This weekend will see the first rounds of the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Cars from Brands Hatch with an expected grid of 19 cars to take the first race.
Fabrizio Giovanardi will be hoping to get his title defense off to the best possible start in his bid to become the first driver, since Andy Rouse in the mid 1980's, to take a hat trick of titles. He should go into this weekend with great confidence from testing last week when he broke the longest standing Touring Car record; after lapping the Kent circuit quicker than Yvan Muller did when qualifying back in 2001 in his Astra Coupe. While Giovanardi also took a couple of victories in the opening rounds of the championship from the same circuit last year.
Giovanardi and Vauxhall's biggest challenge will come from the BMW's who have an excellent record around Brands Hatch having scored pole position every time since the BMW was introduced to the series at the beginning of the 2007 season; which is 4 race meetings while a BMW has been on the top step of the podium 4 times.
In particular the biggest threat must surely come from Team RAC driver Colin Turkington. Turkington topped the first official testing session at Rockingham but only managed eighth last week in the test. However, according to Giovanardi and his teammate Matt Neal, Turkington wasn't at his maximum with Giovanardi telling btcc.net: "Turkington is playing games with us. I am 100 per cent sure of this. No, in fact 101 per cent. There is no way he was anywhere near his maximum in testing at Brands Hatch."
While Turkington's response was: "We've been trying all sorts of scenarios - different tweaks, different distances and with and without ballast. It was a good day's testing and we have a very good idea of where we need to start from with the car when we come back here next week."
Stephen Jelley in the other Team RAC BMW should also be a strong contender, having shown some impressive speed in pre season testing and should also go well here having scored his only pole position to date at the last rounds last year.
Another BMW team hoping to do well will be Motorbase or now Airwaves BMW and, after their strong performance at the final rounds last year where they were the highest points scoring team from the weekend. They also enjoyed an incredibly encouraging test where Jonny Adam and Rob Collard finished 2nd and 3rd, and will be hoping to go one better than last year's second place the team managed at their home race.
One more car to look out for will be driven by Tom Chilton in his Ford Focus, as this will mark the first time that the most successful car make as entered the current spec touring cars. Although not as an official work entry it will battle Vauxhall and Team Dynamics in their Honda Civic for the manufacturers/constructors championship. However, don't expect big things straight away from Team Aon as they have a huge development process ahead of them.
Although these are the drivers and teams to look out for nothing is for sure in Touring Car racing so with the racing due to be as close and with the unpredictability of the reverse grids, there are always shocks waiting to happen. Be sure not to miss any of the three races from the weekend which will be live on ITV4 and be sure to come back for full reaction and photos from the opening rounds.