ESM’s BTCC correspondent is very excited. Check out his comprehensive guide to this seasons runners and riders, along with his predictions for which ones to keep your eye on.
After a long winter, I am delighted to see the return of the BTCC this weekend. I am really excited about the forthcoming season for various reasons. Firstly, I think the introduction of a soft compound tyre will definitely increase the entertainment value throughout the season. The drivers will need to nominate which race they will be using the soft tyre before Saturday qualifying. I am currently undecided on which I think would be the best race to use it in.
The first race of the day is usually a cagey affair, running quite closely to the qualifying line-up. The natural advantage of running the soft tyre in the opening race is you may be able to shoot up the grid if you’ve had a poor qualifying, ready for the second race as the grid for the second race is based on your result in race one. However, the track will be less ‘rubbered-in’ for the first race, meaning the cars running the soft tyre in the third race may have more of an advantage following the reverse grid. The third race of the day is usually a full out attack where anything can happen, and it usually does, so would there be an advantage of using the soft tyre in the third race? I don’t know, but I’m sure the season will soon tell us! That naturally leaves the second race. Surely choosing the second race to run the soft tyre would be predicting that you are worried about your performance in race one? A disadvantage I can see of running the soft tyre in the second race is that if you finish in a high position, you will be back down the grid for the third reverse grid race. I don’t have the answers and I think that’s one of the reasons why it makes the start of this season so intriguing.
Similarly, the range and amount of cars on the grid adds to the pre-season intrigue. Never before has the BTCC grid been so packed, with 32 cars set to take the grid during the season. I’m sure there would be even more cars at some rounds but the rules allow a maximum of 32 cars due to the limitations of some of the circuits on the race calendar. I think with 32 cars on the grid (I’m currently resisting a dig at Andy Neate never being out there, so there’s would be 31) chaos will inevitably ensue. I predict we will see front-runners tripping over back markers at some point in the season, back markers not getting out of the way and arguments up and down the pit lane!
The introduction of the Jack Sears Trophy for S2000 cars, named after the inaugural BTCC Champion in 1958, will provide competition towards the back of the grid. I am excited about this new competition for three reasons. NGTC (Next Generation Touring Cars) will now be competing on a level playing field, unlike previous seasons where there have been constant battles over levels of boost and so on. However, I’m sure series director Alan Gow will fiddle with the boost levels for parity across all the cars once one team is starting to walk away with the championship! The second reason I’m excited for the introduction of this trophy is that we will see some of our favourite cars from a few seasons ago still competing, notably the SEAT Leon. I always find it sad when race cars come to the end of their racing life, perhaps not the Honda Integra though, that car never seemed to die off. It will be good to see a Vectra still zooming around on a Zimmer frame, although I must point out that this car did win a race last season so it’s hardly slow and uncompetitive. My final reason is purely nostalgic. I loved the BTCC in the 90s when there were so many different cars and there was a manufacturers and independents’ competition. I’m hoping this season will remind me of this.
I think my last major reason for excitement of the forthcoming season is that the grid sees the return of one of my favourite drivers- Colin Turkington. I think he did an excellent job in his previous stint in BTCC, culminating in him winning the 2009 drivers’ crown. However, I think he will find it hard to achieve such glory this season as he will have to compete against three other champions on the grid in Gordon Shedden, Matt Neal and Jason Plato, not forgetting the strong regular candidates in Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan to name just two.
I can’t wait for the season to start and below I outline my pre-season predictions. Let’s see how accurate they are at the end of the season. (I’m not holding my breath!)
Honda Yuasa Racing- Honda Civic
Gordon Shedden- Gordon found his consistent streak last season after years of trying and that was the key reason he finished top of the tree. This season, I think he might just fall short.
Matt Neal- He will continue with his all-out attack driving style and no doubt have a clash with Plato at some point! I think if he has the reliability and Honda continue to be the strongest car on the grid, as they were last year, I think it will take some stopping to deny Matt yet another title.
I think Honda Yuasa Racing will retain the manufacturers’ crown.
MG KX Momentum Racing- MG6
Jason Plato- Jason will clearly add to his already record breaking 74 race wins throughout the season. The MG closed its first season strongly with Plato still in with a title chance at the final round. I think he will be even closer this season and if anyone is going to beat Matt Neal to the crown, I think Plato will be that man.
