The 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship season has been one of the closest and most unpredictable ones seen in recent years. Northern Irishmen Colin Turkington eventually took his first BTCC title but only after a final race shootout between himself, double reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi and 2001 champion Jason Plato, where amazingly after 29 previous rounds the trio were separated by just eight points. Throughout this year, there was a total of eight different winners and a further seven drivers making it onto the podium.
Now we take a look back at how the championship was won and how the other drivers fared during the season in this two-part review of the 2009 season.
For the second season running Motorbase were fielding a pair of BMW's but were boosted by the title sponsor of Airwaves and ran under the name of Airwaves BMW. Rob Collard returned for the second season and started in fantastic fashion, taking the teams first BTCC victory at Brands Hatch along with another two top 8 finishes.
At Thruxton he had a pair of fifth places before taking his second victory of the year at Donington in the third race of the day, and was hanging on to the early pace setters. Oulton, however, didn't start well for him as he could only manage a 9th in race 1 after a poor qualifying. In race 2 he didn't even make the start of the race due to mechanical trouble. He then made up for it in race 3 though taking a superb fourth, after battling through the entire pack; he then followed that up by taking another 2 fourth place finishes at Croft along with a 7th.
After the mid season break Collard often suffered bad luck and was also involved in a couple of unfortunate incidents. After a poor race at Snetterton and a seventh, Collard was in the lead of the race due to the reverse grid before he was tapped into a spin by Nash and then, whilst spinning, he was collected heavily by the unsighted Jelley. He then had another terrible weekend at Knockhill when in a good position in race 1, was hit out of the race by Neal after he was forced onto the grass. He would then fail to score in the other two races of the day.
Things went better for Collard at Silverstone, taking second in qualifying and was leading race 1 before being overtaken by the Chevrolets. He eventually finished sixth. Then after a ninth in race 2 he found himself leading race 3 due to the reverse grid but was overtaken by Jackson and, despite hanging on to his bumper, was unable to get past. Rockingham was like many other events for Collard starting off well taking a fourth in race 1 but failing to score in the other two. In the final race of the year he took a sixth and fourth before again being unlucky and being hit out of the race on the opening lap.
Joining Collard this year was Jonny Adam, who proved to be the best driver outside of the BTCC taking both the Clio Cup and Seat Cupra titles before joining the series. Adam thought he had got his BTCC career off to the dream start by winning on the road at Brands Hatch only for it to be taken away after his collision with Plato. The next four meetings for Adam were a bit inconsistent showing good pace in places but also learning about the BTCC the hard way, although a third place at Oulton in race 1 would be a good finish.
After the midseason break Adam was a lot more consistent and would be a regular top 10 finisher, but was still often in the wars and often had spins whilst in good positions, like at the last race of the year being hit down the field whilst in the lead. Although he did not always help himself, like at Snetterton spinning just as the safety car was coming out, dropping him down the field.
Adam had also upped his pace a lot more; particularly in qualifying where he would finish no lower than seventh during the final five meetings of the year; more often than not out qualifying his teammate Collard that included a second at Rockingham and a third at Knockhill. Sadly his race results didn't reflect this and although he only finished out of the points once during this time, couldn't manage a position better than fifth. Despite this Adam has proved he has the pace to stay in the BTCC and there is no doubting that a second season in the BTCC would bring him victories.
This season Team Dynamics has seen three different drivers partner Dave Pinkney in the Honda Civic.
Gordon Shedden started the season but lost his main sponsor before the start of the season at Brands Hatch where he managed a sixth and fifth. Despite these reasonable results former double BTCC champion James Thompson, for Thruxton to raise some extra money, replaced him. Thompson fitted in straight away and it didn't take him long to get on to the podium by scoring third in the final race of the day, and it didn't take Thompson long to take his first victory by taking a double win at Donington; one in terrible conditions and the other in drier. He then had 3 more points scoring finishes, one at Donington and two at Oulton, where he slightly struggled but he took full advantage of the reverse grid and won the final race of the day there.
A non points finish at Croft was followed by a ninth but again, Thompson found himself in front due to the reverse grid and, in terrible conditions, took second place only after Giovanardi produced the move of the season on him. At Snetterton things got off to a good start for him qualifying in third, which he was holding, until mechanical trouble forced him out. Proving he had the pace he took fourth from the back of the grid in race 2 and finished fifth in race 3.
Knockhill was his final meeting of the year, due to also being involved in the WTCC for Lada, the Danish championship in a Honda and racing for triple eight, the people behind the Vauxhall, in Australia. After a sixth in race 2 Thompson found himself at the front in the last race but was passed as the race went on and eventually finished in sixth.
Replacing Thompson for the final three meetings of the year was former Formula One race winner Johnny Herbert, who was hoping to cut it in the BTCC. Things didn't get off to a good start when mechanical trouble in qualifying meant him starting back in 17th position. After learning the ropes in race 1 he made good progress in race 3 finishing eighth. He then found himself on pole for race 3 with the reverse grids but was bumped out by the big boys and was forced to retire.
