It’s not long now until the UK’s most prestigious racing series, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, gets underway for the 2013 season. Already it looks like it might be a great year, as we have hit the grid limit of 32 cars for the first time ever. News like this is very much welcomed by most fans after what most would feel was a disappointing season last year, with some small grids (for example only 19 cars entering at Knockhill) and some suspect driving antics. The main reason for the fluctuation in grid sizes is the fact that we are now into the third season of the transition in regulations from the FIA-spec S2000 chassis’, to the newly founded NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) chassis’. The idea behind the new cars is that they are designed to be cheaper to build and to run. Although this theory was met with some skepticism by a few team managers in 2011 when it was first introduced, it is generally accepted now as being a better platform than the older set of regulations. As a result, the overall NGTC count on the grid has grown from 6 at the end of its inaugural season in 2011, to an estimated 27 for the coming campaign. Only six S2000 will feature in 2013 and will not benefit from turbo boost increases as the season progresses as the NGTC machinery will do, unlike last year where the aim was parity between the two different types of car as the S2000/NGTC split was roughly 50/50. Therefore, to give smaller teams who can only afford to run in second-hand S2000 machinery something to fight for, the Jack Sears trophy has been created. This is a ‘mini-championship’ exclusive to S2000 entries, but don’t expect it to be fought out too fiercely, as I said only a handful of the chassis’ will compete.
The championship will, as usual, consist of 30 races spread evenly between 10 meetings, both starting and ending at the ‘spiritual home of the BTCC’, Brands Hatch. So whose racing in 2013 then? Well, let me give you a run through:
Honda Yuasa Racing (Team Dynamics)
As the team that effectively dominated the BTCC over the last two years and weren’t too bad in 2010 either, Honda returns in 2013 with it’s usual manufacturer entry of two Honda Civics, run by experienced outfit Team Dynamics. The driver line-up remains as it was for the last three seasons too, with reigning champion Gordon Shedden partnering former triple champion Matt Neal in the NGTC spec machines, or ‘pocket-rockets’, as Neal often refers to them as. Shedden finally took his first crown last year, after so many years of finishing the season as bridesmaid. He is one of the very quickest out there and is a consistent winner in the series having taken a remarkable 19 victories in the last three seasons alone, with an overall total of 29. Neal is a veteran of the series and is just as conistent with 17 of his 48 BTCC victories coming since the start of 2010. The team were expected to have a far less dominant season last year seeing as they only started developing the car not long before season begun. It had many gremlins at first, but the team’s experience meant they were quickly eliminated and Shedden went on to take the title with Neal finishing runner-up. It is hard to see them struggling to repeat that level of success in 2013.
MG KX Momentum Racing (Triple 8 Race Engineering)
Rather late on in the build-up to the 2012 season, MG announced it was to return as a manufacturer entry in the series, with a pair of NGTC-spec MG6’s run by Ian Harrison’s Triple 8 squad. A win at the first round at Brands Hatch was remarkable, and the team went on to mount a serious title challenge with the most successful driver in he series in terms of wins, Jason Plato. PLato is just one of those drivers you can never discount, he is always a man at the sharp end and even when things are seemingly going wrong, he finds a way of fighting back. This is made clear by the countless drives he has produced, carving his way through the field from the back. He is accompanied this year by rising star Sam Tordoff, who I went through in detail in an earlier post. The MG still looked handful towards the end of last year, but it was quick. And it will be even quicker in 2013, so can it deliver the title?
ebay Motors (West Surrey Racing)
The experienced BMW squad have ditched their race winning but ageing S2000 BMW 3-Series’ for brand new NGTC-spec BMW 1-Series’. Rob Collard, who won 3 races last year, stays with the team for the fourth consecutive season with Nick Foster also staying with the team. The big news, however, is the return of 2009 champion Colin Turkington, which i went through in more detail in an earlier post. They don’t have the experience with the car that the others will have with theirs, so thoughts of a championship challenge might be a little optimistic, but they will certainly be up towards the front as the season progresses.
Airwaves Racing/Addison Lee Racing (Motorbase Performance)
Every year, Motorbase aim for the title but their challenge always seems to fall apart. This year, there can be no excuses. They sacrificed their 2012 season at the half way point when they decided to swap Mat Jackson‘s S2000 Ford Focus ST for a brand new and ultimately undeveloped NGTC one. Progress was mightily impressive and a win at Silverstone was well deserved. Reliability was an issue, and two possible wins were lost due to engine and electrical problems. Jackson is always a BTCC front-runner no matter what he is in, and no one would begrudge him a title. His team-mate Aron Smith, however, is young and only has one full BTCC campaign under his belt, but he is talented. During the second half of last season, only eventual champion Shedden scored more points than Smith. He had a tremendous run of form, peaking with a maiden podium at Silverstone and a great debut win at Brands Hatch in difficult conditions. This year, he gets his own NGTC Focus and will be certainly worth keeping an eye for some more wins perhaps. Liam Griffin also remains with the team, but he will keep his S2000 Focus and will be going for the Jack Series Trophy. The squad have got chewing gum brand Airwaves back on board as a main sponsor for this year, resulting in a new look, blue livery. Griffin will race under a different banner to that of Jackson and Smith and will sport a black livery with Addison Lee sponsoring. Reigning British GT champion Michael Caine will dovetail his attempted defence of that title with a return to the BTCC with Motorbase. He will drive the team’s third NGTC Focus under the same Addison Lee banner as Griffin. He will start his season at Donington when the car is ready.