Sam Tordoff- As long as Sam quickly learns to do everything Plato asks of him, he will be fine. The car will be quick and I think Plato could actually have a quick teammate for a change to help him challenge for the title.
I can’t see MG finishing ahead of Honda out of the two manufacturers.
eBay Motors/WSR- BMW 125i M Sport
Rob Collard- Do I dare call him a veteran now? Rob certainly knows his way around the BTCC tracks and we’ll see plenty more of him on the podium this year.
Nick Foster- I’ll be interested to see if he’s going to improve now he’s driving a 1-series. Foster had a couple of reverse grid poles last season, but was easily swallowed up by the grid after a few laps. He will definitely finish bottom of the eBay Motors trio. I think the best he can hope for is a podium somewhere along the line.
Colin Turkington- Turkington will be chomping at the bit to get racing in the BTCC again. I worry that he will have lost some of his ‘edge’ following his 3 year absence. I would love to say top 5, but I think it’s more likely to be top 10, probably finishing about 8th.
eBay Motors’ success this season will depend on how quickly they can get the new Beemer working. They have proved several times that they can make a successful car, but I feel this season may just be asking too much. Next season, perhaps.
Airwaves Racing/ Motorbase- Ford Focus
Mat Jackson- I have a lot of time for Mat Jackson. I think he’s an excellent driver who tries to keep himself out of trouble, knowing that the longer he spends on the track, the more points he’s going to pick up. He started using the NGTC Focus halfway through last season with great success, even picking up a race win at Silverstone. I think he’ll do well this season, not enough to win the title but he’ll be top 6.
Aron Smith- The Dubliner made a big impact towards the end of last season showing some great pace. I think he could do well this season but will struggle to beat teammate Jackson. Top half of the standings.
I think Airwaves Racing will have a fairly successful year racing 2 NGTC cars all season. I think they were really clever introducing the NGTC car halfway through last year so they’ve been able to get a good knowledge about it already. Top 3 of the independent teams.
Pirtek Racing- Honda Civic
Andrew Jordan- I think Jordan could well be a man to watch this season. He’s been steadily learning his BTCC race craft and this year could be his year. A definite title contender.
Jeff Smith- I’ve never really noticed Jeff Smith on the race track and I can’t see much changing this season.
Pirtek receive great support from the manufacturer Honda outfit and I’m sure this relationship will continue this season. Pirtek will be pushing Jordan hard in the hope of securing him a first drivers’ crown. Top 3 of the independent teams.
Speedworks Motorsport- Toyota Avensis
Dave Newsham– I think Speedworks have pulled off a great signing in Dave Newsham. He won 2 races in a Vectra last season with a small team and I’m sure Speedworks will be hoping he can do the same this. Top half of the driver standings.
Ollie Jackson- It’s hard to judge how good Ollie Jackson is going to be. He drove the Golf for a while towards the back of the grid and that’s about it. I think he’ll be in Newsham’s pocket.
Speedworks have, on paper, a good car. Paul O’Neill showed what the car was capable of when he was a guest driver last season. In Dave Newsham, they have a great driver and I think we could see the Avensis popping up on the podium this season.
Dynojet- Toyota Avensis
Frank Wrathall- Many people will have forgotten over the winter that Frank Wrathall won the last race of last season. I think there’s a good chance that he could be on that top step again this season, especially in the third race.
Ciceley Racing- Toyota Avensis
Adam Morgan– I would give Morgan similar chances to Wrathall. The Avensis is a good car and there’s no reason why it can’t be on the top step of the podium at some point this season.
Wix Racing- Audi A4
Rob Austin- I like Rob Austin, I think he’s a good racer but the Audi has just fallen short when he’s needed it most. Like several drivers on the grid, I think he has a possibility of a top step podium if luck goes his way.
Will Bratt- Bratt joined Austin last season and showed good promise. The season was interrupted by lack of sponsorship money but there will be no such problems this time around.
I think the Audis will do fairly well this season with them occasionally joining in with the champagne celebrations.
Kraftwerk Racing/ Team HARD.- VW Passat CC
Tom Onslow-Cole- I was surprised by Onslow-Cole’s exit from eBay Motors but obviously room had to be made for Turkington. I’m finding that Onslow-Cole is becoming a bit of a nearly man and I can’t see much changing this season. The Passat is an unknown quantity, but one sure thing is that Onslow-Cole will get the best out of it. I’ll play it safe with a mid-table finish.