At Rockingham he faired a lot better and qualified in ninth but was the unlucky victim after the out of control Matt Neal ploughed into him. Again he recovered well and took tenth, before in race 3 he was racing and more than holding his own with the big boys and even clashed with Giovanardi, which the Italian was furious with. Herbert eventually finished an impressive seventh, however, the Civic has always been well suited to the Rockingham circuit and perhaps with Thompson would have won. Brands Hatch didn't go well for the 3-time F1 race winner and went off in identical circumstances in the first two races out braking himself into druids, whilst an opening lap collision all but ended his race in the final event.
This year was a big chance for Dave Pinkney, the elder statesman of the BTCC, who was heavily funded this year by Team Dynamics bid but this also saw Pinkney in a car capable of winning. However, Pinkney wasn't really on the pace of any of his teammates and scored just 10 points all year with a best position of eighth at Snetterton, also having many scraps along the way, which included a nasty looking crash at Croft as he aquaplaned off at high speed.
After many years of saying that they were going to enter the championship with Chevrolets, which they never owned, Clyde Valley Racing finally entered the series with a pair of bio ethanol Seat Leon's under the name of Cartridge World. Despite having two good cars and two good drivers CVR once again failed to shine, eventually pulling out after Knockhill due to lack of funds.
Adam Jones, who had impressed so much in past years, was paired alongside Dan Eaves, who was returning for the first time since 2005, and things started well. Jones scored in all but three of the opening 15 races of the year taking a best of second place at Thruxton, and continued to show impressive speed particularly in qualifying, qualifying inside the top 5 twice but failed to turn them into any real good results for a number of reasons. Things also got off to a good start for Eaves with three top 10 finishes at Brands Hatch and, after qualifying in the top 10 at Thruxton, things went down hill pretty quickly as he crashed breaking his suspension on his out lap, crashed at the first corner in race 2 after contact and then made contact with another car in race 3. At Donnington things got even worse where he managed just one lap all weekend after his engine blew up on his out lap in free practice 1. He returned for Oulton and Croft but failed to score a single point and was replaced half way through the year.
Replacing Eaves for the rest of the year would be Shedden, although by now the problems had started and much of the team had also changed due to lack of payment. Shedden scored one 10th place finish at Snetterton with Jones picking up a couple of sevenths. This proved to be Jones' final outing of the year as he failed to appear at Knockhill, when the team said the car failed during a small shake down and there was no time to fix the car in time for the event.
Despite the problems, Shedden qualified a superb second for his home event, which is where he would finish. Shedden's day wouldn't continue to be as good though as he slipped down to ninth in race 2 after leading before a big crash in race 3.
The team then officially split following the event although Shedden would be seen at Rockingham and Brands Hatch under the banner of Club Seat still with sponsorship from Cartridge World. Things got off well for him, qualifying in sixth, but he could only manage a single eight place finish in race 3 and, at Brands Hatch he was in the thick of the action and contact. He would only manage 10th in race 1 and despite running as high as fifth in race 3 would fall back due to contact with Jackson and the barrier.
After missing the opening rounds, Paul O'Neill, returned for his first full season in an Honda Integra and O'Neill stunned the BTCC paddock with qualifying 6th at Thruxton, finishing 5th in the race. He followed this up by 10th in race 2 and was even challenging for the lead in race 3 in second before cruelly getting a puncture. At Donington he was out of luck and after a stunning drive in wet conditions was hit out of the race by Adam. Two ninth place finishes at Oulton was followed by another ninth at Croft with a tenth, until his bad luck struck again when, in the lead behind the safety car in appalling conditions, his alternator packed up.
His luck changed at Snetterton. Where others had problems he took a hugely emotional third place finish followed up by a fifth and a sixth. O'Neill would continue to be a giant killer and would be a regular top 10 finisher. Although he mainly finished for ninth and tenths, he did still manage another 5th at Knockhill and was named 2009 BTCC Fans Favourite driver on their official website.
Alongside O'Neill was Martyn Bell. However, Bell was never on O'Neill's pace and a pair of tenths at the opening meeting was as good as it got, although he was forced to miss out on a few meetings due to a freak fall whilst on holiday.
If the season had finished after Silverstone we would be saying what a disappointing season for Team Aon and Tom Chilton. Instead we are saying what a transformation and if the last round is going to be anything to go by then they are in with a shout of the title next year.
It was just an achievement to get the Focus on the grid for the opening round of the championship but the team struggled terribly in particular with straight-line speed and lack of development, regularly qualifying outside of the top 10. In the first half of the year Chilton's only points had come in the wet races at Donington and Croft with team mate at the time Alan Morrison, who was returning to the series for the first time since 2003, fairing little better and just managing a couple of 10th's at Oulton where after he just disappeared without a trace.
