Vauxhall's four front-wheel drive Astra Coupes have taken 23 out of a possible 24 podium places so far this season - too much for British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) organisers, British Motorsport Promoters Ltd (BMP). As a means of reducing the competitiveness of the Astra Coupe, BMP has imposed, as of this weekend's rounds at Mondello Park, an additional 30kgs weight penalty.
Due to their previous successes on the track, three of the four Astra Coupes competing this weekend will be carrying the maximum 60kgs of normal success ballast. Combine that with 30kgs and the cars are carrying a total of 90kgs in extra weight; the equivalent of a 14-stone passenger. Extra weight does slow cars down, but it also puts a higher strain on components, especially the brakes and tyres.
The British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is the country's leading motor racing series. It provides good, close and exciting racing, which brings in the crowds and prompts people to turn on their TV sets, making the sport more commercially viable. This has resulted in a number of changes to the way motor racing is managed nowadays. Levelling the playing field with success ballast is an effective and sporting method of ensuring close racing, and is generally accepted.
Under current BTCC rules, competitors may accumulate up to 60kgs in success ballast. But, it is also stipulated that officials may impose one of a number of methods to negate any technical advantages one or other team may have, to bring the competitors back in line with each other. These methods include, for example, increasing the rev limit on engines, decreasing the minimum weight of cars that need a helping hand or increasing the minimum weight of those in need of harnessing (i.e. a rear-wheel drive car in a predominantly front-wheel drive championship).
"Rules are rules and we'll stick to them," said Mike Nicholson, Vauxhall's Motorsport Manager. "But it's also fair to say that we're pretty miffed with the way BMP has done this to us. We're being penalised for doing our homework and building a competitive car, the Astra Coupe doesn't have any technical advantages like four-wheel or rear-wheel drive. The car is good and there is nothing unfair about that, but at the moment it's difficult to assess its true competitiveness against the current opposition. We're very concerned that it won't stop at just 30kg."
"Our drivers have been given the green light to race against each other this year, and they've given the crowds some brilliant action. We shouldn't now have to ask them to slow down and wait for the others to catch up."