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The 2003 Autosport International Motorsport Show - January 2003 - story by Shane O' Donoghue, images by Mark Sims.

Last year's show seemed to be all about the girls. Most big stands had hired pretty women to adorn their cars, tyres and onlookers. The 2003 show was no different, though in my opinion a little more reserved, which allowed us to concentrate on the 2003 motorsport season opening event.

As usual, I met up with Mark Sims and Colin Courtney for the show - both seasoned motorsport photographers (and regular contributors to The Car Enthusiast). Needless to say, they were swayed occasionally by the sights in the main halls, including large stands from Ford, Citroen, Peugeot, Subaru and Mitsubishi. However, true to form, the intrepid snappers spent most of the three days in the live action arena, getting close to the legends and celebrities (and more scantily clad women) for your viewing pleasure! Selfless...

If you intend to visit the Autosport show next year ensure that you go to at least one show in the live arena. You are immersed in the action, with all the noise and smells of competition right in front of you, not to mention some spectacular driving from the likes of Stig Blomqvist, Per Eklund, Juha Kankkunen and Mark Higgins to name but a few. The range of machinery on display is vast. We saw karts, Moto GP bikes, grass track racers, Formula One hot-rods, Minis, Legends, along with lone runs by the rally greats mentioned earlier in legendary cars such as the Ford RS200 and Audi Quattro S1. It may all be for fun, but you get close enough to the action to see that these drivers do not know how to do a "demonstration run" - everything is a competition.

Calming things down a bit was Russ Swift's Peugeot Stunt Display Team, which is more of an automotive dance than exciting motoring. The precision was impressive, though I could not help but wonder how many times they had got it wrong while practicing. The finale was a chance for the various drivers to donut their cars to their heart's content. The expert in this of course is Terry Grant. This year he brought along a rather special TVR Tamora, which he duly stepped out of having set it up into a steady spin, walked away from the car and then jumped back on! It is a superb show to behold.

With the adrenaline pumping, a trip around the numerous stands was in order. There were a few cars I had wanted to see. First up was the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII. As you know, we tested the Evo VII FQ-300 not so long ago and loved it. Obviously we are keen to get our palms on the latest version of a truly great line of road cars. I can confirm that there will be a special, UK-only version, along the lines of the FQ-300. However, it is more likely to have closer to 320bhp, which is a mouth-watering prospect. The show car was in black unfortunately, which does not flatter the shape, but the changes from the Evolution VII are instantly visible. The front has been restyled to look more aggressive. The rear lights have been replaced by what the modifying trade call "Lexus clears". They suit the car, but the look is dating already in my opinion. The interior has been revised too, and there is a six-speed gearbox, which is very welcome. Roll on the road test!

The next car I wanted to see (and drive, truth be told), is the Coram LMP. The LMP will be road legal, as most trackday junkies drive to the track in the car they are about to thrash, but make no mistake; the Coram LMP is a compromised road car. It is, however, a very focused trackday car, built in Scotland, but destined for the international market as much as the UK.

As expected, the Coram LMP is powered by a modern motorcycle engine (nabbed from the Kawasaki ZX12 or ZX9-R), which, when allied with the minimalist design and small frontal area power should power the car to 150mph (depends on your chosen gearing!) and 0-60mph in a good deal less than 5 seconds. Thankfully, you will be glad to know that the brakes are up to the job to stop you, and the chassis should be well able to cope, especially with a body designed to produce positive downforce at track speeds. We hope to drive the Coram LMP in the summer on a track in the UK. If it fulfills its promises then it will be a bargain at 22,995 for the fully built car (12,995 in kit form).

A theoretical competitor to the Coram is the new AS One, as demonstrated on BBC's Top Gear not so long ago. It was on display on the Circuit Driver stand so it would have been rude not to go along and take a look. It surprised me. Yes, it is a low-slung car, focused on track driving, and the numbers are impressive. However, in the metal, it was disappointingly soul-less. It appears to be very well put together, which is perhaps the problem! It could be a bit too clinical. Not that we will pass up the opportunity to prove me wrong...

Along with a crop of 2003 WRC cars, one of the most interesting pieces of news from the show was the launch of Formula Woman. As the name suggests, this unique initiative is devoted to developing female driving talent in the UK. Motorsport is still a predominantly male sport, and the idea is to shine the spotlight on the most talented women to show perhaps that it should not be a men-only pursuit at the highest level. Surprisingly, Mazda are using their new RX-8 sportscar for this series. Indeed, the 16 contestants that make it through the qualifying stages will race near-standard RX-8s in a one-make series, which should even get its own 'reality TV' show. This is a brave move by Mazda. Unsurprisingly, the Mazda MX-5 attracts more women buyers than men, but I wonder if that would have been the case with the RX-8. Either way though, the series has the backing of some serious people (Mark Blundell is a consultant) and with so few places should be a roaring success. If you are female, over 18, hold a UK driving licence but not a racing license then you can enter. Go to www.formulawoman.com. Perhaps the 2003 Autosport International was about the girls after all...

For information about the show, and details of the 2004 Autosport International, we recommend you visit www.autosportinternational.com. Just click on the thumbnails to view a high-resolution image.

Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. The new Coram LMP at Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image. The new Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution VIII at Autosport 2003. Photograph by Mark Sims. Click here for a larger image.

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