The countdown to the media day of the MSA Dunlop British Touring Car Championship continues. This will take place at Brands Hatch on the March 23rd; however, the pre-season has been dominated by speculation and false statements rather than confirmed entries.
None more so than the false announcement, on social networking site twitter, that RML were entering in a pair of Chevrolet Cruze's with Jason Plato being their lead driver. The announcement was posted on the Chevy WTCC group but was quickly retracted.
RML told touringcartimes.com, "It is our aim to have a team in the BTCC this year and we are working to make that happen but have not announced any plans as yet."
They then went on to report in the same story that, according to a well placed source, 2009 BTCC champion Colin Turkington had also been in talks with the team. Whether the Turkington story materialises or not remains to be seen but it will be no shock to see at least two Chevrolet Cruze's in the championship with Jason Plato spearheading the charge.
One Chevrolet crew will definitely not be returning to the championship after the announcement that Harry Vaulkhard and his Bamboo Engineering team would enter the World Touring Car Championship, despite originally stating that the team would enter a two-car team in this year's championship.
Bamboo took their decision after a successful time in the end of season ETCC where Vaulkhard was leading until spinning out of contention whilst under pressure from James Thompson. Richard Coleman head of Bamboo said, "We felt that there was more commercial opportunity in the WTCC, and that it was a championship that will weather the tough economic climate. Plus it is the highest competition in the world for touring cars, so that is where we naturally aspire to be."
On joining the WTCC he then admitted that they were also in talks with Turkington about joining their WTCC assault and said, "We'd love to get him in the car. We would be very interested in running a third car if the deal was right to do so, We have the capability and resources to do it if it made financial sense."
Turkington's current team WSR have made no comment yet on who or how many cars they will be running in this years championship after RAC dropped being the title sponsor. Andy Neate has been speculated as having one of the drives.
Neate is a former Ford Fiesta champion and had one drive in the BTCC back in 2005 at Brands Hatch in a Daniels Motorsport Vauxhall Astra Coupe. Neate also suffered a life threatening accident a couple of years ago at the wheel of a TVR on the opening lap of the Britcar 24hr and despite being told he would never be able to race again, this could mark a remarkable recovery to top flight racing.
Meanwhile in the other top BMW team, Motorbase Performance, are close to securing the services once again of Rob Collard after Airwaves announced they were pulling out of sponsoring Motor racing. Collard said that, "Over the past two years Motorbase have been going forward, and I think that can continue in 2010. Driving a BMW will give me the best opportunity to continue that progression and have a good shot at finishing in the top three in the championship." Although he did also hold talks with WSR.
It still remains unclear who will partner Collard with a host of drivers having tested the BMW before Christmas with the likes of Ben Collins, Alex McDowell, Tim Bridgeman, Andrew Jordan -- before he announced he was to remain in the Vectra -- and Steven Kane, who raced for the team in 2007 with current Clio Champion Phil Glew, also admitting he had held talks with the team. Jonny Adam who had a successful year driving for the team last season also hopes to remain with the Motorbase Performance.
One camp who is likely to be on the grid is Triple Eight racing, the men who have been behind the all-conquering Vauxhall team since 1997. Despite the withdrawal from Vauxhall they plan to run at least one Vauxhall Vectra with the new NGTC Turbo engine under the bonnet. Team Principle Ian Harrison told Autosport, "We've got the Vectras here and it's a car we know from the ground up because we built it and we have the expertise to get the maximum from it. We're talking to some serious parties about the 2010 programme already,"
It is already confirmed that we will definitely have two Vauxhall Vectra's with NGTC engines on the grid with two single car entries from Andrew Jordan and Pirtek Racing alongside Veteran racer Dave Pinkney for Pinkney Motorsport. Nick Leason, who had an unsuccessful half season driving the BMW 1 series Diesel, has pictures of the Vectra from last season plastered all over his personnel website saying he his attempting to raise the sponsorship to run a car but whether this will be with Triple Eight remains unclear. Turkish driver Erkut Kizilirmak has also been linked to a Vectra drive on some BTCC chat rooms while it is not impossible for double BTCC Champion Fabrizio Giovanardi to make a shock return to the team he knows so well as he does not currently have a drive elsewhere.
