31 cars will take the green flag for the start of the 2014 season.
One of the most anticipated Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championships in history was officially unveiled to the Media at Donington Park yesterday (Tuesday).
A capacity grid of 31 cars was announced, the most since the single class format was formed in 1991. The grid will feature 11 different Marques in Ford, VW, Vauxhall, BMW, Audi, Toyota, Chevrolet, Proton and, for the first time in the series history, Mercedes as well as Honda and MG who continuing to lead the entry list as the two full manufacturer entries.
While other Championships continue to struggle with numbers and calibre of drivers, the BTCC continues goes from strength to strength with its strongest ever driver line up featuring 13 previous winners of BTCC racers and the magnificent 7.
For the first time in the series history the season will start with 7 former BTCC Champions after former double BTCC champions Fabrizio Giovanardi and Alain Menu have both been drawn back to the series to join exiting champions Jason Plato, Gordon Shedden, Matt Neal Colin Turkington and 2013 Champion Andrew Jordan.
As a result of the new licence system there were no new teams unveiled on the day, although the final driver for the 2014 season was confirmed with Mat Jackson announced as Giovanardi’s Airwaves Racing team mate.
Jackson has been with the Motorbase team since 2010 but had looked likely to be out of a drive after the Italian’s arrival and the team preferring Tom Onslow-Cole who drove the last 3 races last season.
Despite promo images already taken, Onslow-Cole then opted to pursue a career in GT racing allowing Jackson to continue with the team. The decision to retain Jackson was literally last minute with Jackson himself only getting the call from team boss Dave Bartrum between the official driver announcement at 9pm and the start of testing at 1pm.
The morning was set aside strictly for Media access only and following the driver interviews many of the leading entries took the covers off their 2014 machines; while there were also the first ever sightings in public of Lea Wood’s newly built Houseman Racing Toyota Avensis, Chris Stockton’s Power Maxed BTC Racing Chevrolet Cruze and Robb Holland’s Rotek Racing Audi S3, as he becomes the first American to take part in the series on a full time basis.
Following all the morning’s media activities the circuit was opened to the public where official testing started at 1pm where it was hoped that we might get a better idea of who will be the man to beat in 2014, however the great British weather put paid to that with heavy rain starting after an hour, remaining wet for the rest of the session meaning some drivers such as Jason Plato in his MG KX Clubcard Fuel Save did not set a lap in dry conditions.
Ending the 4hr test on top, as he did at the end of 2013, was reigning champion Jordan in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic. Following testing Jordan described the weather as “frustrating” but valuable and said, “It was a little bit frustrating. We were about to put a new set of tyres on when it started to rain – it’s always nice to end up quickest, but it wasn’t really a proper day because of the weather and we had quite a lot to try out that we haven’t been able to do. It means that we’ve still got some unanswered questions going to Brands Hatch, but we know we’ve just got to get on with it. The car felt fabulous in the wet, so it was a case of trying a few things and then parking it up.”
With some teams heading to Silverstone for more testing when the rain started their day stopped including the Honda Yuasa Racing duo Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal who opted out re-appearing on track.
Finishing 3rd on his return to the series was Alain Menu in his Chrome Edition Restart Racing VW Passat. Although the times didn’t mean much due to the rain the 1997/2000 BTCC champion was delighted to be back in the series although he didn’t complete many laps due to the rain and said, “The times don’t mean too much – it was mixed conditions and we don’t know what the other guys were doing. I actually only did three proper timed laps in the dry, and we didn’t do any wet running because we’re testing tomorrow. The guys have worked really hard though and have done a great job. It’s good to be back – there was a really good turnout and the atmosphere is great. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been very excited about this year, and the number of fans here for the test was really impressive also. It’s going to be a good season!”
Ending up in 4th was Adam Morgan in his Wix Racing Mercedes. This will be the first time a Mercedes has ever run in the series and after a hugely encouraging pre-season Morgan once again impressed in both the wet and dry at Donington.
Rounding out the top 5 was the first MG driven by Sam Tordoff. Tordoff completed his lap in the dry unlike his team mate Plato however both MGs were quickest at the end of the session on the drying track, a condition that has always proved MG’s downfall perhaps at last ominously for the rest of the field proving they have unlocked how to drive in drying conditions.
Some teams now will continue to test up until the first race of the year, which will now take part at Brands Hatch in just over one week’s time.
For full images from Media day where you will get the chance to see all the cars for the first time in their 2014 livery please click [[ http://www.motorsport.com/all/photos/main-gallery/?ph=207|here]].