LIVE COMMENTARY: AUTOSPORT INTERNATIONAL - ASI 2014 LIVE - THURSDAY
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As it happened: ASI 2014 Live - Thursday
By Matt Beer, Sam Tremayne and Glenn Freeman
The live commentary has ended. No further updates will be posted.
Welcome to AUTOSPORT Live's coverage of AUTOSPORT International 2014, brought to you as it happens from the backstage bunker and around the hall at the world's premier motorsport exhibition.
Throughout the four days of the event we'll be bringing you all the news from the car and team launches around the hall, plus snippets from the on-stage interviews and video highlights.
First guest on the AUTOSPORT Stage with KX this morning will be M-Sport chief Malcolm Wilson at 10.30am.
He'll be talking to our host Henry Hope-Frost about signing Robert Kubica for the 2014 World Rally Championship, plus masterminding Bentley's return to top-level sportscar racing.
The motor racing world has been united in its sadness over Michael Schumacher's skiing accident that has left him with serious head injuries.
AUTOSPORT has been inundated with fans' well wishes for the seven-time Formula 1 world champion – and there have been many requests on how best to send messages of support to the German and his family.
On the back of that, AUTOSPORT has set up a special box near the main stage this weekend so fans can drop off their cards, messages and letters, which will be collected and then sent on.
Schumacher remains in a
stable but still critical condition
in hospital, with everyone hoping for more positive news over the next few weeks.
AUTOSPORT Stage with KX host Henry Hope-Frost heads out to address the crowd for the first time this weekend.
Among the guests he will be interviewing today are Prodrive chief David Richards, M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson, 2003 World Rally champion Petter Solberg, sportscar-bound Andy Priaulx, MotorSport Vision chief Jonathan Palmer, ex-Formula 1 designer Nick Wirth, racing returnee and former Formula 2 champion Dean Stoneman and 1999 Indianapolis 500 winner Kenny Brack.
Robert Kubica isn't here this weekend, but he's provided a video message for the fans that is playing out prior to his new boss Malcolm Wilson taking to the stage.
Malcolm Wilson is effusive about his first impressions of working with Robert Kubica.
"What's really shocked me is the amount of dedication and commitment that he puts into it.
"As an example, with the restrictons on his arm, he was at the workshop till 11pm the other night working with the engineers to reconfigure the handbrake and gearshift mechanism.
"For Rally GB he'd actually made his pacenotes by video before the event, which is very unusual."
While Wilson is on stage, AUTOSPORT's roving reporters have been checking out Honda's new BTCC Civic Tourer estate, which is near the main stage in Birmingham.
Team boss Steve Neal says the project has gone well so far.
"It was straight forward," he told AUTOSPORT. "Just the extra bodywork and changing the rear splitter.
"We've pretty much lost the extra weight as well."
Malcolm Wilson admits that, as revealed by AUTOSPORT at the time, Kubica came close to an M-Sport deal last year before opting for Citroen for his WRC2 campaign.
But that wasn't the first time Kubica popped up to M-Sport's Dovenby Hall base in Cumbria...
"He actually visited M-Sport about four years ago, even before his accident, so he's always been very interested in rallying.
"Even when he was doing Formula 1, he was probably doing more rallies than people realised."
M-Sport is also welcoming Mikko Hirvonen back into its fold this year after his two seasons at Citroen, which
didn't turn out
as either party hoped.
Wilson says reviving Hirvonen's morale will be the key.
"He's had a difficult couple of years. I just hope that we can get him back to winnning ways.
"What I want to see from Mikko is him smiling at the end of a stage. We haven't seen that for the last few years.
"He ran Sebastien Loeb close for the championship on a couple of occasions and I hope that by bringing him back we can relight the touchpaper."
Here's some STP March 711 fever that AUTOSPORT features editor Kevin Turner encountered on his way in earlier.
This also marks the first time that Turner has successfully used a 21st century mobile phone that does things like taking pictures and emailing them. Congratulations to Kevin.
The third member of Wilson's WRC line-up this year is top-class rookie Elfyn Evans.
The Welshman graduates after running Kubica close at times in WRC2 last year and finishing a superb sixth on a one-off in a World Rally Car in Sardinia.
No pressure on Evans yet, though, as Wilson emphasises on stage that the priority for him this year is to finish rallies and gain mileage.
Formula Ford chiefs Gerard Quinn and Roleant de Waard are next up on stage, and both laud the series' 2013 'slicks and wings' switch.
"If you look at the amount of consumers today, we've adapted to the market and that says slicks and wings are what people want," Quinn said.
