The Autosport International Show is the first sign that the motorsport season is heading towards us. With driver announcements, new car unveilings and teams setting out their plans for the year ahead, it is a good place for media to get the inside track on what to expect this year and the public’s chance to see new cars and drivers and to get excited about the 2012 season.
I headed to the NEC in Birmingham on Thursday to catch up with friends, colleagues and acquaintances and to set out plans for the coming season. There was certainly plenty to see and keep me busy so much so that I didn’t get a chance to see everything. After signing in and chatting to a few good friends from BTCCCrazy and BTCCBlogs it was time to head to the JRM stand for the unveiling of their new car.
The car that was to be announced was their new Nissan GT-R GT3 car which had already been seen in action as a three race development programme had seen it compete last year including at the Blancpain race at Silverstone in October. Sporting a new Red and Black paint job and a few slight aerodynamic tweaks, the car looked fantastic. With the announcement that the Nissan GT-R will be available to buy I hope to see a few on track this season.
The next announcement came in the form of a new Driver. The AMD Milltek BTCC team had lined up their new driver announcement for the show and Shaun Hollamby unveiled Ollie Jackson as their new driver to mount a charge on this seasons British Touring Car Championship. Ollie drove last season in the British GT Championship in the Lotus Evora GT4 alongside Phil Glew as well as a couple of races in the BTCC at the end of last year so it seems like a good acquisition for a team who are targeting top 10 finishes this year.
After taking a few photos of Ollie on the Pipercross stand, it was off to the Sunoco press conference to hear about the Sunoco Challenge and how Felipe Nasr and Aaron Steele were getting on with their preparations for the Daytona 24 hour race and Grand Am Challenge respectively. It seemed that the pair were taking to it like a Duck to water during the practice days recently, especially Nasr who was setting some incredibly fast times which had regular Daytona 24 hour drivers slightly nervous. It was also good to hear from Mark Blundell during the conference and his take on it all. The challenge, setup by Sunoco, offers a great opportunity for the winning drivers to experience racing in America and help them gain exposure. We all know it is hard for racing drivers to secure drives and sponsorship deals and by being given the opportunity to race at Daytona can open up new avenues in their career’s so it is great to see Sunoco provide this.
Before a meeting to discuss plans with the guys at Britcar, there was time to have a look around the show for a bit. There is certainly plenty to see, from classic rally and race cars, the Ayrton Senna display with a collection of his race cars on show, the new Drayson Racing electric powered LMP car and a number of trade stands to keep everyone busy and entertained. Again this year Ian Cook (Pop Bang Colour) was there on his hands and knees painting some more incredible cars in his unique style. It was good to catch up with him and to see him paint the 1982 Jacky Ickx & Derek Bell Porsche 956. It is one of my favourite ever race cars and the car that won Le Mans the year I was born so I think I will be treating myself to a copy for my 30th birthday later this year. The finished painting is stunning and would look great on my wall.
Having had a productive meeting with Britcar, myself and James were invited for a coffee at the Sunoco stand where it was nice to catch up with Louise who does a lot of their PR during race weekends. Whilst I was sitting down I glanced over to the Corbeau Race Seats stand next to us and my attention was grabbed by an image of the Team Lotus GT4 Evora from the British GT on the back wall. I instantly recognised it as my photo. This was somewhat surprising as it was the first time I knew of it being used. Despite this, it was good to see it up there.
Before heading over to the Charity Karting Race, I bumped into Becki Mitchell who was there working for Radio Silverstone and Kevin McGlone of Red Square Images. It was great to catch up with them both and hopefully will be able to catch up with them again at various times this season. If all goes to plan I’ll be off to the Nurburgring in May for the British GT and 24hr race with Kevin.
As it got late in the afternoon, the Karting Race was due to start and with my friend Nick from Tin Tops UK in a team with Alistair Rushforth, Dave Newsham, Andy Neate & Gordon Sheddon, I went to watch and give him some support. There was a lot of driver talent on show and it was good to see them all fighting it out in the karts. Nick will be writing a guest blog for Trackside Views about his experience so look out for that soon.
As the race came to an end and the NEC started to close its doors, it was time to head home with renewed optimism and excitement for the oncoming season. I can’t wait to back out with my camera and for all the motorsport championships to start up again. However, it will be sooner than I expected for me this year as I will be at Brands Hatch for the Brands Hatch Stages Rally next weekend. I will of course be bringing you news and photos from that in due course.
This weekend I was at Rockingham for the British GT & F3 championships where I witnessed Felipe Nasr win the F3 title and ex BTCC driver Jonny Adam win the first race of the season for the Beechdean Aston Martin team alongside Andrew Howard. Also this weekend another ex BTCC driver Steven Kane won the American Le Mans series race at Baltimore with Humaid Al Masaood.
Meanwhile, it was all kicking off north of the border in Scotland as Knockhill hosted the British Touring Car Championships. Whilst there were many talking points throughout the event, the main one involved Jason Plato and Tom Boardman in race three. With the current champion leading, Boardman was close behind seeking his first race win. It was obvious the Seat Leon was faster in a straight line and as the pair started lap 4 the Chevrolet received a nudge from behind under braking for the first turn. However, a subsequent nudge further into the first complex was enough to send Plato off and into the tyre wall leaving Boardman to claim his first BTCC Victory.
Now whilst there was contact, it was slight and probably avoidable but on another day in another situation would not have led to a retirement. However opinions are divided as to whether there should have been punishment handed to Boardman as a result. Obviously, Plato himself was not happy, but had the roles been reversed, I’m sure he would have written it off as a racing incident. While he is never happy to be on the receiving end, he has given out more than his fair share of contact in the past.
We can all argue and debate this subject for a long while, as all the Plato fans will disagree with the non Plato fans and vice versa. That’s fair enough. We all love rivalries and let’s face it, you get heated debates in all sports from rival fans. However, I would like to think that nearly every fan of Jason Plato would agree that his angry response on Twitter that evening, plenty of time after the ‘heat of the moment’ was totally unacceptable. To call a fellow competitor a ‘Talentless Pikey’ stepped way beyond the boundary of professionalism. Whilst there maybe one or two drivers in the championship who’s talent could be debated, Tom Boardman is not one of them. Jason’s response to a BTCC fan and twitter user who told him it was a stupid thing to say was also unacceptable and showed him for the ungracious and sore loser he can be.
Jason is a well regarded driver, for that there is no doubt and a role model to many. Also, as a representative of the BRDC he should be setting an example and acting in a professional manner. There are many sports stars who have landed themselves in hot water over comments on twitter and I would like to think this situation doesn’t go unnoticed by the powers that be. At the very least, a public and personal apology should be made.
There are many good racing drivers out there that struggle to get sponsors and a budget together to enable them to get a race seat. Good PR and a strong fan base help these guys no end. This isn’t the case for Jason Plato, sponsorship deals and public exposure come along frequently to add to his extensive fan base and many teams would offer him a race seat at the drop of a hat. If a young upcoming driver had his attitude and behaved the way he does at times, then they would no doubt be kicked out of a team quite quickly. Unfortunately, Plato is a big draw for the BTCC and he knows that. He loves being a big fish in a small pond and is happy to voice his opinions when it suits him. He is quick to criticise others but doesn’t consider his own actions and their possible consequences. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, no man is bigger than the British Touring Car Championships and it will continue to survive without him. I have no problem with drivers showing passion, but he went beyond that and I hope someone makes him realise the error of his ways pretty soon.