It is now just days before the official unveiling of the 2010 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship, which will take place at Brands Hatch on Tuesday 23rd March.
Despite the economical climate, this years BTCC grid looks to be bigger and better than ever. We will now look at it to see who's in and who's out in 2010.
Heading the entry list should be 2001 champion and last season's runner-up, Jason Plato. After months of speculation of will they, wont they, it now looks certain that RML will run a pair of last-season WTCC Chevrolet Cruzes, which they were testing at Oulton Park. It is also likely that this will become a works entry run by Chevrolet UK.
Plato, however, was almost a works driver for Volvo.
Derek Crabb, Volvo's Motorsport manager, said about the firm's decision on not to enter the BTCC, "There is always a lot of cost involved with a racing programme and there were some things from the financial and sponsorship side that just didn't come together in time."
Partnering Plato at Chevrolet is presumably last season's Clio runner-up Alex McDowall, who was testing the Chevrolet at Oulton along with Plato. McDowall previously tested the Lacetti last season at Jerez. He also enjoyed successful tests with Motorbase at Brands Hatch and with WSR at Thruxton but it now looks certain that he will join the Wellingborough based team.
The biggest shock of the season has to be the jump by Rob Collard from Motorbase to fellow BMW team WSR. Collard made no secret that he was keen to remain with Motorbase and even tested for them at Thruxton. At the last minute he decided to return to drive for WSR where he previously spent two seasons with them in 2005/06 driving an MG ZS.
Collard said, "It was a very difficult decision for me to make a late switch from Motorbase. However I had to look at whats best for my career. This was too good an opportunity to turn down."
Team principle Dick Bennets commented, "It will be great to have Rob back with us in a BMW, as he already has two years' experience in the 320si. We are really looking forward to seeing how he performs with our set-ups on the car."
Partnering Collard at WSR will be Andy Neate. Neate had a one off meeting in an independent Vauxhall Astra Coupe with Daniels Motorsport back in 2005 but just 18 months ago suffered life-threatening injuries at the start of the Britcar 24hrs at Silverstone.
Neate said, "I basically suffered the same injury as the actor Christopher Reeve who played Superman. The only difference was my spinal cord didn't break away from the vertebrae. There were some very tough moments but somehow, I came through it."
Despite losing 3 and a half stone, Neate is now back to full strength, "I did say I wouldn't race again but the BTCC is all I've ever wanted to be in since I started out. To me it's the best race series in the world."
It doesn't looks so good for reigning champion Colin Turkington. Turkington was rumoured to be in contract talks with RML but that now looks to be a non-starter. Despite testing with WSR at Thruxton mid February, as time goes on it becomes less likely that we will see the Northern Irishman. Turkington's last chance remains with WSR getting a third car on the grid and with WSR still to unveil their main title sponsor for this season, let's hope Turkington will be sitting on the 2010 grid with the number 1 on his door. He deserves this after his stunning championship campaign last year.
One driver that definitely won't be on the grid will be Turkington's 2009 team mate Stephen Jelley, who enjoyed a stunning end to last season. Even with launching his "Scoop Jelley" to raise sponsorship, he failed to raise enough money and will now race in the Porsche Carrera Cup, supporting the Touring Cars.
Motorbase will be hoping to build on their great season last year, and are helped by the announcement that Wrigley's Airwaves chewing gum will be their title sponsor, despite announcing their withdrawal from Motorsport Sponsorship at the end of last year. Motorbase will also enjoy co- sponsorship from Leyland Paint but will remain being called Airwaves BMW.
It remains less clear, however, who will drive for the team with boss Dave Bartrum remaining very tight lipped about the driver line-up. He did say, "Our original plan was to run a BTCC newcomer alongside an experienced driver, in the same way that we brought Steven Kane and Jonathan Adam to touring cars over the past couple of years. I'm not sure it will quite work out like that now... as things stand today, we might even go one better."
Favourite for the drive is 2008 BTCC runner-up Mat Jackson, who was rumoured to spend an hour driving the car earlier this week at Brands Hatch. Jackson drove BMW's for his family-run team in 2007 and '08 before his main sponsor pulled out just before the start of the '09 season. Instead that year he raced for RML, after sitting out the opening rounds. Should this come off Jackson would surely start off as one of the main title challenges and would represent Motorbase's best chance to date of challenging for overall glory.
Airwaves BMW's second driver remains an even bigger mystery with a host of drivers being linked and having tested the car over the winter. Motorbase's 2008 driver Stephen Kane remains one of the main contenders after he was also testing at Brands Hatch. This was purely dismissed though, as he was just doing the team a favour. The car had been completely stripped and was testing just to make sure that nothing fell off, even if the team knew the car wasn't reliable and promptly managed only four laps.
Other drivers to be linked or tested with the team over the winter include Ben Collins, Tim Bridgeman and James Nash, while the news that Airwaves will continue with sponsorship may re-open the door for last years second driver Jonny Adam, who looked certain to miss out due to lack of funding.
