Britain's favourite form of tin-top racing will be launched this week at the series official media day at Rockingham, where it will be the media and public's first chance to see the challenges for the world's most prestigious national touring car...
Britain's favourite form of tin-top racing will be launched this week at the series official media day at Rockingham, where it will be the media and public's first chance to see the challenges for the world's most prestigious national touring car championship.
This year will mark the 51st year of the championship and although the racing hasn't changed much over the years more could be said about the cars from the first year of the championship, won by Jack Sears in an Austin A105 Westminster in 1958 to 2008 champion Fabrizio Giovanardi in his Super2000 Vauxhall Vectra.
Over the years the championship has seen many changes of specification and types of cars starting in the late 1950's, when the championship was introduced with the big powerful Jaguars, to the 60's which saw an interesting mix of cars, where the small nimble mini's took on the American muscle cars and just about any type of car was raced.
The start of the 70's were much the same with Chevrolet and Mustangs taking on Escorts and Sunbeams in individual classes fighting for an overall title before, once again, regulations changed to more showroom spec cars. The Ford Capri dominated scoring an impressive 57 wins in nine years. Despite this a Capri never won the title, which would be won by cars in smaller classes such as Mini's and a Chrysler Avenger.
In the 80's Win Percey took a hat trick of titles in a Mazda RX-7 (twice) and Toyota Corolla while Andy Rouse would take the next three in an Alfa Romeo, Rover Vitesse and a Ford Merkur. The main battles during this time would be between the Rover Vitesse and the Fords, although the Rover would have as many battles with the scrutinising as it did with the other cars and despite dominating the championship in 1983 was thrown out. Chris Hodgetts then proved that fighting for overall victory wasn't everything and took the next two championships by racing in a smaller class in his Toyota Corolla. In the late 80's the mighty Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth was introduced with 550bhp and they completely dominated the championship, winning almost every race. However the outright championship, apart from in 1990 with Rob Gravett, would go to smaller cars in different classes such as Chris Hodgetts, while in 1989 where John Cleland won in his Vauxhall Astra GT/E in the 2litre class. This class would set the tone for the future of the championship as no one could compete with the Ford's and with the growing TV coverage the series was receiving, they hoped that this would attract new manufacturers who would benefit from the publicity.
In 1991 the championship was changed to a 2litre class known as Super Touring Cars and although the cars were continually tweaked, ran right through till 2000 and would surely go down as the golden age of touring car racing. During this time there were manufacturer entries from Audi, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ford, Peugeot, Renault, Volvo, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Nissan and Vauxhall and due to the unpredictable panel bashing action, became very much the worlds leading Touring car series attracting very large crowds and some of the best drivers from around the world. Towards the end of this era however, it was clear that these cars had become so technical and aerodynamic that costs were out of control. This was indicated when in 2000 just three manufactures entered, compared to the nine manufactures during its peak, and it was decided in order to save the championship a new form of regulations would have to be formed.
In 2001 the cars would have more championship standard components and would be less aerodynamic. At first grids would be small and would be dominated by Vauxhall (the only manufacturer to enter from the previous super touring era) between 2001-2004, where it won triple championships each year in its Astra Coupe. However the manufacturers slowly joined in and although no one could get near the Vauxhalls, during this time the series would see works cars from MG, Honda, Proton, Peugeot and Seat. Vauxhall's strangle hold on the championship would eventually fall to a non works team when independent team Team Halfords, run by Team Dynamics, designed and built their own Honda Integra and won the title in both 2005 and 2006 with Matt Neal. With so many of these cars now available due to the reintroduction of the World Touring Cars, the championship would benefit and once again grids would be full with up to 29 cars at some races. With the racing this good the popularity of the championship reached the heights it had achieved in the mid 1990's. The main battle would be between the only two works teams, Vauxhall and Seat, although the BMW's from independent teams would run them very close, taking many wins along the way. They couldn't quite topple Vauxhall who would take the championship for the last two years in the hands of multiple touring car champion Giovanardi.
So what will happen in 2009? Well sadly Vauxhall will be the only manufacturer after Seat have decided to pull out. Nonetheless the grids are expected to be healthy and full of cars capable of winning. This year will also see Ford, the most successful car ever in the BTCC, return in a non-works team. Will they be the one to break Vauxhall dominance on the series or will it come from one of the Independent BMW's? Maybe there is another team waiting in the wings, set to be announced at the media day. Come back for full announcements and entries to this years BTCC after the media day on Thursday and be sure to not miss a minutes action from this series, which promises to be as good as ever with close racing and a fair amount of paint swapping and controversy guaranteed.