One driver pairing has been confirmed with the news that John George will partner Paul O'Neill in the sunshine.co.uk Honda Integra prepared by Tech- speed, after the news that regular driver Martyn Bell had to take a sabbatical after a freak injury whilst on holiday that forced him to miss a couple of rounds last year. George last year ran for TH Motorsport in a similar Honda Integra but will be best known for his spectacular crash at the last round of the championship back in 2008 at Brands Hatch and said, "My target for this season is to score ten championship points made up of a minimum of one tenth-place finish at each of the ten rounds. My best race result to date is an eighth and if I can better that then great - plus of course you never know what might happen with a reversed grid."
Tom Boardman will also make a return to the series where he last raced in the BTCC back in 2003. Since then Boardman has spent two years racing in the UK's Seat Cupra Challenge becoming 2005 champion. He then went off and managed the same feat in Spain before joining the Seat Cupra Euro series in 2008 and had a one off appearance in the WTCC in a Seat for winning a meeting of the Euro series. This led to a full campaign in the Independents of the WTCC where he enjoyed victory in front of his home crowd in the second race of the day at Brands Hatch in a Seat Leon TFSI; the same car which he will race in the BTCC.
Boardman last raced in the BTCC 7 years ago at the wheel of a Team Varta Peugeot 307 in the production class and said about returning to Britain, "Although the decision to contest the BTCC came quite late, I'm really looking forward to 2010, as I have missed racing in the UK for a few years now. It's going to be difficult with the number of experienced drivers that will continue in the BTCC this year, but we have set our targets high."
Just like last year his long-term team The Special Tuning (UK) will run him with heavy backing from Club Seat who he has had strong support from previously and who ran Gordon Shedden at the last two meetings of the year. Special Tuning have also announced they hope to secure a second deal for a driver in the coming weeks and with Shedden yet to secure a drive for next year perhaps he could be in with a shout of it after his backing last year from Club Seat. Adam Jones could also be a possibility as he has raced Seat Leons for the past two seasons, showing strong pace and getting on the podium on a number of occasions but was sadly let down by his team last year and had to pull out of the series after Snetterton last season.
Despite the lack of confirmed entries to date some BTCC teams have already begun their 2010 preparations with Team Dynamics and Forster Motorsport both returning to testing at Rockingham.
Although not confirmed yet Matt Neal returned to his family run team where he took the 2005/6 titles.
Neal drove a heavily revised Honda Civic and said afterwards, "Conditions today were a bit tricky as we had lots of drizzly rain, but even so there was a very good balance in the car. The car is very different to how it was when it was tucked away at the end of the 2009 season. There's new front and rear suspension and subframes, plus revised aerodynamics that we've developed in conjunction with MIRA. On top of that we've today run with some new engine developments from Neil Brown which were all very positive."
Team Dynamics did confirm after the test that a marketing merger between themselves and Honda UK has been agreed for the car to run in an all white livery to promote the Japanese marques latest UK road car launch; the Civic Type-R Mugen 200. No driver has yet been announced for the second drive although former Formula 1 racer Johnny Herbert said, after the three meetings for the team at the end of last year and at the Autosport show, that he is keen for a return to the series and he is working on options for a full assault on this season's championship.
Forster Motorsport also returned to the track with multiple John Copper challenge winner Arthur Forster and Martin Depper, after the latter had rolled the ex Mat Jackson car at Oulton Park before Christmas. The pair continued to share the car as no deal has yet been done for a second car but they hope to secure a deal shortly.
The first team out testing were Team Aon in their Ford Focus who decided to go abroad to Spain where they enjoyed two days of testing at the Guadix circuit. Tom Chilton clocked up more than 500 kilometres in just about perfect conditions.
The all-new Focus for last season made remarkable improvements during the end of the season where it scored a pole at the final race of the year at Brands Hatch and scored 3 out of the last four races. It looks like they continued to make more improvements during the test and Chilton said, "Every time we made a tweak to the chassis it just seemed to get better and better. The cornering is just out of this world and the Focus is the best handling touring car I've ever driven."
No second driver has yet been announced but Tom Onslow-Cole remains Focused on being that second driver after driving it for most of the second half of last season and recently said, "We haven't looked anywhere else as Arena is where I want to be and we just need to work to make it happen. The talks are going good. I really want to go back there and I was blown away with the team and the car as well. I think it will be a strong car this season and I would love to go back. We are in the process of making it happen and are getting closer, but it isn't a done deal yet."
With the season drawing ever closer, more deals and announcements are coming, stay tuned for all breaking news on Motorsport.com before the 2010 season.