"We've also focused heavily on costs, and kept it possible for privateers to race. It's still very much an introductory category, but as a manufacturer pioneering the latest technology is important to us."
Roleant de Waard added: "In the old days you had much more time to develop as a race driver.
"Now the guys and girls coming out of karting don't want to do six or seven steps, so we accelerated it and there was clearly a demand for that. That was absolutely the right decision."
Quinn, head of Ford Racing in Europe, said interest in the new-look series was increasing.
"At this stage this year we have a lot more interest [compared to 2013].
"We're very lucky to have such a competitive package that allows us to be on TV and stay affordable.
"We have several teams expressing an interest in coming in, so we’re looking at a stronger 2014".
And asked about Ford's WRC interests, Quinn said the door is still open to a full manufacturer return.
"Never say never.
"We are still very much involved anyway - we're in close contact with the sport, and obviously we have the Fiesta running. So we're still very much involved even if we aren’t running our own team."
Jason Plato is now on the AUTOSPORT main stage. He's started off by talking about the British Touring Car Championship, and says he believes that he "let the title slip away" in 2013.
He's also warned his rivals that his Triple Eight team has made improvements to the MG package for 2014.
Here's the full story of how Robert Kubica has already wowed the M-Sport WRC team:
M-Sport already stunned by Kubica
Plato has been joined on stage by his fellow judges on the panel for the KX Akademy that supports young drivers. Team boss Danny Buxton, AUTOSPORT's Kevin Turner and Motorsport News's Matt James are explaining the judging process, and how it's about far more than just being quick behind the wheel.
Today and tomorrow are AUTOSPORT International's trade days, before the show opens to the public on Saturday and Sunday.
Full details and tickets on the show website.
If you want an insight into the thinking behind the KX Akademy, here's frontman Plato's view:
"We have a wealth of talent in the UK. A lot of the potentially great drivers just don't have that final bit of budget to get themselves in the right place at the right time.
"But we don't want to be the sole provider of the budget. If a driver can't find his own sponsors he's not going anywhere in motorsport.
"We want to discover young up and coming talents who put in the effort to make it work."
The 2014 KX Akademy crop – announced today – are now on stage. This year’s scheme is supporting BTCC star Sam Tordoff, Ginetta GT4 Supercup racer David Pittard, and Clio Cup trio Ash Hand, Alex Morgan, and Ant Whorton-Eales.
We all like seeing super fast racing machinery up close, but equally AUTOSPORT International can throw up a few little gems that don't quite have that same attraction of pure speed.
Every year Coys holds an auction of cars and motor racing memorabilia with the items on display to show attendees throughout the weekend.
One item that caught AUTOSPORT's Jonathan Noble's attention boasts a top speed of just 20 km/h – but he "would still love to have it if I had a back garden big enough."
It's an Allgaier Porsche AP22 tractor from 1952, which produces a whopping 22 bhp. It is expected to fetch around £8000.
The badge on the back is brilliant though and would be sure to raise a wry smile for anyone stuck behind it on narrow country roads.
Next to join Henry Hope-Frost on the AUTOSPORT Stage with KX is Prodrive chief David Richards, whose organisation is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month.
New for 2014, we'll be running videos from the AUTOSPORT stage in our Live blog.
First up is M-Sport chief Malcolm Wilson, who spoke to our host Henry Hope-Frost about signing Robert Kubica for this year's World Rally Championship.
Rejoicing in the AUTOSPORT International backstage bunker as an influx of chairs arrives, making this possibly the first year in recent show history that the whole news team can sit down to work.
The bunker isn't glamorous, but it does provide a great opportunity to see the guests mingling before and after their interview slots.
David Richards just came off stage and bumped straight into Andy Priaulx, who will now be coming up against Prodrive's Aston Martins in his new role as a BMW GT driver. A fascinating discussion about the state of play in sportscars ensued.
Jason Plato believes he and MG let the 2013 BTCC title 'get away' as Andrew Jordan took a maiden crown:
Plato 'should have won' 2013 title
Prodrive chief David Richards reveals that his company is likely to have a role in Formula E. It isn't on the initial list of 10 teams, but some of those squads are likely to be looking for technical partners...
"We're interested in it two-fold, from an involvement point of view - and we will be announcing something about that next month - and the technology side and our engineering division. We've got quite a bit of technology that's appropriate to that."
Three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx is our next guest, who will be switching DTM for USC machinery in 2014.
"DTM is awesome, and I’m really pleased I had a few years to enjoy that. It came arguably at the wrong side of my career, but I'm pleased I contributed as we developed the car and won in our first year.
"You have to do a good job in every session, the cars are very sensitive on set-up, and you’re racing against guys who have been there for many years.
