This weekend will see the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) roar back into action at Brands Hatch, located in Kent. This season has the most successful grid of drivers in the history of the championship, there are an extraordinary sixteen different race winners within the field with the addition of a lot of challengers hunting for their maiden race win in the series.
Once again, the championship will have a capacity grid of thirty-two cars on track, between the drivers in the field they have 329 wins. The thirty-two drivers will take to the 1.2 mile famous Indy circuit in front of huge crowds to battle it out for the bragging rights during the opening two practice sessions, qualifying session and three races during the weekend.
Halfords Yuasa’s Gordon Shedden took the title after a breath-taking end to the 2016 season. The final round saw a fight between eight drivers with the Scottish driver being the victor. This year he faces a difficult challenge as he aims to retain the crown to make it four championship wins during his time in the series. He will also be aiming to equal Andy Rouse’s record of winning three BTCC crowns in a row. Rouse set the record more than thirty years ago.
New to the grid this year as manufacturers are Vauxhall and BMW. Vauxhall are returning to the championship with Power Maxed Racing with Tom Chilton and Senna Proctor at the wheels of the two Astra’s. BMW are returning to the championship with West Surrey Racing, the BMW 125i’s in the hands of Rob Collard and Colin Turkington will run the famous BMW colours – red, white and blue with Andrew Jordan running in his stand out Pirtek Racing livery. Those two manufacturers will be fighting for the title against Honda, Subaru and MG whilst a lot of teams will be in the fight for the outright Teams’ championship.
The BTCC will run the usual thirty races taking place over ten different events at nine circuits across the UK. All the action taking place throughout the year will be shown to the hundreds of thousands of fans at the track as long as many millions watching live on ITV4 on race day.
There will be five different manufacturers fighting on the grid throughout this year; BMW, Vauxhall, Honda, MG and Subaru. No doubt Subaru will be looking to build on their successful debut season last year. Gordon Shedden is the current reigning champion and will be back fighting alongside long term teammate Matt Neal to show what Honda can do. The Halfords Yuasa Racing team have been doing an intensive testing programme throughout the winter to make sure they are on top form ahead of the season. There is no reason that the Honda Civic Type R’s in their new stealth like black with orange flashes war paint should weaken in any way. Both the Honda drivers were in the fight for the title when it came down to the wire at Brands Hatch last year – with Shedden coming out of the weekend victorious.
On their return to the championship BMW will be backing WSR running three 125i M Sports, with the addition of being factory supported the team will be more determined than ever to bring home the silverware. Turkington’s move back to the team will have sent shivers down the spines of many drivers on the grid for this year. The last time he competed with the WSR team he became double champion in 2014. Rob Collard has also returned to the team for another season whilst reigning Independent Drivers’ champion Andrew Jordan joined the team but will be running under the BMW Pirtek Racing banner. All three of the BMW drivers for 2017 were in the fight for the title as they headed to the finale at Brands Hatch in October 2016.
Subaru’s debut season in the BTCC threw up some surprises during the year as they made a huge leap forward half way through the season after being allowed to change a part of the car. Plato was consistently fighting for victories throughout the latter part of last season and has returned to the seat of the Subaru being run by Team BMR. Plato is hungrier than ever before to take his third title. His team mates for the year at Adrian Flux Subaru Racing will be reigning Jack Sears Trophy champion Ashley Sutton, James Cole and newcomer Josh Price. Sutton will be looking to show everyone what he is capable of after moving to Subaru from the MG team. Cole has returned to the team to build on his progress made throughout last year. Josh Price’s move into the BTCC with the team was a late announcement that came out at the season launch at Donington Park, he is making the jump to the championship after racing for a full season in the UK Clio Cup but is relishing his chance to compete in the pinnacle of British motorsport. Price will be in the fight for the Jack Sears Trophy throughout this year.
Power Maxed Racing’s Vauxhall Astra’s are one of the most fascinating things happening in the field of cars, especially with having Tom Chilton reigniting his BTCC career after having six years out racing worldwide. His teammate for the year will be Senna Proctor, he is making his debut in the championship after making the move from the UK Clio cup.
MG have made big changes over the winter, signing Aron Taylor-Smith and Daniel Lloyd as their new drivers for 2017. Taylor-Smith is a multiple race winner whilst Lloyd proved himself last year when he put the Eurotech Racing Honda Civic Type R on the front row of the grid during qualifying at the two events he contested.
This year Motorbase Performance will be looking to pick back up from where they left 2016 – as independent teams’ champions. After winning their maiden titles, the three Shredded Wheat backed Ford Focuses in the hands of Luke Davenport, Martin Depper and Mat Jackson will be looking to dominate again after Jackson and former teammate Andrew Jordan did last year. Motorbase regular Jackson has stuck with the team to continue their long-term partnership. Martin Depper has switched from Eurotech Racing to compete with the Kent based team for the 2017 season. Luke Davenport has moved from the very competitive British GT championship to compete in the BTCC with Motorbase for this year.
