Let Battle Commence…
The time for talking is over, the time for pre-season testing is over, the time for relaxing on a Sunday afternoon is over; the British Touring Car Championship is back for a new campaign. Admittedly, I haven’t been all that interested in the close season, perhaps more due to a young child, but that’s not to say I haven’t been keeping my eye on events. I’d highlight 2 major additions to the 2014 driver-up as being the biggest news from the pre-season build up.
The 1997 and 2000 champion Alain Menu returns to the BTCC for the first time since his one-off appearance at Thruxton in 2007 to help Fabrizio Giovanardi win the title, and for his first full season since his title-winning campaign in 2000. Funnily enough, it’s the man who he helped win the title in 2007 who is also returning. Double champion from 2007 and 2008, Giovanardi also returns with Airwaves Racing and the Ford Focus. Menu has joined the confident CHROME Edition Restart Racing team, driving a Volkswagen CC. The addition of the duo forms a line-up of 7 BTCC champions on the starting grid.
All 7 champions will no doubt be hoping to add another crown to their former glories. Reigning champion Andrew Jordan will be eager to retain his title after fighting so hard to claim his first crown last time out. However, standing in his way will be the Honda duo of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden in their now estate Civic, as well as stalwart Jason Plato and ESM favourite, Colin Turkington. I’m not sure whether the cars of Giovanardi and Menu will be strong enough to sustain a full title challenge, but I’m sure they’ll be somewhere in the mix.
I’ve compiled a few thoughts and predictions about the 31 car strong grid for 2014 below:
Pirtek Racing – Honda Civic
Andrew Jordan – The reigning champion will be tough to beat, but it’s definitely possible. Last season he was by far the most consistent performer and he didn’t finish in the points on only one occasion (Round 29). What’s impressive about Jordan is that he normally has to do the work by himself as his teammate isn’t normally as competitive to work as a pack like the Hondas, for example. For all of Jordan’s consistency last season, I can’t see him retaining the title.
Martin Depper – We last saw Depper in my local garage’s foray into BTCC as he was driving a Forster Motorsport BMW. He did alright, but I’m not there’ll be much difference between him and the man he’s replaced, Jeff Smith, who has left the championship.
Honda Yuasa Racing – Honda Civic Tourer
Matt Neal – Neal was flying last season and I was confident my prediction of him winning the title was going to be true, that was until Rockingham. He had a nightmare second and third races and he could never claw it back. This season, he’ll be racing an estate Civic and his season will depend on how quickly Yuasa Honda Racing get it up to speed. The previous car had a big advantage on many tracks due to its size, so maybe they’ll need to work out how to find an advantage with the longer wheel base. He’ll still be there or thereabouts, but I’m not sticking my money on him this year.
Gordon Shedden – Ditto to Neal regarding the new car, and again Shedden will no doubt be a strong contender for the crown.
MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save / Triple Eight Engineering – MG6 GT
Jason Plato – The 2014 champion? Plato is always in the mix every year and it doesn’t seem to matter if he has some bad rounds, he always seems to be there at Brands in with a shot. This is the third year of the MG6, it improved last year from a good first year and I think now with two years of experience, it may just be Plato’s turn again. Tordoff had a great first year too and will definitely provide Plato with back-up.
Sam Tordoff – A super first season for him last year as he finished 6th. Although I think he’ll be stronger this year, I think he’ll struggle to match 6th due to a stronger higher-end field.
Quantel Bifold Racing / Triple Eight Engineering – MG6 GT
Marc Hynes – Arrives in BTCC with some F1 experience and will drive a car prepared by Triple Eight, which will mean it’ll have something about it. He might find it hard going to start with.
eBay Motors – BMW 125i M Sport
Colin Turkington – A great return to the championship for Turkington last year and I expect him to be stronger again this year. In the second half of last season, eBay Motors really got his BMW in the sweet spot and he had an outside chance of the title. I expect him to be really challenging this year and hopefully he’ll have a bit more luck in races!
Rob Collard – In reality, last season was a stinker for Collard. A solitary podium at Knockhill was the best it got for him. He will be hoping for much better this season, especially as Turkington showed him and Foster how to drive the BMW.
Nick Foster – See Rob Collard above, except his best finish was a fourth at Croft. In some ways, I’m surprised eBay Motors have retained him.
Airwaves Racing / Motorbase – Ford Focus ST MKIII
Fabrizio Giovanardi – I’m really pleased to see the smiling Italian back in the BTCC. I don’t think he’ll be as dominant this time around as he is not in the best car in a weak field of competitors. However, I think we’ll see him cracking open the champagne on the podium a few times. Best he can hope for? A top six finish in the championship.
Mat Jackson – It took a long time for Airwaves to confirm Jackson as part of their team this season. With Giovanardi back, Jackson’s nose could either be put out of joint as he won’t be Airwaves’ number one anymore, or he could flourish due the lack of pressure. He’s a consistent racer, but I was disappointed with him last season and I can’t believe he actually finished eighth.
Crabbie’s Racing / Motorbase – Ford Focus ST MKIII
Jack Clarke – It’s going to be hard to miss his lime green Crabbie’s car this season. I think it’ll be towards the back, just on previous newbie experience.