"What makes it so tough is that it is so, so close – one tenth can be the difference between top six and 18th."
Ex-Formula 1 driver and MotorSport Vision chief Jonathan Palmer is now on stage. He says ticket sales for events at his UK circuits were good in 2013, and one of the keys to his year was launching the BRDC F4 series.
As for his USC prospects, Priaulx (here testing at Sebring) says he is honoured to have been retained as a works BMW driver.
"It's very exciting to be a works driver, and I think the move will be really good for me and my career.
"As a sportscar championship I think the USC has a lot of potential. They seem to have merged the classes and that means massive grids – what everyone wants to see – and a lot of big manufacturers all taking it very seriously.
"On top of that you go to some fantastic circuits, and it seems to have a great atmosphere. It is as tough as you’ll get anywhere."
Richards also addressed the failure of Aston Martin's bid to win Le Mans outright with its shortlived AMR-One LMP1 project in 2011.
"We had to be realistic in the end and we didn't have the resources and budget to do it," he said.
"We couldn't spend what Toyota, Audi and in those days Peugeot were. A small company like Aston Martin is never going to be able to have the funds to challenge them.
"That's not to say it might not be possible again at some point in the future. But let's concentrate on GT for the moment."
Palmer believes that his BRDC F4 series "has done the job" in terms of providing a good entry-level series for single seater aspirants.
The Prodrive facilities right next to the M40 near Banbury have become an iconic sight for motor racing fans travelling up the motorway.
Yet that is all about to change after Prodrive chief David Richards revealed that the company is to relocate to new facilities later this year.
"It's been a long process, but over the last three years we have been working with the local council to relocate the company and we have an agreement with a developer to sell the site to Marks & Spencer's for a big retail store," he told AUTOSPORT.
"Some of the planning has been challenged, as these things inevitably are because of commercial interests, but we won in the High Court just before Christmas. So planning permission was confirmed there.
"The expectation is that we will start to move in April time and complete it over the course of the year. It is not a straightforward task as you can imagine, there are over 500 people, with different functions."
Prodrive is not saying goodbye to Banbury though, and is instead moving to a nearby factory that was previously occupied by automotive parts supplier Hella.
Richards added: "It is an opportunity to revisit a lot of the things we are doing. Physical relocation of people gives you a chance to rethink structures, rethink facilities – rethink a whole way of operating. And that is what we are going to do.
"It is going to make it a lot more efficient as a result. We are spread out over 12 buildings in the existing site which isn't very good."
Radical launched its latest racer at AUTOSPORT International a year ago, and now it has fitted it with a 3.5-litre twin turbo Ford Ecoboost engine.
The turbocharged RXC was unveiled by Radical boss Phil Abbott and Ford's Roelant de Waard earlier today.
It will go from 0-60mph in 2.6 seconds.
The British Touring Car Championship's very Australian chief Alan Gow opens his AUTOSPORT Stage with KX appearance by mocking England's recent comprehensive Ashes defeat...
Gow and Haymarket's Alastair Lewis are announcing a media partnership between the British Touring Car Championship and AUTOSPORT's parent company Haymarket Publishing.
AUTOCAR, What Car? and Pistonheads branding will be appearing on the BTCC cars through the 2014 season.
Next up on stage is Nick Wirth, founder of the eponymous Research company, who will be discussing the important of technology within motorsport.
Apart from the lucky few who can get grid access at Formula 1 races, there are not many opportunities to get up close and personal with grand prix machinery.
One of those rare chances is on offer at the NEC this weekend with AUTOSPORT's sister publication
hosting its annual grid display.
It has pulled together cars from each of the 11 teams that battled it out over the 2013 campaign – and fans can get a very intimate look at the stunning designs of the F1 cars without mechanics or team members deliberately standing in the way to keep prying eyes away!
Here's the full on-stage interview with David Richards, in which he reflected on all aspects of Prodrive's incredible 30 years in motorsport.
Nick Wirth believes closed cockpits will become a reality in every series in the not-too-distant future.
"I think that’s where we are moving.
"I think most motorsport will transition towards closed cockpits, even single-seaters."
AUTOSPORT analysed some of the routes F1 was exploring to improve head protection for drivers back in 2011:
How F1 is going head-first on safety
Kenny Brack is on stage now, and he is talking the audience through the epic video of him in action at last year's Goodwood Revival, driving Adrian Newey's GT40.
Here is that video of Brack enjoying himself in a GT40:
"It was a lot of fun that. The Goodwood Revival is a meeting where you have to bring some excitement for the crowd and you get to drive some nice cars. I really enjoy it.