Team Pirtek (Eurotech)
For the second season running, the privateer Eurotech team will act as Team Dynamics’ satellite squad. They will run a pair of NGTC Honda Civics, identical to those of the reigning champions. Andrew Jordan is a four-time BTCC race winner at the age of just 23, and is tipped as a future champion but needs to up his game a tad. He’s quick, but not spectacular enough. His pole at Thruxton was sublime, but he threw it away by spinning on the first corner of the first race. He says he’s aiming for overall title this year having taken the independents crown last year, but he will need to be more consistent if he is to achieve that goal. He is joined for the thirs successive season by Jeff Smith, who seems to improve every year and took a great maiden podium at Knockhill in 2012.
Rob Austin Racing
If there is a team that deserves some luck, it’s this one. One of the first teams to commit to the NGTC regulations in 2011, they have shown tremendous determination to get their Audi A4’s as near to the front as possible, although simply getting them on the grid oftem seems to be the bigger problem due to unstable finances. The car has had two podiums in the hands of the ever-charismatic Rob Austin, who was forced to miss a few rounds last year because of the team’s money problems. Wix filters has confirmed it sponsor Austin all season, meaning that the NASCAR-style livery which appeared at the final round last season gets a further ten outings. Former Formula 2 race winner Will Bratt, who contested a few rounds last season, also gets a full campaign in the second A4. Lets hope we get to see the true pace of the Audis in 2013.
Former Cagefighter, VW Racing Cup UK champion and Porsche Carrera Cup racer Tony Gilham set up the team at the beginning of last year to run his S2000 Honda Civic. Having bought both of Thorney Motorsport’s NGTC Vauxhall Insignias, he set the ambitious target of increasing its participation to four NGTC machines in 2013, with the two Insignias being parterned two VW Passat CC’s built by the team themselves. The team has signed BTCC race winner and potential future champion Tom Onslow-Cole to race one of the VW’s. Even at the age of just 25, TO-C enters his seventh consecutive BTCC season this year, and will be expected to move this relatively new team forward. Reigning Renault Clio Cup champion Jack Goff steps up to the series to race one of the team’s Vauxhalls (a move which I explained in more detail in an earlier post) and will be accompanied in the Insignia line-up by former Formula Ford and Formula 2 racer James Cole. There is some doubt as to whether the second Passat, which will be shared throughout the season by Howard Fuller and American racer Robb Holland, will be on the grid for the first round at Brands, but the team remain hopeful. In fact, there’s even rumour of a third Passat being built if either Holland, Fuller or another driver find the budget for a full season. In difficult financial times, it has to be said it is great to see such enthusiasm, determination and optimism from a small privateer team. Their target will be to finish consistently in the top 10.
The small Lancashire-based squad are proving to be one of the most popular on the BTCC grid in recent years. The family run team joined the series in 2011 with reigning Ginetta G50 Champion Frank Wrathall, taking advantage of the then brand new NGTC regulations to run a Toyota Avensis in the outfit’s distinctive orange and black livery. As you would expect with a small, inexperienced team and a brand new, relatively undeveloped car, progress was slow initially. Countless reliability issues plagued the first half of their 2011 campaign. In the second half, though, we began to see what this package could really do. Their first points came at a strong Snetterton round, and from there the ball finally started to roll. Three successive podiums came at Knochill and at Rockingham, where he narrowly missed out on victory. 2012 was a better year, but the results didn’t really reflect that. He took a maiden pole at Snetterton but couldn’t convert it into a win. Going into the last race of the season at Brands Hatch, Wrathall only had one podium to his name all season. But that was about to change. In the reversed grid race, he inherited the lead early on from Mat Jackosn who suffered electrical issues. He did incredibly well to keep former champion Matt Neal at arms length throughout the race and took a great maiden win, in what were difficult conditions to master on a challenging circuit. 2013 should be a better year for Frank and the Dynojet Team, and he should be full of confidence having taken his first victory. He could be a dark horse for some more champagne this year.
The Proton squad have been a on a steady rise to the front in their one and a half years in the BTCC. There has been definite progress, and they do seem to be getting nearer the sharp end. Dan Welch was unlucky not to be on the podium at Oulton Park and at Silverstone. The car looks a good one on its day and is becoming a regular feature in the top 10, both in qualifying and in the races. There has been rumour of the team running a second Proton Persona this year, but instead they have opted to buy one of Redstone Racing’s old S2000 Ford Focus’, and run it for former SEAT Cupra Cup racer, David Nye, who will be competing for the Jack Sears Trophy. Expect to see the team becoming a regular front-runner. Podiums and possibly wins will come soon if the team continues this rate of progress.