CHROME Edition Restart Racing – Volkswagen CC
Alain Menu – 50-year-old Menu returns to the championship, but what will he serve up? (I promise to reserve the puns for special occasions.) Is he past it? Time will tell. His last couple of seasons in the WTCC proved to be his most successful, albeit he never won a championship. I think he’ll be top 10, but can’t see it being a championship challenge.
Aron Smith – Smith has certainly talked up his chances of winning the title pre-season since his move from Airwaves, but I just can’t see it. Obviously, he drives the car and I’m just expressing my opinion, but for Smith to be up there with the race leaders would be an achievement in itself.
CHROME Edition Restart Racing – Vauxhall Insignia
Warren Scott – ‘The Farmer’ had a sticky start to his BTCC career with his ill-fated spell with a SEAT Leon. I recall him telling me at Croft last season that my road car would be quicker than his ever would be! Seems like a decent bloke and I hope he has some good results this season.
RCIB Insurance Racing – Vauxhall Insignia
Jack Goff – A good debut season from him and he finished strongly culminating in his securing of a second place at Brands GP. He could do well this season.
Handy Motorsport – Toyota Avensis
Simon Belcher – I don’t know much about him, it’ll be his rookie season. The Avensis is obviously a good car, we’ll see how it goes.
STP Racing with Sopp & Sopp – Proton Persona
Dan Welch – If I remember rightly, Welch and Jackson were the heaviest drivers in the BTCC last season and now they’ve teamed up. I’m sure there are plenty of jokes to be made, but I’ll resist the temptation. Not a great season for Welch last season, he’ll be hoping for better this time out.
Ollie Jackson – Jackson’s teammate Dave Newsham achieved 176 points last season compared to his 32, so it’s not a great surprise he’s moved on to new pastures. I just can’t see this working.
Laser Tools Racing / RML – Chevrolet Cruze
Aiden Moffat – He was the BTCC’s youngest ever driver last season and although he was mainly at the back for most of his races, he did nick a couple of points. What worries me is that his car is Andy Neate’s old one and we all know my thoughts on him. Hopefully, Moffat will have more luck than Neate.
AmD Tuning.com – Ford Focus ST MKIII
Dave Newsham – Could this be the season when AmD Tuning.com finally look like a BTCC outfit? Newsham’s a great driver, he’s proved that in the last two seasons and now he’s racing arguably a better car than in the previous two as well, things could go well here. AmD have been poor and ditched their plans for a NGTC Astra in favour of the more tried and tested Focus, bought from Airwaves Racing. A top 10 finish would mean a good season for AmD and Newsham.
United Autosports – Toyota Avensis
The team have purchased the assets from the Dynojet/Cicely team. Frank Wrathall will obviously not be requiring them this season due to his incarceration. Whoever gets Adam Morgan’s old car will do well, whoever ends up with Wrathall’s will not.
James Cole – Left Team HARD halfway through last season without making much of an impression really. I can’t see that changing this season either.
Glynn Geddie – A new young driver to the championship, we’ll see how it goes. Won the Dutch Supercar Challenge Championship last season. Fact.
Power Maxed Racing – Chevrolet Cruze
Chris Stockton – Stockton seems to enter every season, but we never see him. If we see him, I’ll class that as an achievement.
WIX Racing – Mercedes-Benz A-Class
Adam Morgan – Stolen the sponsorship from fans’ favourite Rob Austin… Hmm. There’s naturally more to it than that, but that’s how it looks from the outside view. Morgan was my driver of the season last year, securing a seventh place finish in the championship. This season, a lot will depend on how quickly he can get his striking A-Class up to speed. ESM wishes him all the best.
Houseman Racing – Toyota Avensis
Lea Wood – I’m delighted to see Wood back again. He stormed to the Jack Sears trophy last season, which incidentally will be given to the driver who makes up the most positions over the season this year. He’ll have a good car underneath him in the Avensis and I’d love to see him challenging the top 10 in races.
AlcoSense Breathalysers Racing / Rob Austin Racing – Audi A4
Hunter Abbott – Teams up with Rob Austin again after a few years apart. Surely he’ll do better than Will Bratt?
Exocet Racing / Rob Austin Racing – Audi A4
Rob Austin – There’s something about him that means you just can’t help but liking him and his team. He was the only driver outside of the final top six to win a race last season and if he gets even one victory this season, I’m sure it’ll be celebrated wildly like the first one. If he can find consistency, he could be in for a great season.
Rotek Racing – Audi S3 Saloon
Robb Holland – Holland’s back and with a bit of help from Tony Gilham he’s set up a team racing an Audi S3 saloon. The car looks great, not so sure it’ll be a front-runner though.
Speedworks Motorsport – Toyota Avensis
Tom Ingram – He’s been a strong competitor in the Ginetta Supercup over the last few years and I’d say he deserves his chance in BTCC. Hopefully Speedworks will get the car running well and he should be challenging the top 10 on occasions.
ESM remains committed to BTCC this season and will be visiting at least two tracks this season, with Thruxton and Croft already booked. I hope that this weekend won’t be a damp squib at Brands, but I fear it could well be due to the stupidly short lap of the Indy Circuit. However, one thing’s for sure: any BTCC racing is better than none! Welcome back, everyone and don’t forget to check out or Twitter competition to win the Official BTCC 2013 Review.