"The cars are not as fast as an F1 car or an Indycar but they are really quite fast considering they were built in the 60s. It's quite a challenge from a driving perspective."
Still to come on stage this afternoon are 2010 Formula 2 champion Dean Stoneman, 2003 World Rally champion Petter Solberg, four-time Le Mans 24 Hours GT winner Oliver Gavin, the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award finalists and many more.
One of the delights of wandering around AUTOSPORT International is spotting little gems of memorabilia that would be great to have at home.
Jonathan Noble was quite fevered up to spot this old Autosprint Gilles Villeneuve poster on display at a book stall.
Having visited Maranello just before Christmas last year, for Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo's annual dinner, it is clear that Villeneuve remains as much an iconic figure for those who work in the sport as those who follow it.
Malcolm Wilson and David Richards both addressed the current state of the World Rally Championship during their AUTOSPORT Stage with KX appearances this morning.
M-Sport chief Wilson remains hopeful that the promotional situation will improve.
"There's no question that we have been frustrated, and every British rally fan has been frustrated, that there's no real WRC on TV in the UK.
"But I think there are now steps to address that, and it's not the same in other countries.
"I'm a little bit more optimistic. I think there's light at the end of the tunnel."
But Richards, whose Prodrive team used to run the works Subaru and Mini WRC operations, thinks the core product is simply not exciting enough.
"Unfortunately the core product - the car - in the World Rally Championship is just not exciting enough these days, and I think that's what the main issue is at the moment."
BTCC boss Alan Gow was among the on-stage guests this morning.
Here's the full video of his interview with Henry Hope-Frost.
Dean Stoneman is now on stage. He recalls how back in 2011 he appeared at AUTOSPORT International just days before being diagnosed with cancer.
"Back in 2011 we sat on this stage and I'd just announced my deal with ISR to join Daniel Ricciardo in Formula Renault 3.5."
Having made a full recovery, he returned to racing last year, initially in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, then GP3.
Despite going straight into the Abu Dhabi GP3 weekend with no testing, Stoneman came close to winning race two. Now he wants the 2014 title.
"I'm going to do GP3 this year. We've got a few offers from teams, and looking at what's happened with Daniil Kvyat, you never know where it could lead.
"Looking at the average points score, you need to finish eighth in every race to be champion."
There are numerous stands offering all sorts of motorsport artifacts and merchandise at AUTOSPORT International.
This authentic Chevy V8 engine could be yours for just under three grand.
Next on stage is a rallycross duo: Petter Solberg and his 2014 team-mate Alexander Hvaal.
There's already some friendly rivalry between the two men, with Solberg admitting of his 21-year-old partner: "With Alexander in the team he is very young, young enough for me to be his father…
"So I am training very hard to get as fit as him, I tell you. But I can't stop driving you know, I am far too young."
Solberg, in typically irrepressible form, is also talking up his chances of winning the newly-established world rallycross title next year.
"We have very good people who take responsibility, so things are looking good so far.
"Compared with last year, when we built the car in six weeks, we have a lot more time with the car. We have a lot of new things coming after a big development test, so we are definitely prepared.
"After leaving rallying I drove in LMP1 and we were very fast, but we didn't go sideways so I thought I needed more action.
"Now the dream is to win the title in two different world championships."
Corvette sportscar team-mates Oliver Gavin and Robin Liddell are now on the AUTOSPORT Stage with KX talking about the Daytona 24 Hours and the merged United SportsCar Championship.
"You'd probably say we needed to do this," said Gavin of Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series joining forces.
"There were too many classes out there. People needed to see it under one banner, and now that's happened.
"With the new series, we get to race at all the best circits with all the best teams."
Gavin is also sporting the suavest shirt/suit combination of the stage guests so far today. Unusually though, he is not the tallest interviewee of the day as we had the towering Nick Wirth earlier on.
Gavin has established himself as one of Britain's top sportscar drivers, but has done so in the GT ranks with Corvette and has had few prototype opportunities.
That's not a situation he expects to change, but he has no complaints.
"[A full-time LMP1 drive] would be fantastic but I think most probably that opportunity has gone for me," said the 41-year-old.
"I'm a little bit on the older side now. Most of the manufacturers are looking at drivers that are fresh out of Formula 1 or in their late 20s.
"If Corvette Racing were looking to do something like that in the future it would be fantastic, but right now I can't see that on the horizon."
AUTOSPORT national editor Ben Anderson spotted the Bloodhound SSC land speed record car on his travels around the NEC. The car is aiming to break the 1000mph barrier.