Jackson's two former BMWs will also be back out on the grid this year in the hands of Forster Motorsport. Forster will make the big step up from the John Cooper Challenge, where they are multiple champions, and will have Arthur Forster and Martin Depper driving for them. Both are previous Champions within the John Cooper Challenge. They have been testing throughout the winter and despite the setback of a roll at Oulton Park before Christmas, are ready to enter the championship in a very patriotic looking design sponsored by Repair Care.
2010 will be the first year since 1989 without an official Vauxhall entry after their withdrawal at the end of last season. It does look likely, however, that the men who have run Vauxhall since 1997, Triple Eight Racing, will be on the grid with at least one Vauxhall Vectra.
After originally stating they would like to enter in this season's championship, news had gone quiet until they turned up to test at Rockingham with last season's Clio champion Phil Glew and Formula Renault champion Dean Smith.
Team Boss Ian Harrison said that both drivers made good accounts of themselves and, "Of course we'd be very keen to be back in the BTCC this year. But obviously everybody has to find a budget to run and we're no different. If we can put a deal together with the right driver, then we'll be there."
Glew is the more likely of the two to be on the grid but Smith also admitted that the test had given him some thinking to do after it was his original intention to run in Formula 2. If Triple 8 are to enter it's likely they will enter with the S2000 engine from last year unlike the other two competitors racing Vectras, Andrew Jordan and Dave Pinkney. Both will be using the new generation Turbo charged engine that will come in next year and have been heavily testing the new engine.
Pinkney has been testing in an interim livery from last year but expect to see a rather extravagant livery come media day with, of course, the obligatory pink included.
This time last year Team Aon were introducing their all-new Ford Focus with very little mileage and lack of development. This season they go into the first race expecting to be right on the pace after an astonishing turn around last season. They went from outside the top 10 in the first half of the year to pole position in the final race of the year, with Tom Chilton scoring 3 podiums out of the last 4 races.
The driver line-up remains the same as it finished last season with Tom Onslow-Cole, who drove most of the last half of the season alongside Chilton but the biggest change is the announcement that they will run with LPG power after a major technical partnership with Calor.
Chilton is clearly excited for this this season and stated, "We've got a great chance, for sure. The car is amazing to drive, responds well to all the set-up changes we've introduced and I believe the new LPG engine is as powerful as anything else out there."
Ford is by far the most successful ever marquee in the championship with 219 wins to their name and Arena team Boss Mike Earle clearly thinks the Focus can add to this tally by saying, "I think we're in great shape going into the season. We have looked at every aspect of the Focus and taken what was already a very good car and improved it. Our aim is to produce the most competitive package possible and along with the engine and chassis developments we also need talented drivers and in Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole we have that as well."
The final team competing for the Manufacturers/Constructors championship along with Chevrolet, Team Aon and maybe Triple 8 will be Team Dynamics with their Honda Civic.
This will be the 4th season running the Civic and Team Dynamics finally believe that it is capable of challenging for the championship after an extensive winter of testing and help from Mira.
Team Dynamics will also be showing off a stunning red and white livery similar to the old super touring days when JAS were running Honda's works teams. Pride of place on the side of the car will be Honda Racing, which returns to the championship for the first time since their works entry back in 2003. This is to represent the marketing collaboration, which will see them run under Honda Racing Team.
Team Boss Steve Neal told btccpages.com that, "this isn't a works or manufacturer team for sure. They are our cars that we have paid for and done the development work on and our contribution has been very substantial. We are still finalising the main sponsorship on the car and while we are grateful to Honda for making a contribution towards it, it's no greater contribution than they have made in previous years."
Unsurprisingly Matt Neal will return to his family run team where he took the 2005 and 2006 BTCC titles after 2 years driving the works Vauxhall. More of a surprise, however, comes in the shape of Gordon Shedden's return. Shedden drove for the team from 2006-2008 scoring 10 victories along the way with a best of third in the championship back in 2007 but was replaced after the opening rounds last year by James Thompson for supposed sponsorship issues.
Former Formula 1 racer Johnny Herbert had been one of the favourites to drive the car but instead chose to join the Italian Superstars series with Chevrolet. Despite Sheddens return, Neal SNR insisted that Shedden would not have been his first pick, "If I had been given a first choice with a full works deal, then it would have been Matt and Thommo in the car, that is to take nothing away from Gordon, but superstars like Thommo and Giovanardi are without a drive. They would drive a car with pleasure but there is no money - and that's the situation we are in today."
Most people originally thought that if Shedden was to return to the series then it would have been at the wheel of a petrol powered Seat Leon by Special Tuning in back of finishing last year in a Leon run by Club Seat.
