By Pat Cranham, BTCC reporter
Chris James set for 2011 with a Chevrolet Lacetti
Also who is in and who is out for 2011
John Cooper Series competitor Chris James is set to make the step up to the big time by racing a Chevrolet Lacetti run by his own team, Team ES Racing in the British Touring Cup Championship.
James follows in the same footstep of Arthur Forster and Martin Depper who also both graduated from the same series. James took 14 podiums from 18 races last season.
Although the Lacetti is not an ex Works RML prepared car, James will receive support from the WTCC champions who ran three Lacetti's in the series back in 2009 before winning the championship last season with the Chevrolet Cruze.
James admits he has realistic ambitions about joining the series and just scoring some points will be a success and said, "Everything's a bit surreal and the moment and I'm living the dream. I'm under no illusions and I'm not expecting to be mixing it with the likes of Plato and Neal in my first season - I see it as a massive achievement just getting on the grid. I have to manage my expectations because we're on a very tight budget and I'll be happy as long as I'm competitive and not running around at the back. I'm massively excited, but massively nervous as well. I'm just counting down the days - I wish I could fall asleep and wake up in five weeks time at the first round at Brands Hatch. We have a very tidy car and it should be a competitive package, especially with support from RML. We want to score points - that's the dream. Once that monkey's off our backs, we'll build from there. I'm not saying that I'm going to come along and wipe the floor with people, but the package we have is more than capable of competing and if we don't score points by the end of the year, we'll be disappointed."
The BTCC could indeed be ending for a record number of entries this year with the number of entries getting close to 30 so here is a quick recall on who's in so far.
Geoff Still Racing announced last week that they will return to the series after racing Martyn Bell a few year back in a BMW. The team acquired last years Airwaves BMW's and were talking to two experienced drivers about the ride, with Bell confirming that he will take up a management roll within the team.
Once again we should see 3 BMW teams on the grid with WSR already confirming that Rob Collard and Nick Foster will be driving, having both tested at Thruxton last week. Team boss Dick Bennets admitted he is doing all in he can to get 2009 BTCC Champion Colin Turkington back out at some point during the season, despite his main concern being in the Scandinavian Championship.
The third BMW team is once again Forster Motorsport, who will be switching between the BTCC and the John Cooper Challenge in which they are both previous champions. The car belonging to Depper was up for sale but he said in Autosport earlier in the year that he was going to continue in the BMW whilst looking at possible front wheel drive cars which are available, meanwhile team boss Forster will continue in the BMW.
Several front running teams have already confirmed their plans with the earliest being Honda Racing, having confirmed straight after last season that both 2010 drivers Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden will continue, although they have announced recently that Electronic giants pioneer will be main sponsor.
There will be two Ford teams this year with Team Aon using the 2011 spec Ford Focus, getting aid from Ford in their bid to build a global Touring Car. Meanwhile Motorbase have bought all 3 Team Aon Fords from last season and will run as Airwaves Racing.
Team Aon are certain to continue with Tom Chilton while ex WSR drive Andy Neate has recently been testing for the team alongside Chilton in last season's car, before it goes to Airwaves Racing, and he looks more than likely to be in the second seat.
Airwaves Racing have announced that they will continue with Mat Jackson with Liam Griffin being promoted from Motorbase's Porsche Team while their third seat is yet to be confirmed. Although, there are rumours that last year's other Team Aon driver, Tom Onslow-Cole, could end up there having been seen in the Motorbase garage while the team tested at Brands Hatch.
There will be more than likely be 4 Vauxhall Vectra's on the grid this year with two belonging too Pirtek Racing, driven by Andy Jordan and Jeff Smith. Both have been putting in plenty of miles during the off-season.
Triple 8 have already confirmed that James Nash and Porsche Cup driver Tony Gilham will drive for them in a team re-branded to Triple 8 with Collins Contractors, which are personnel sponsors to Gilham. He will be adding certain colour to this season's grid with him, likely to continue in his famous pink and green livery from his Porsche days.
Although not officially confirmed it is almost certain that Triple 8 will continue with the Vectra. Like Pirtek Racing they will change to Toca's own NGTC engine from Swindon as reported in various forms of the media including from Gilham himself.
We could have as many as 4 Seat Leons this year belonging to Special Tuning Racing. However its likely that only two cars will be out. Tom Boardman is certain as one of the drives with Phil Glew, who competed in a one off race for the team at Silverstone, also rumoured to be in talks for one of the other drives. It has been announced though that Houseman dry lining will be the main sponsor and the team will be switching to its own NGTC engine.
This year also sees the first season of the full NGTC specification cars following the successful debut at the last race of 2010, taking part in the Free practice sessions. GPR, the men behind the prototype, have continued to develop the car, testing recently at Brands Hatch and Thruxton whilst building the Toyota Avensis for former Ginetta G50 teams Speedworks and Dynojet.
Dynojet will continue with Frank Wrathall who won the G50 championship for them last year while Speedworks will run with regular driver Tony Hughes. To get used to front wheel drive cars Hughes as been out testing Dave Newsham's winning Clio Cup car from last year, although Hughes suffered a set back last week rolling the car heavily at Thruxton at the fastest corner in the country.
Newsham himself was believed to be in talks with the team about a second car although it now looks like that talks have broken down due to sponsorship and car availability.
We will also see two more full NGTC car's with Rob Austin Racing. The team has GPR building them two Audi A4's with the 2 drivers expected to be announced at media day. Meanwhile Welch Motorsport have announced that they plan to enter a Proton Gen4 which they should take to the track for the second half of the season starting at Snetterton in August.
Other drivers to have already confirmed are Shaun Hollamby who will continue for the second season in a heavily revised AmD Miltek.com Racing Golf, using the same NGTC engine as Special Tuning and Lea Wood.
Wood will continue in his family run Central Group Racing's Honda Integra, which will now face 50kg of extra ballast, although its reported that he will not join the series until round 4 at Oulton.
Bamboo Engineering have announced that they plan to re-enter the series In a pair of Chevrolet Lacetti's with regular driver Harry Vaulkhard almost certain to be in one of the cars having already confirmed he is in talks with the team.
One team to be very quiet however over the winter is last season's champions Jason Plato and Chevrolet.
Last season Chevrolet ran under the banner Silverline Chevrolet on the way to Plato taking his second BTCC crown and although nothing as been mentioned it is likely that once again the team will continue with the Cruze in full S2000 spec with Plato and second driver Alex MacDowall.
Another driver that the fans would like to see out again is Paul O'Neill.
O'Neill has been long associated with Techspeed who ran under the Team name Sunshine.co.uk for the past two seasons but had been struggling with budget issues towards the last year. He has been using the ageing BTCC spec Honda Integra but now the Integra will have to run with an additional 50kg of weight making the car uncompetitive. Little has been announced on what will happen with the team or O'Neill himself but he did report to his fans using his Twitter site that he is working on some deals and hopes to announce his plans shortly.
So that's who is in and who is out of the BTCC so far for 2011. More drivers and teams are set to announce their plans shortly so stay logged in to Motorsport.com. Teams will also step up their testing programme so look out on for a test at Brands Hatch on March the 9th set aside for BTCC teams along with a couple of Support race series. Motorsport.com will of course be there to bring you all the news and images of what teams are present.