During the official test that accompanies the BTCC Season Launch/Media Day that takes place at Donington Park it was the Independent teams that set the top seven times during the four-hour session. This just goes to show how competitive the championship continues to be and that the manufacturers cannot dominate the championship. Tom Ingram set the fastest time during the session aboard his Speedworks Motorsport run Toyota Avensis rocking its new facelift ahead of the 2017 season – this proved his potential shown during last year where he took two race wins and multiple pole positions.
It was Handy Motorsport’s Rob Austin who finished the opening official test of the season in second place, also behind the wheel of a Toyota Avensis. Austin will be looking to build on his strong performance seen during the latter half of the 2016 season. Looking at how Austin has gone throughout his intensive winter testing programme he is showing improvements and looks to be more and more competitive as time goes on.
Adam Morgan will be looking to make further improvements on his success in the championship, he won multiple races last year including the opening round of the season. Morgan has recently shown off his new livery on the Mercedes A-Class with his new title sponsor Mac Tools.
Aiden Moffat will be back at the wheel of his Laser Tools Racing Mercedes A-Class. he is consistently making steps to getting himself closer to the front of the grid and now has the top step of the podium in his focus as he has been on the podium many times just not the top step yet.
Newcomers BTC Norlin Racing started their maiden season in the BTCC in the best way with both of their Chevrolet Cruze’s in the top ten times at the season launch. Chris Smiley set the third quickest time whilst teammate Dave Newsham setting the ninth quickest time on his return to the championship. The team acquired the cars from Power Maxed Racing and know they are competitive cars. The name of the team may be new but the backbone has experience after previously competing in the championship between 2006 and 2008 as well as again in 2014. This team could potentially spring a surprise or two during the season.
Jack Goff has swapped from rear wheel drive back to front wheel drive after moving from WSR to Eurotech Racing. For the 2017 season he will partner team boss Jeff Smith, both racing Honda Civic Type Rs.
Team HARD have changed from running three Toyota Avensis’ for three Volkswagen CCs after buying Team BKR’s cars last year – the cars were originally built by Team HARD before Team BMR brought them and then BKR. Jake Hill will be behind the wheel of the TAG Racing entered CC whilst fellow returnee Michael Epps will pilot one of the Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing CC’s alongside teammate and newbie to the championship Will Burns.
Matt Simpson is back in the championship in his Honda Civic Type R running under his Simpson Racing banner but will be being run by multiple champions Team Dynamics, who also run the two Halfords Yuasa Racing Civic Type Rs.
Stephen Jelley is returning to the championship after eight years of racing in different championships. The two-time race winner will be competing for Team Parker Racing with Maximum Motorsport in a Ford Focus with Josh Cook as his team mate. Cook took multiple podium finishes during the 2016 season and is chasing his first outright win in the championship.
Ollie Jackson returns with AmDTuning.com with Cobra Exhausts’ Audi S3 for this year. The difference this year is that he will have a competitive teammate who can assist him on track if necessary in Ant Whorton Eales. Whorton-Eales has made the move up from the UK Clio Cup after being crowned the champion of the series last year.
The BTCC is continuing to evolve throughout every single season that goes by. The BTCC’s Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) regulation refresh has been completed with the whole field of drivers now carrying the latest RML chassis, suspension and components for the first time in 2017. An all new TOCA powerplant has also been introduced for this year. Another change for this year is that the new Dunlop range of tyres being used are the bigger Sport Maxx BTCC tyres. The title sponsor of the series are predicting that the lap times set by drivers could now be as much as a second per lap quicker.
There are four teams who are relatively local to the hosting circuit of the opening round of the season – Motorbase, Team HARD, AmDTuning.com with Cobra Exhausts and West Surrey Racing. All the ‘local’ teams will be looking to impress at the famous Brands Hatch circuit.
Motorbase will be looking to continue their successful form from last year into the new season. Team HARD and AmD both showed strong form towards the end of the 2016 season. AmD will be looking to continue the developments they made to their Audi’s last year whilst Team HARD will be looking to make progress with their new VW C’Cs. There will be expectations for the WSR team to have a strong start to the season now that they have the backing of BMW. TAG Racing’s Jake Hill is Kent born and bred whilst Ollie Jackson and Tom Chilton come from Surrey and Matt Simpson from West-Drayton – all four will class Brands Hatch as their ‘local’ circuit and will want to succeed at their ‘home’ track.
The times you will need for the BTCC session during the opening race weekend of the season are as follows;
Free Practice One – Saturday at 10:00
Free Practice Two – Saturday at 12:45
Qualifying – Saturday at 15:40
Race One – Sunday at 11:32
Race Two – Sunday at 14:17
Race Three – Sunday at 17:12
As well as the BTCC there will be the always entertaining support series on the TOCA package consisting of the; Renault UK Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup, F4British Championship and Ginetta Juniors. There will be a BTCC drivers parade taking place during lunchtime on Sunday at 13:05.
Don’t forget all the action from race day on Sunday 2nd April will be shown live on ITV4.
Photo Credit: Barneshaw Images
©Fay Tilley 30th March 2017