There was little more to cheer at Snetterton and Knockhill, although Chilton did manage an eighth there and had faired well in free practice. It was not until the championship reached Silverstone that the Focus first showed what it was capable of, qualifying in the top 10 for the first time, where Chilton managed fifth in race 2 before unluckily being hit on the opening lap of the race.
At Rockingham Chilton qualified in the top 10 and managed ninth in race 2 before finding himself on pole for race 3. Despite this Chilton was expected to fall back but remained at the front and took an ecstatic podium finish.
Despite this, little was expected of them at Brands Hatch but Chilton stunned the BTCC paddock by taking Pole position and only lost the lead on the final straight after holding it throughout the first race. Chilton again led race 2 before being bullied down to sixth but in race 3, taking third, stated their intentions for next year.
Tom Onslow-Cole also drove the Focus for four meetings this year and showed good pace in the latter rounds. He surely would have had a good result at Brands Hatch had it not been for his car failing regulation in qualifying and having to start at the back of the grid. He picked up a couple of ninth place finishes but also had a big crash at Silverstone after contact with Reid.
There was also another Chevrolet Lacetti on the grid this year run by first Tempus Sport and then the re-branded Bamboo Engineering for Harry Vaulkhard. Vaulkhard managed to score his first BTCC points during the opening rounds of the championship at Brands with an eight and ninth which was followed by another ninth at Thruxton.
He then surprised the grid with a front row start at Donington but tried to win the race at the first corner and slipped back taking fifth. Another top 10 finish in race 2 followed and he was running well in race 3 but slipped back to seventh after several confrontations during the race including one, which he was penalised for with Giovanardi, which the fiery Italian continued off track.
A low key Oulton followed but Vaulkhard was back at the front for Croft; his home race. After qualifying sixth he was running a superb fourth but his race craft came into question when he continued to fight for a place around the outside, which wasn't really on, and he came off second best spinning off. Despite going ploughing into the cornfields, he rejoined unaware of damage and promptly spun at the next corner as a result and was collected heavily by the unsighted Chilton.
At Snetterton the car was re branded in the Bamboo Engineering colours and took a tenth and a ninth that was followed by pole position in race 3. Sadly he couldn't turn this into a good result and slipped back. Contact with Thompson sent him crashing on the first lap. After this Vaulkhard had a pretty miserable end to the season and where the RML prepared Chevrolet's were at the front, Vaulkhard only managed a single tenth place finish out of the last four meetings. Both team and driver have already confirmed for next year so hopefully, having learnt from his outings at the front of the field, Vaulkhard could get some good results.
All year long there has also been one other big battle going on, which has been just as exciting, which has been happening at the back of the field between Martin Johnson in an Astra Coupe and John George in an Honda Integra.
Johnson realised his dream this year by entering the BTCC in an ex-works Vauxhall Astra Coupe and, although the car being the oldest on the grid, managed to score a couple of points; one at Snetterton and one at Rockingham. The highlight of his racing career must have been as he past Giovanardi coming out of the final corner to a large cheer from the crowd in his ill Vectra. Johnson also caused perhaps the most spectacular moment of the year as his engine went up in flames coming out of the first corner at Silverstone.
George returned to the series following his massive accident at the last race at Brands Hatch last year, but sadly for him will be remembered this year for as many off track excursions as on it and failed to score a point this season.
Matt Hamilton also finished off the year in a Honda Civic, which was last seen racing in 2006 by James Kaye. Hamilton raced at Rockingham and Brands Hatch to gain experience before entering for a full season next year and he would have been pleased to qualify in 17th at Brands Hatch ahead of many of his rivals. Sadly for him he got caught up in accidents in the first lap of both the first and second races.
We have also seen appearances from Liam McMillan in a 2004 Seat Toledo and Nick Leason in a BMW 1 series. Neither been seen though since Donnington. McMillan, who at 18 was the youngest driver on the grid, suffered a massive accident on the final lap at Thruxton. He was hoping to gain experience before going onto bigger and better things next year but had engine trouble, which resulted in a dispute with builders Oreca. This meant he was unable to rejoin the series while Leason's car was never competitive and they also pulled the plug on their season.
So as you have read this years BTCC has been one of the most thrilling in recent memory and if next year is half as good we are in for a treat. So what can we expect next year?
Little has been confirmed yet although, at present, with the demise of Vauxhall there are no current manufacture based teams. Volvo have been rumoured to come in but in what capacity remains to be seen and with the new regulations expected in 2011, don't expect to see too many new teams or cars.
Both BMW teams you would expect to be there and at the front and also lets hope RML will be back for another crack, maybe even with the Chevrolet Cruze that has appeared in this years WTCC. If the end of season is anything to go by it wouldn't be a surprise to see a Ford back in the winners circle with Tom Chilton there in his Team Aon Focus.
Whatever happens over the winter, be sure to read about it on Motorsport.com and we will be there on April 4th as it all kicks off once again at Thruxton.
See also: Close racing in 2009 BTCC season, part 1