IP Tech Race Engineering
BTCC regular Andy Neate has set up his own team for the 2013 season to run a newly built NGTC Chevrolet Cruze. The car was started by the RML Chevrolet team in 2011 before they decided to pull out of the championship. Andy has bought the shell and his team will finish building it. This would be the fourth team Neate has raced for in four seasons in the BTCC, so now he needs to create some stability. Don’t expect points early on, but the car could be one to watch in latter stages of the campaign. The team will skip the fisrt round at Brands Hatch so that they can get a little more testing under their belts. A second Cruze has been entered for 2013 which will be built after the Donington Park round.
Now in their third season in the series, Speedworks now have an oppurtunity to make a name for themselves as regulars in the points places. Like Dynojet, their Toyota Avensis was a real handful to get on top of due to reliability issues in 2011 with Tony Hughes driving. They were closer to the pace in 2012 with Hughes and Adam Morgan, but the results still didn’t come. BTCC fan favourite Paul O’Neill made a return to the series, replacing Hughes for 2 events, and he scored the teams best points finishes, showing just how good the car could be. Unfortunately, O’Neill couldn’t find the budget to compete in 2013, Tony Hughes decided to retire and Adam Morgan has left to race for his own team (more on that in a bit). This meant that the team had two empty seats for 2013, but it has already filled one of them. Former Clio Cup champion and BTCC race winner Dave Newsham has joined the team. Newsham, who also starts his third season this year, was a revelation last year, winning two races and scoring multiple podiums in the ageing S2000 Vauxhall Vectra for the small and inexperienced Team ESRacing.com. The team has signed former AMD driver Ollie Jackson to drive the second Avensis, and he will be looking for a consistent run of points scoring results.
As I just mentioned, 2011 Ginetta GT Supercup champion Adam Morgan has left Speedworks to race with his own family run squad in 2013, and this is it. The team has purchased the Toyota Avensis raced by Frank Wrathall in 2011. Adam himself looks a promising talent, but needs to be more consistent. Many potential good points finishes were thrown away last year either by driver error or lack of luck. This was more evident than ever last year when he took the reverse grid pole at Rockingham and lead for half a lap but went wide and slipped well down the order. If he can get some consistency going, regular points finishes are possible.
BTC Racing returns for the first time since 2008 to race one of the Chevrolet Cruze’s initially developed by RML. We won’t see the team until later on in the season as the car won’t be finished for some time due to low-budget and a small number of resources. TVR ace Chris Stockton will also make his return to the series to drive the car.
There remains a little bit of confusion as to what the AMD’s 2013 entry will consist of. We do know that throughout the season, the team will run, as it has done for last three years, its turbo powered S2000-spec VW Golf for BTCC veteran and returnee James Kaye. We also know that from Snetterton onwards we should be seeing the team’s new challenger, a brand new NGTC-spec Vauxhall Astra. What we are still unsure of is whether we will be seeing a S2000 Ford Focus, with team having struck a deal with Motorbase to purchase the car. It has been said that whether or not we will see it depends on if they can find a well-budgeted driver to fund the seat. With the new car coming late in the season, it is clear the team’s eyes are firmly fixed on 2014.
M247 Racing (TechSpeed)
When RML Chevrolet announced their withdrawal from the series in 2011, their sattelite squad Techspeed had no choice but to follow suit with its pair of Chevrolet Cruze’s as they did not have the resources to run them without aid from Ray Mallock’s outfit. They did not feature in 2012, instead deciding to focus on raising funds to fit both Cruze’s with NGTC engines ready for a 2013 assault. This was achieved before the end of last year, but plans to make an early comeback at the final two rounds of 2012 with former Dunlop Production Touring Car racer Joe Girling were dropped in order to save money. It’s great to see them back because the S2000 Chevrolet Cruze chassis is arguably one of the best in Touring car history and it was sad to see it missing from the BTCC grid last year.
Team BMR Restart
Like the Cruze, the S2000 Seat Leon will also return to the grid after a year’s absence as former bike racer Warren Scott has purchased one from Belgium, fitted it with an Turbo engine, and has entered it for 2013. Scott says he’s in the BTCC for the long run and has made clear his ambition to build full NGTC spec cars for 2014. He’ll be competing in the Jack Sears Trophy this year and has a realistic chance of winning it.
Wheel Heaven / Houseman Racing
Lea Wood announced on the eve of Media day that he would remain in the BTCC in 2013, with his family team, in the trusty S2000 Vauxhall Vectra. Wood has driven for his own team in recent years and is quick, even if he doesn’t always get the results to back this up, losing an almost certain maiden podium finish to a gearbox failure at Snetterton last year for example. The Vectra has long been a very quick car and Wood is a capable driver, and as such they are many people’s favourites to take the Jack Sears Trophy in 2013.
So that’s it, the class of 2013. There will be more drivers confirmed in the next few weeks and there will be, as always, changes in line-ups as the season progresses.
Lets hope 2013 recaptures the magic of the biggest and best racing series in the British Isles.