Special Tuning will make their BTCC debut with Tom Boardman after running him in last year's World Touring Car Championship and stating at the time thayt they intended to run two cars with Shedden's name mentioned straight away. Little has been mentioned of late of this but if they were to run a second car now then Adam Jones would have to be the clear favourite.
Jones has run in Seats since entering the championship and has run successfully in a Leon for the last couple of years, despite having to sit out the final half of last season, after Cartridge World pulled out. It's rumoured that one of his personal sponsors owns the car.
Expect also to see at least 3 Honda Integra's on the grid this season. Despite now being one of the older cars from the championship last year, Paul O'Neill proved you can still be competitive and will be joined by John George at Techspeed with Sunshine.co.uk. There is a possibility of a third car, which might be driven by ex production cup racer Alan Blencowe.
BTCC newcomer Lea Wood who will compete under the name Team Wood Racing and will drive the other definite Integra on the grid. Wood confirmed that although he will be present at media day, due to sponsorship he will miss the first two races of the season and will make his competitive debut at Brands Hatch on the 2nd May.
There will also be a third type of Honda on the grid with at least one older generation Civic driven by Matt Hamilton. Hamilton competed in the last two races of the season and impressed with his qualifying at Brands but was unlucky enough to be involved in two opening lap collisions.
Hamilton, at just 19, looks set to be the youngest driver on the grid this year and will be run again by TH Motorsport. Team boss Trevor Humphrey believes that Hamilton can shock in 2010 by saying, "This is a great deal and everyone in the team cannot wait to get started. We saw real potential in Matt last year and it has given all the boys in the team a real boost to have a driver in the car with this sort of potential. I feel certain that we are going to pull off a few major shocks this year."
Micky Doyle also has hopes to be back on the grid in 2010, after sitting out the 2009, in his in-tune Honda Civic. Doyle produced some strong drives in his debut season in 2008, including a stunning race to 8th at a wet Silverstone, finishing above both Team Dynmaics Honda Civics. Athough Doyle might not make the first race of the season he hopes to be out at Rockingham.
Martin Johnson also looks set for another crack of the championship in his Vauxhall Astra Coupe after testing the car at Silverstone but special mention must go to AmD who will enter a VW Golf.
AmD, who previously ran in the Dunlop Sport Maxx Championship, have worked miracles since unveiling the Golf at the Autosport Show in January. The car now looks stunning and tested for the first time at Brands Hatch this week. This will be the first time that we have seen a VW in the championship since 1989 and former VW cup champion and driver Shaun Hollamby said, "The support we've received since we announced the Golf BTCC project has been fantastic. That's before the season has even begun. Everything that could be done to it has been done to it. The support we've also received from everyone inside the BTCC has been brilliant - no looking down noses at us, just fantastic advice and encouragement all the way."
Below is an expected entry list for the 2010 season.
(Please note that this is not official and only enteries that say confirmed are definite.)
RML/ Chevrolet Uk, Chevrolet Cruze
West Surrey Racing, BMW 320si (Confirmed)
Rob Collard (Confirmed)
Andy Neate (Confirmed)
Colin Turkington (possible)
Airwaves BMW, BMW 320si (Confirmed)
2 drivers from:
Mat Jackson (Likely)
Steven Kane (possible)
Jonny Adam (possible)
Ben Collins (possible)
Tim Bridgeman (possible)
Team Aon, Ford Focus LPG (Confirmed)
Tom Chilton (Confirmed)
Tom Onslow-Cole (Confirmed)
Honda Racing Team, Honda Civic (Confirmed)
Matt Neal (Confirmed)
Gordon Shedden (Confirmed)
Special Tuning, Seat Leon (Confirmed)
Tom Boardman (Confirmed)
Adam Jones (possible)
Triple Eight, Vauxhall Vectra (Likely)
Phil Glew (Likely)
Dean Smith (Possible)
Pirtek Racing, Vauxhall Vectra NGTC (confirmed)
Andrew Jordan (Confirmed)
Pinkney Motorsport, Vauxhall Vectra NGTC (confirmed)
Dave Pinkney (Confirmed)
Techspeed with Sunshine.co.uk, Honda Integra (Confirmed)
Paul O'Neill (Confirmed)
John George (Confirmed)
Alan Blencowe (possible)
Team Wood Racing, Honda Integra (Confirmed)
Lea Wood (Confirmed)
Forster Mortorsport, BMW 320si (confirmed)
Arthur Forster (Confirmed)
Martin Depper (Confirmed)
TH Motorsport, Honda Civic (Confirmed)
Matt Hamilton (Confirmed)
In-Tune Racing, Honda Civic (possible)
Micky Doyle (possible)
Boulevard Racing, Vauxhall Astra Coupe (likely)
Martin Johnson (Likely)
AMD, VW Golf (Confirmed)
Shaun Hollamby (Confirmed)
So that's how the BTCC is likely to shape up for 2010. Therefore be sure to return to Motorsport.com after the media day for definite news on who will be in and out for what promises to be another action packed season.