Offical unveiling of the 2009 BTCC season

Today at Rockingham saw the official launch/media day for the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship. It was announced today that the BTCC will be started by 19 drivers, with two more drivers to be confirmed in existing teams. The series...

Today at Rockingham saw the official launch/media day for the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship. It was announced today that the BTCC will be started by 19 drivers, with two more drivers to be confirmed in existing teams. The series will tour around nine of the UK's finest racetracks starting on April 5th at Brands Hatch and finishing at the same circuit: although this time around the grand prix configuration will be on the 4th October.

The only disappointing news is that 2008 BTCC runner up Mat Jackson will not be returning to the series, following the withdrawal of his major sponsor Accident Exchange, and that Vauxhall will be the only competing manufacturer works entry. To make the manufacturer title more exciting however, the series has introduced a manufacturers/Constructors title, where teams that have designed and built their own cars can compete for this title, which means that Vauxhall will be against Team Dynamics in their Honda Civic and Team Aon in their Ford Focus. The racing promises to be just as close and as unpredictable as ever.

Surely as the only works car Vauxhall/VX Racing in the hands of the reigning double BTCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi must start the season as the man to beat. His biggest challenge could come from his teammate, 2005 and 2006 champion, Matt Neal. This is Neal's second season at VX Racing and after, by his standards, a poor 2008 season where he only managed one victory and fifth in the championship; he hopes to be more on the pace of Giovanardi. Joining these two double champions in the third Vauxhall seat will be youngster Andrew Jordan.

Jordan enjoyed a promising debut season last year with his family run team and their Honda Integras, scoring a couple of podiums along the way. This year he hopes to be in a position to challenge for regular wins and gain valuable experience from his more illustrious teammates, although a title push may be asking a bit much.

Vauxhall's biggest challenge will surely come in the hands of the BMW's and any one of the two teams running them. The major threat will come from Team RAC run by West Surrey Racing with their main challenger Colin Turkington who, despite still being only 26, is classed as somewhat of a veteran of Touring Cars. This season he hopes he can finally mount a season long title challenge and finally clinch the championship. Driving alongside Turkington will be ex single seater racer Stephen Jelley.

Jelley last year found the step up to touring car racing difficult, although there were signs of improvements towards the end of the season when he surprisingly secured pole for the final races of the year at Brands Hatch. He hopes to build on this promise.

Although less likely to challenge for the outright championship the other BMW team is Motorbase. While not managing to win a race in 2008, Motorbase showed great promise last year, particularly towards the end of the year when they were regularly challenging for podiums. They even won the team's award at Brands Hatch for scoring the most amount of points in the race weekend. Rob Collard will again be driving for the team, however, this year he will be joined by Jonathan Adam.

Over the last few years Adam has proved himself to surely be one of the fastest guys out of the BTCC by winning the Clio cup championship in 2005 and winning the Seat Cupra cup for the previous two seasons. There is no doubt that the double Seat champion has what it takes to be a major surprise in the Championship. Adam wasn't their only signing over the winter with the announcement that Airways will be title sponsor of the car and, as a result, will be called Airways BMW; while the extra cash injection will help the team make a solid push for the top of the podium

In 2009 Team Dynamics, without backing from Halfords for the first time and with a stunning new black and silver livery, hope to return to the winning circle more often and, with the various tweaks made to their Honda Civic, over the winter this is a distinctive possibility. The lead driver and most likely to challenge for victories will be Gordon 'Flash' Shedden. Expect Flash to fly in qualifying and to be a regular towards the front of the field where he hopes to be able to turn these good qualification positions into wins. Joining Shedden will be veteran Dave Pinkney; this will see Pinkney's return to the series and, after a poor season in 2007 with his Alfa 156, this will mark his best chance of trying to fight at the Sharpe end of the grid.

Despite the demise of the works Seat team there will be a pair of Seat Leons on the grid, run by Clyde Valley Racing under the name of Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing, which represents their Carbon-free race operation. CVR also boasts an impressive driver line up in the hands of BTCC returnee Dan Eaves and Adam Jones. Dan Eaves returns for the first time after his unfortunate departure from Team Halfords back in 2005, when he went down in history to be the first and only driver to date, to win all three races within the weekend. He achieved this feat at Thruxton that year.

Adam Jones hopes this year he will finally be able to make it on to the top step of the podium and after a couple of seasons of giant killing, where he stepped on the podium several times while in 2008, was even a major threat for outright wins, hopes to go one better. If CVR is able to provide a good enough car there's little doubt that both drivers are capable of wining races.

Ford makes a welcome return to the series for the first time since they won the championship in the last year of the super-touring era. Experienced BTCC team Arena motorsport under the name of Team Aon will run them. Aon are a Chicago based company and are one of the world's leading providers of risk management services, insurance and reinsurance brokerage and human capital consulting. Leading the teams charge will be Tom Chilton. Chilton's connection with Arena goes back to when they previously ran works cars for Honda in 2003 and, even after Honda pulled out, continued to run a Civic for Chilton in 2004 and, particularly, 2005 when he scored several race victories and would have been a contender for the title if he was to have started all the races and had pre season testing. Tom will be full of confidence going into the season having scored a victory in the final race of last season, which was his first since winning for Arena in 2005. It will be interesting to see how they will fair in 2009, although their best chances of winning may come in the hands of the reverse grids while they get their new car up to speed. At media day they announced that they have another car ready and confirmed but as yet no driver with the necessary budget to fill it. Until then it may be a struggle to get to grips with their new machinery.