Howard Fuller- He joins the series as a new boy, might be a baptism of fire. Lower end of the table.
I’m really interested to see how the Passat will do this season. I think on paper it’s got a decent shout of success but they’ll be struggling for any podiums.
RCIB Insurance Racing/ Team HARD.- Vauxhall Insignia VXR-R
Jack Goff- He’s been fairly successful in the support races over the years, but the BTCC is a different challenge. Mid to low table.
James Cole- Another new-comer to the series that might find it hard to be competitive throughout the season. I wish him all the best in the Insignia but I think it will be a low table finish for him.
Similar to the Passat, I’m interested to see how the Insignia will perform this season. The last real race car from Vauxhall, the Vectra, was a massive success so hopes are high for the Insignia, but it may take a team with a larger budget to make it successful.
Team 44 Club- Chevrolet Cruze
Andy Neate- He has failed to impress in BTCC so far. I struggle to even think of one successful race for him. I can’t see this season being any different. Bottom end of the table.
I just can’t see a team with Andy Neate in it being successful. A long, hard and expensive season ahead.
BTC Racing- Chevrolet Cruze
Chris Stockton- He hardly set the series alight last time he was racing in the BTCC, but with a little bit more experience maybe his luck will change. Lower end of the table, one place above Andy Neate.
Welch Motorsport with Sopp + Sopp- Proton Gen-2 (NGTC) and Ford Focus (S2000)
Dan Welch-I was really surprised by the performance of the Proton last season. I never thought it would do so well, but it did! I think this season the field is much stronger which may push the Proton down a bit. A mid-table finish for Dan.
David Nye- An experienced racer, but this is his first experience of the BTCC. Racing in the S2000 Focus, a proven race car, I still think he may struggle. Middle of the S2000 class.
Addison Lee/ Motorbase- Ford Focus MK III (NGTC) and Ford Focus MK II (S2000)
Michael Caine- His entrance has gone fairly unnoticed to BTCC, but if my memory serves me correctly he’s been a very strong racer in the support races over the years. Driving a NGTC Focus will mean he has a good car underneath him and it will be up to Michael to deliver. Mid to low table.
Liam Griffin- Has he retired or hasn’t he? Clearly not, as he returns with a S2000 Focus to compete in the Jack Sears Trophy. I think he has one of the strongest cars in this section and I expect him to battle out the title with Lea Wood.
Wheel Heaven/Houseman Racing- Vauxhall Vectra
Lea Wood- I think Lea Wood showed great promise last season and obviously interested Speedworks over the summer. He has been able to put together a budget for the season and racing a proven Vectra, I expect him to just out battle Liam Griffin to win the Jack Sears Trophy.
M247 Racing- Chevrolet Cruze
Joe Girling- I have no idea what to write about this chap. He will be driving a S2000 car similar to the one Plato drove so well, but I’m guessing he’s no Plato. Mid-table of the Jack Sears Trophy? Probably.
Team BMR Restart- SEAT Leon
Warren Scott- I hope Scott is able to adapt to racing four wheels rather than two quickly because I want this car to do well. I love the Leon, but I can’t see it winning the inaugural Jack Sears Trophy.
Normally at the end of an article you could write last, but not least, but no. I have deliberately left this car to the end because it is where it deserves to be and where it will be this season, last. How a dependable and reliable road car has been depicted as a race car is truly shocking. That car, yes the VW Golf, is on my top 5 of most disappointing BTCC cars, ever. (If I had a list.)
AmD Tuning.com- VW Golf MK5
James Kaye- I would like to point out that I have nothing against James Kaye, just the car he’s driving. If anybody will get anything out the Golf, then I think Kaye will be that man. He’s an experienced BTCC racer and I wish him all the best. I just hope the Golf doesn’t put him off racing for life!
So there it is, I have my predictions and excitement for the 2013 BTCC season written down. I will be interested to see come 13th October how accurate they have been! Feel free to message ESM with your predictions for the season; I will be interested to hear from you.
BTCC starts this Sunday with coverage on ITV4 from 10:45. Expect a full review of the opening weekend from EngageSportMode