This past weekend saw a massive 18 drivers, who contested last years British Touring Car Championship, attend the annual Autosport Show at the Birmingham NEC where the drivers were announcing their 2010 plans and unveiling their new cars.
Sitting in the pride of place on the main Autosport show was Colin Turkington's West Surrey Racing BMW in a white finish; fresh with a couple of new sponsors for the upcoming season. Gone was the orange of RAC who was the main sponsor of Turkington's championship season and, although they will remain a sponsor, the team will revert back to just WSR. The first new sponsor is High efficiency plasma lighting company, Alvara, with the UK's leading online automotive marketplace eBay Motors, also joining the 2009 champions.
Although no driver yet is confirmed, team principle Dick Bennett said, "We'd very much like to retain Colin and Stephen; however we are talking to a number of other drivers for the third seat. We've got three BMW 320sis and we proved in 2009 that we have the resources to run all three cars to the same competitive level."
Bennett also claimed that the team were looking at other options as well as racing in the BTCC and said, "We are obviously intending to defend our titles in the BTCC again this year. However, we're also keeping our options open with regard to the World Touring Car Championship and the new format European Touring Car Cup."
2009 champion Turkington echoed Bennett's comments on the main stage and said, "Nothing is decided at the moment, I'm keeping my options open in terms of British Touring Cars, World Touring Cars and the European stuff, so myself and WSR aren't committed to anything"
Turkington's team mate from 2009, Stephen Jelley, was also present at the show where he launched an interesting project, in which the public can get involved and put messages on the car for the season, called scoop Jelley. Jelley is offering three options where the fans can get involved and contributions will go towards the 2010 champagne. The 3 options include 'Get A Scoop' (bronze) where the fans get to put a message on his 2010 car, Jelley Legs' (silver) that offers passenger ride experiences and the final one is called 'I Scream' (gold) where the fans will be rewarded with performance driving tuition from Jelley.
One of the biggest show attractions was the unveiling of Andrew Jordan's 2010 car. He will drive a Vauxhall Vectra but this time he will run under the name of Pirtek Racing, by his dad former BTCC race winner Mike Jordan, in a stunning blue, orange and yellow livery.
What is more radical about the car is it will run with one of the new turbo charged BTCC NGTC engines which will be used when the new format touring cars are introduced in 2011. Jordan hopes the engine will give him an advantage over last years car and said, "The bad point about last year was the Vauxhall engine, which struggled massively at times, but it's a great handling car."
He then went on to say about his 2 years within the championship so far and said "In 2008 I probably exceeded expectations whereas last year was below expectations, but I don't necessarily think that has been a bad thing - I've learnt some important lessons from that."
Jordan's car was placed on the main Dunlop stage with them becoming the main sponsor of the championship whilst HiQ sponsors the team's championship. Turkington's Team RAC BMW with the converted Number 1 on the door and Jason Plato Racing Silverline Lacetti were also present on the stage.
Plato was speaking on both the main Autosport stage and Dunlop stage and admitted despite wanting to remain in the championship, he is still searching for the budget and said, "I genuinely believe the BTCC is a fantastic championship and I love being part of it. If I can pull together a deal to make it happen, I'd like to think chances of staying where I am now are very high. Nevertheless, the cold hard facts are that the right numbers need to be in right boxes."
Plato's teammate from Racing Silverline, Mat Jackson, was also present saying that he would like to remain in the championship but he too was still searching for budget.
The people behind the Lacetti are RML, who of course run Chevrolets works World Touring Car campaign with a trio of Cruzes. In an interesting article on touringcartimes.com before Christmas from the Swedish Chevrolet team, they were asked about the chance of securing a Cruze and said, "The cars that were run in the WTCC this year has been sold to the BTCC team." So watch this space.
Double race winner from last season Rob Collard was also present but like so many of the drivers was unable to commit to where he would be racing in 2010. His course has not been helped by the withdrawal of the Motorbase's title sponsor Airwaves chewing gum. He did, however, admit that he hoped that a deal was close with the team to secure a drive with them. A number of other drivers have also been testing with the team such as Porsche Carrera cup champion Tim Bridgeman, GT racer Ben Collins and Clio runner up Alex MacDowall, who has also been testing the Racing Silverline Lacetti.
There will also be a third BMW team joining the BTCC field with Forster Motorsport making the jump up to the BTCC. The multiple John Cooper Challenge champions will have regular Mini drivers Arthur Forster and Martin Depper driving for them. The team have secured an ex Mat Jackson BMW with the second car hopefully being secured in the next week. However, the transition to rear wheel drive will be a steep learning curve and an unfortunate incident in testing at Oulton saw Depper roll the car. As a result it sadly wasn't present at the show. Despite this set back the team have a busy couple of months ahead of them testing at some regular BTCC circuits and some warmer testing planned in either Portugal or Spain in March.
Former double BTCC champion Matt Neal was seen working on his family run stand Team Dynamics and he hopes, once again, that he will rejoin his dad's team that brought him his two championships and his famous win back in 1999 that gave him ?250,000. When asked about his plans of returning to the Honda Civic again he replied, "That's the target at the minute. But it is all up in the air, so it's a case of slotting all the blocks into place."
Former Formula 1 racer Johnny Herbert also made his BTCC debut towards the end of the season in the Team Dynamics Civic and his car was displayed on the stand. He also admitted that it was his aim to remain within the team for 2010 though no deal has yet been completed.
Despite the large number of BTCC stars that appeared at the show only a couple were able to confirm their plans. These were Harry Vaulkhard, who will again run for Bamboo Engineering in a Chevrolet Lacetti with the team hoping to get a second driver to partner him. Sunshine.co.uk was confirming 2009 fans favourite driver Paul O'Neill in a tech-speed Honda Integra sponsored. O'Neill said on the Dunlop stage that after his, "good" season last year he hoped to hit the ground running at Thruxton and that a win and even a charge to the independent trophy was not out of the question.
The team, which made the biggest improvement of 2009, were Team Aon in the Arena prepared Ford Focus. Tom Chilton will drive the lead Focus with a strong possibility of Tom Onslow-Cole, who drove half the season for them, and even a third Focus appearing.
There is also a possibility that the team is changing to a LPG engine with team boss Mike Earle saying, "We've considered an alternative fuel source and are currently evaluating a switch to LPG to see if there are possibilities for us,"
The team will definitely be testing a modified version of its Mountune- prepared petrol engine at Guadix in Spain in February, where they hope to get more performance to give the blue oval its first victory in the series since 2000.
2010 will also see a new marquee of cars joining the grid with AmD S2000 VW Golf, which was on display at the show. Having recently purchased the car the 2009 sportmaxx cup champions face a mammoth job to get in on the grid for the opening rounds. Former VW champion Shaun Hollamby should pilot the Golf.
It's not only new teams that hope to jump to the BTCC and 2009 Clio champion Phil Glew is another driver hoping to make the jump. Speaking at the show to touringcartimes.com Glew said, "I've got a good chance of getting up into touring cars. We're speaking to a lot of the teams and we're trying to strike a deal with one of them," said the 26-year-old. "The annoying thing with motor racing is it all depends on sponsorship. Luckily I've got a great sponsor in WD-40 / 3-In-1 and they're backing me up in touring cars."
So that's how the BTCC is shaping up for 2010 and with plenty of drivers and teams still yet to confirm, it's sure to be another thriller. So stay tuned during the off-season for all the latest developments to see who's in and who's out of 2010.