A look ahead at the BTCC championship after on track testing this weekend.
The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship is hotting up after the majority of teams took the opportunity to test at Brands Hatch, the place for the opening race of the season in under 3 weeks. In total 9 teams took to the Kent circuit that included 5 BTCC Champions.
Since reporting on the Thruxton general testing in February, teams have continued on their pre-season preparations testing at various circuits across the country most notably Snetterton and Oulton Park.
After becoming 2013 BTCC Champion Andrew Jordan hasn’t sat back admiring his crown and has had an extensive pre-season trying to improve his championship winning Honda Civic from last year. Jordan has looked quick during pre-season and at Brands Hatch was no exception where he remarked, “I don’t know where the others are, but I know what we’re doing!” New team mate Martin Depper wasn’t present although he did test alongside Jordan at Snetterton and Oulton Park over the past couple of weeks.
While Pirtek Racing continue with the Civic hatch the works Honda Yuasa Racing team have switched to the all new Civic Tourer as they enter an estate car for the first time since Volvo in 1994. Following the Thruxton test, where only 1 Tourer was on track, 2012 BTCC Champion Gordon Shedden has now received his 2014 machine having already tested it at Brands Hatch, Snetterton and Oulton Park. Once again the pair returned to test at Brands Hatch with triple BTCC champion Matt Neal featuring last year’s livery while Shedden appeared in a plain livery before this year’s final livery gets unveiled at next week’s Media day.
Speaking on his day Neal said, “It’s been a really positive day and it’s nice to have a little bit of a benchmark, The others aren’t going to make you go faster, and they’re not going to give you their data to compare, but it’s nice to see where you’re at and if you’re in the hunt.” Shedden said that the test was vital to move forward following the switch in car shapes and said, “The most important thing is that together we’ve got the best package to try and hone going forwards. We’re trying to get as much out of it as possible, but it is a very different animal to the hatchback.”
The series is certainly in its best health since the mid 1990’s and Turkington fully admits that his 2014 competition is better than ever and said, “The level of competition this year is extremely high. But it’s never easy in this championship, it’s never an easy year, so we just have to focus on our own car, and give the best performance each time. It’ll be good to win a race at the opening round; I have that surely in the forefront of my mind.”
The final Champion on track yesterday was the returning 2007/08 Champion Fabrizio Giovanardi as he continues to get used to his new team Airwaves Racing. The Italian has now completed a number of tests for his new team and although he is getting a better feeling for the car/team admits there is plenty still to be worked on and said, “The feeling is getting better as I start to understand the car. When you restart a new championship with a different car after four years it’s difficult, but step-by-step I think we’ll be ready. There is always competition, you need other cars just to compare yourself, or you don’t know where you are. I can tell you that we have to work, but I’m not scared. It’s difficult to say who is fast, Jordan has to be because he is he champ, and Matt Neal obviously because I know him.”
Giovanardi was joined by Motorbase’s new signing Jack Clarke. Clarke has already tested the car at Brands Hatch and Snetterton however this was his first test as an official BTCC driver following last week’s announcement. The former F2 racer will race separately from the main Airwaves Racing team under the name of Crabbie’s Racing with the Ginger beer Company sponsoring him for 2014. Clarke appeared for the first time yesterday in his lime green machine as he continues for his first year of tin top racing.
Tom Onslow-Cole was set for the seat with promotional shots already having taken part; however he has now opted to for the time being to pursue a career in sports cars. Regular Motorbase driver Mat Jackson now must be the favourite for the drive, although it is unsure if he can secure the budget to do so.
3 of the 4 Toyota teams were present at Brands Hatch with Speedworks, Handy Motorsport and United Autosports all in action. Speedworks had been set for a two car team but are now only set to run the hugely promising youngster Tom Ingram, who has won all 3 Ginetta titles on his way to the BTCC. Speedworks have now sold their second Toca BTCC Licence for 2014 to 2013 Jack Sears Trophy Champion Lea Wood, who is in the middle of building a brand new Toyota Avensis which he will run under the name of Housemann Racing. Speedworks will also be heavily involved in the Handy Motorsport Avensis, which will be driven by former Clio racer Simon Belcher who makes his BTCC debut.
The final Toyota team present was front running British GT squad United Autosports with driver James Cole and former British GT Champion Glynn Geddie. This will be the first time the team have run in the BTCC however they are certainly making sure they are ready for the season with a packed testing programme that included a back to back 4 day test recently completing 2 days at Snetterton before visiting Brands Hatch and Silverstone.
The final two teams present were AmD Tuning.com and Ciceley Racing. AmD will run former Speedworks driver Dave Newsham having switched from their S2000 VW Golf to a Motorbase Ford Focus while Ciceley Racing will run under the name Wix Racing having caused quite a stir by running a Mercedes for the first time in the BTCC for regular driver Adam Morgan.
Very close to Jordan were 2 of the 3 BMW’s while United Autosports also reported similar times as did the two works Hondas, although they were perhaps a tenth slower as they got to grips with their new Civic Tourer.
Biggest buzz around the paddock however was that of Adam Morgan after he completed a 3 lap qualifying simulation, with all 3 laps believed to be under the 49second barrier with a best of around 48.5, although as already mentioned no times were official.
The day took place practically trouble free with only a couple of incidents/red flags after Simon Belcher went off on cold tyres at Druids very lightly hitting the barriers, with Dave Newsham bringing out the other, 30minutes to the end going straight on at Clearways hitting the barriers damaging the front of his AmD Ford Focus.
As for the other two BTCC champions on the grid for 2014 Alain Menu and Jason Plato they were also in action yesterday at different circuits.
The returning Alain Menu was at Croft as his newly re-named Chrome edition Restart Racing team were in the middle of a 3 day test at the Yorkshire circuit in his VW Passat CC, while for the second week running Jason Plato and his KX Momentum Racing were at Oulton Park where last week they were reported as being extremely quick.
At present no-one really knows who is the man to beat as no times are available during pre-season testing, however we should have a better idea next week, as the series gets officially unveiled to the Media next Tuesday at Donington Park which will be followed by an official 4hr test for all competitors.
Motorsport.com will also be present for the official unveiling of the 2014 Championship and will bring you all the news and photos of the new cars following next weeks event.