Once again there will be a Chevrolet Lacetti on the grid in the hands of Harry Vaulkhard, however, this time run by Tempus racing and they have newer machinery having secured RML's last years WTCC cars. Last year saw Harry's first year in the series following the step up from Seats. He suffered from not having a teammate for most of the year. Despite this he showed some encouraging pace and hopes this year for a break through result. Like Team Aon they have another car confirmed but as yet no driver to fill it.

Team sunshine.co.uk will be represented again on the grid this year having purchased the two Honda Integras used last year by Mike and Andrew Jordan. They are hoping for better results after last year with their Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatchs. Martyn Bell will again be one of their drivers, however, the faster of the two drivers will surely be the ever-popular Paul O'Neil. He is making a full time return to the championship since being diagnosed with diabetes at the end of the 2003 season, where he finished fourth in the series racing for VX Racing. The team will be run once again by tech-speed and by team boss Marvin Humphries, who oversaw Paul O'Neil's previous two victories in the series when he won in an Astra Coupe, first back in 2002 for Team Egg Sport and then the works team in 2003.

Although not fighting at the front of the grid there is always exciting racing going the whole way through the field, with several cars always having just as good a race towards the end of the field hoping they will pick up the odd point or two during the season.

One of these drivers will be John George who is back for his third season, running a Honda Integra by TH Motorsport. However, this will not be the same Integra he raced last year as that one he spectacularly crashed and wrote off in a high profile crash after a tangle with Darren Turner in the final race of last season, only salvaging bits for spares.

Although not present at the media day Jason Hughes will race in his six year old MG ZS run by his own team Kartworld Racing. With new suspension and a new engine, from Judd running on bio-ethanol fuel delivering more power, he hopes this will gain him a few places up the field.

The biggest surprise of the day was Martin Johnson turning up in Erkut Kizilirmak's Astra Coupe, which he tried to run at the last race of the season at Brands Hatch. Johnson's own team Boulevard will run the car. In recent years Boulevard has been running in the Formula Renault Championship and before that, with Johnson driving, the team ran successfully in the Clio Cup UK Championship up until 2006.

The final car on the grid will be driven by Liam McMillan, who at 18 is also the youngest driver in the field. He will be driving a Seat Toledo run by his family run team, Maxtreme Racing. Liam has spent the last couple of seasons successfully racing Seat Cupras, starting in the UK in 2007 and last year both in Spain and the European series. McMillan hopes to gain valuable experience this season before hopefully moving onto bigger and better things.

Turkington On Top In First Test

At the media day today there was also the first chance to see how the teams are shaping up for this season with a four-hour official test during the afternoon. During dry but slightly overcast conditions Colin Turkington emerged on top for Team RAC: completing a total of 64 laps and smashing the lap record in the process.

Making it a good day all round for Team RAC was Stephen Jelley who ended up third, continuing his form found at the end of the last year.

Splitting the two Team RAC BMW's was Fabrizio Giovanardi, who aims to win a hat-trick of titles and be the first drive to do so since Andy Rouse in the mid 80's.Completeing the top five were fellow Vauxhall drivers Matt Neal and, making his first official appearance for the team, Andrew Jordan. All five drivers were within the lap record, surely staking a claim that Team RAC and Vauxhall's will be the team to beat.

In sixth spot, in his new sticking Honda Civic, was Gordon Shedden with his new teammate Dave Pinkney, still in an Orange livery Civic, back in tenth. Behind Shedden was an impressive looking Harry Vaulkhard, who hopes to make an impact in his second season within the championship in his newly acquired 2008 WTCC Chevrolet Lacetti.

Next up was the first of the two Airwaves BMW drivers with Rob Collard in eighth position, while Jonathon Adam was well back in thirteenth after his differential broke after he had only managed six laps, forcing him to miss almost the whole of the session.

Ninth saw Adam Jones in his Clyde Valley Racing prepared Seat Leon making its public debut, although he was to share the car with his Team-mate Dan Eaves after Jones's car suffered suspension failure in the morning. Eaves finished the session in twelfth, however, these times were unofficial due to not having transmitters and times were from the team data.

Just in front of Eaves was O'Neill and Bell who both shared one of their newly livered sunshine.co.uk tech-speed Integras, as their other one is still at the workshop being rebuilt. Next up was Liam McMillan whose Seat Toledo suffered early gearbox trouble. His team worked hard though enabling him to complete the last hour and a half of the session ending up in 14th.

In 15th was John George in his brand new Honda Integra, following his monster crash at the last race last year, but he had to cut short the test before catching a flight and returning home to Guernsey.

In a disappointing sixteenth was Tom Chilton who continues his Team Aon's huge development of their brand new Ford Focus completing only thirteen laps. The final car in the session was Martin Johnson making his debut in his Astra Coupe. He could only run in the first half of the test before being sidelined with an electrical fault.

Next up for the BTCC is another test this time at Brands Hatch on Tuesday 24th March.

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