AUTOSPORT Stage with KX host Henry Hope-Frost crams some research in between guests.
He's already interviewed 23 people since stage action kicked off at 10.30am this morning, and his list of guests will extend well into three figures by the end of the weekend.
His next challenge is negotiating which of the five KX Akademy talents heading on stage now will get the two chairs available.
It's worked out fine - they all stand up whenever they're asked a question.
Sam Tordoff is among the KX proteges being interviewed now.
Yesterday it was announced that he will
retain his MG BTCC seat
for 2014, and he makes clear that after an impressive rookie season, he's aiming for the title this year. And yes, that means defeating team-mate and mentor Jason Plato.
Racer and businessman David Witt, new owner of Chevron Cars Ltd, pays fitting tribute to the legendary brand on stage.
"We’re not going to live in the past – we’ll credit it because we have a fantastic DNA, but we’re ready to go racing this year with basically a brand new car (pictured).
"We’re in a wide variety of series and we’ve had some massive success in the year – and don’t forget we also won Goodwood in 2012.
"We just hope we can carry on the name and tradition."
MotoGP commentating guru Toby Moody is now on stage. He and bike-mad host Henry Hope-Frost are now purring over the brilliance of rookie world champion Marc Marquez
Big praise for Marquez: according to Moody he is the "new Valentino Rossi" - popular with fans all over the world, not just from his home country.
"You only know charisma when you meet it," he says.
As for the other side of the factory Honda garage, Moody describes Marquez's effect on team-mate Dani Pedrosa as "soul destroying".
Scathing assessment of Ducati's MotoGP efforts from Moody. He has just compared the Italian firm's current situation to Ferrari's Formula 1 cars of 1992-1993. Ouch!
Backstage suddenly looks like a parc ferme as the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award finalists turn up, all looking a bit post-race flushed, guzzling water and with overalls round their waists. We assume they're fresh from hammering around the Live Action Arena.
Pre-stage briefing for the McLaren AUTOSPORT BRDC Award finalists: "Line up in alphabetical order by surname, hold the microphone properly, no swearing..."
Matt Parry recalls what the AUTOSPORT Awards night felt like.
"It was an absolutely amazing night, very nerve-wracking until the decision was announced at 11.30 at night," he said.
"As you can imagine, I didn't really eat much because the nerves were incredible.
"It was a massive relief when my name was called, then it was like 'now I've got to speak in front of 1500 people!'
"I went up there with bandy legs but managed to get my speech out."
Parry's plans for the next few years: "Formula Renault 3.5 by 2015, Formula 1... very soon"
Next up is a BTCC quartet: Shaun Hollamby, Marc Hynes, Ollie Jackson and Daniel Welch are up on the AUTOSPORT stage with KX.
They've already been jockeying for position - four into three seats didn't go, and it's Hollamby who draws the short straw of standing.
is definitely enjoying himself today
"I just arrived at the @Autosport_Show in Birmingham along with my team mate Alexander Hvaal. Spectacular!"
As well as making a late bid for the most dapper of today's guests, Marc Hynes - the man who beat Jenson Button to the 1999 British Formula 3 crown - has been talking about his return to competition.
"I’m looking forward to reminding myself what it’s like to be a racing driver.
"We have high hopes for the year - it’s a great privilege to drive for a team like Triple 8, and the expectation is to do well.
"I’m not here for a hobby, I’m here to be a contender - you only enjoy it when you do well.
"My first day was like I’d never driven a car, then there were new corners at Snetterton – it wasn’t until Brands Hatch that I started to get back into the rhythm of it.
"The plan was to watch some races on TV to get an idea of what you need to do, but I gave up on that after one race – I didn’t want to frighten myself further."
Our final guest of the day is Stefano D'Aste, who admits he is dubious of returning to the World Touring Car Championship in 2014. Unsurprisingly, the increased cost incurred by upgrading the cars is his chief concern.
"For 2014 I will wait to see what happens, because too many things changed.
"For an independent team it is too difficult to run because the costs have increased a lot.
"Sure there is TC2, but running in that is not good for me.
"The most difficult thing is to fight with a factory team. I know already Citroen did many, many kilometres of testing - who knows how many really. So it is very difficult.
"At the moment the only car available is from RML, and I am sure it will be fantastic but the delivery will be around the end of February so you don’t have a lot of time to test.
"Citroen starts with a new car, but it has become an old car because of the amount of testing they have done."
And that's a wrap for the day. We'll be back from 10:00 tomorrow morning, bringing you all the news, launches and interviews from day two of AUTOSPORT International.
Until then, you can check out videos of some of the best interviews from the AUTOSPORT stage with KX at our
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