factory support will be extended
to an anticipated two (or possibly three) privateer Astons
expected to compete in the GT1 category at the 24 Hours.
The same cannot be said for the Le Mans Series, however.
An announcement is expected shortly that appears to imply
that confirmed entries for this class in the five-round
series stand at just two. What, then, the possibility of
no GT1 representation at all? There is still time for additional
entries, of course, but the first race is only a matter
of weeks away.
the poor economic climate, everything else about the forthcoming
Le Mans Series season is looking rosy. GT2 appears to be
especially healthy, with two-times class champion Rob Bell
preparing to defend his title in the same Ferrari 430 that
won him the GT2 crown in 2007 and 2008, although the team
running the car changes from Virgo to Team JMW.
remain competitive the car (which took centre-stage on the
Dunlop stand) is set for a major upgrade, but it has always
appeared significantly quicker than anything else in GT2
– even if some of that might have been down to Bell’s
will be back, however, with another Ferrari 430, as will
Team Modena. The British outfit set the pace in GT1 last
year with their Aston Martin, but the high cost of racing
in GT1 has forced a re-think, and they will also be campaigning
a GT2 Ferrari in 2009. All three GT2 teams are hoping for
Le Mans entries.
prototype categories appear healthy as well, at least in
Europe. Peugeot had one 908 coupe on display at the NEC,
but there are still uncertainties over what the factory
team’s plans are for 2009. Last season must have been
especially frustrating for the French factory, with wins
in the first four Le Mans Series races, but no single pairing
able to dominate.
allowed consistency and a rousing final outing by Audi at
Silverstone (victory to McNish & Capello, fourth to
Premat & Rockenfeller) to secure not only the drivers’
title (for Rockenfeller and Premat) but also the team crown
to Audi. This came three months after impressive pace rom
the 908 in practice and qualifying for the Le Mans 24 Hours
had been undermined by strategic and technical errors during
the race to deny Peugeot what had appeared to be easy victory
at La Sarthe. Once again, Audi was the benefactor.
assured, Peugeot is unlikely to allow the same to happen
in 2009, but rumour has it that the likely scheme is that
the team will use the first two rounds of the Le Mans Series
(Barcelona and Spa) as preparation for the 24 Hours in June,
but will only decide what to do about the second half of
the season in July. Will victory at Le Mans equate to “job
done”, and retirement for 2009, or could a good run
in the first two rounds spur the team on towards the LMS
Audi having announced that the factory won’t be defending
its LMS title, and neither will the marque be represented
in the ALMS, perhaps Peugeot may think the Le Mans Series
a hollow victory, and withdraw? Only time will tell. There
was little fresh news regarding Audi at the Show, although
an update on the new R15 diesel-powered prototype is expected
any day now. The all-new LMP1 was rolled out (in secret)
just before Christmas and is expected to make its race debut
at the Sebring 12 Hours in March before competing in the
Le Mans 24 Hours, while the exciting new venture into GT
racing, the intriguingly entitled R8 LMS, is expected to
appear on track during the second half of the year.
had a generously proportioned stand at the Show, with the
908 accompanied by several other examples of the marque.
These included one of the Peugeot 207 Spiders that, last
season, had offered support action to the Le Mans Series.
An as yet unconfirmed suggestion seems to imply that the
207 Spider is now being prepared for GT4 format and could
be eligible for selected races outside the current one-make
Peugeot’s decision, at the moment, LMP1 in the Le
Mans Series appears to be wide open. One manufacturer that
looks likely to benefit is Ginetta-Zytek. The recently-formed
partnership between car manufacturer Ginetta and engine
specialists (and chassis constructors) Zytek has resulted
in a powerful marketing union that saw Ginetta-Zytek one
of the best represented manufacturers at Autosport International.
Not only did the company have a significant presence adjacent
to the main Autosport stage, but examples of its race cars
(particularly the G50) were featured on at least three other
stands. Unconfirmed reports suggest that the company took
two fresh orders for their prototype racer at the show.
Mansell and son Leo were testing the GZ09S/1 at Valencia
in Spain only a month ago, while long-time RML rivals (and
former Lola faithfuls) Team ASM will take delivery of their
own LMP2 Ginetta-Zytek chassis later this month. The car
on display from Friday at the Show was the LMP1 variant
co-driven by Danny Watts and ASM’s Olivier Pla at
last season’s Petit Le Mans race, where it lead overall
before finally crossing the line fourth in class for Team
LNT. A new home for the car is believed to be imminent.
Ginetta-Zytek was “one of the best represented”,
then the badge that appeared more widely than any other
across the carpets of the NEC was undoubtedly that of Porsche.
Aside from a factory stand (largely dedicated to the Porsche
Carrera Cup), there were Porsches of all ages and models
scattered throughout all nine halls.
included cars of historical interest including the Playstation-sponsored
Porsche GT1 (circa Le Mans 1998) and the PK Sport 911 GT2
from Le Mans 2001 – the latter having recently found
a new owner and expected to appear in this year’s
these harked back to glory days of the past, news of the
present and future may have a more significant bearing on
RML’s prospects for 2009. Two days before the opening
of the Autosport Show the news broke that Kazimuchi Goh
had acquired the Porsche LMP2 Spyder that took Dutchman
Jos Verstappen to the class title in the Le Mans Series
for Van Merksteijn Motorsport. The car had been for sale
for several months, as have the other two Spyders that competed
in last season’s Le Mans Series, but seemingly with
little interest, thanks largely to the high price tags and
reputed running costs.
Goh won the Le Mans 24 Hours for Audi in 2004, and it seems
inevitable that a return to Le Mans will be on the team’s
agenda in 2009. However, whether Mr Goh intends to campaign
the car more widely in Europe this year has yet to be confirmed,
although the two invitation races at Shanghai and Suzuka
at the end of the season must rank high on his wish-list.
news of a fresh owner for the ex-Van Merksteijn Spyder was
followed on Thursday by strong rumours at the Show that
a second LMP2 Porsche Spyder had also found a home. One,
either, or both cars could end up competing in the Le Mans
Series, but pending further news, this can only be conjecture.
back in LMP2 is the Speedy Sebah Lola Coupe, and this season
the driver line-up for the LMP2 car is impressive. The team
took advantage of the Autosport Show to announce that Frenchman
Xavier Pompidou will retain his seat from 2008, but will
now be joined by Jonny Kane and Benjamin Leuenberger. The
team also diversifies into LMP1, having acquired the former
Charouz Racing Aston Martin-powered Lola Coupe. The drivers
will be Andrea Belicci, Marcel Fassler and Nicolas Prost.
and there were some other cars at the Show too . . .