The British Touring Car Championship took central stage at this year's annual Autosport International Show held at the Birmingham NEC with the stunning NGTC Toyota Avensis, that James Thompson drove at Brands Hatch's final meeting, on prime...
BTCC Takes Centre Stage at AIS
The British Touring Car Championship took central stage at this year's annual Autosport International Show held at the Birmingham NEC with the stunning NGTC Toyota Avensis, that James Thompson drove at Brands Hatch's final meeting, on prime position on the main Autosport Show.
The former double BTCC champion debuted the first all NGTC car at last years final BTCC meeting at Brands Hatch causing great reaction from teams and fans alike, with not only the way it looked but with the way it went instantly getting on the pace of the front runners finishing less than a second off the quickest time in Free Practice 2.
Since then the GPR Motorsport developed car has been snapped up by a couple of new teams hitting the big time for the first time elevating from Ginetta G50's.
The first team to announce that they were to run the car was Speedworks driven by their regular driver Tony Hughes whilst also stating they should have a second car on the grid as well. The second team was that of Dynojet and they will have at the wheel Frank Wrathall who drove for them last year on his way to the Ginetta G50 title last season.
GPR are clearly going to have their hands full before the start of the season after it was announced before Christmas that they have been commissioned ex Formula 3 racer Rob Austin's team to build a pair of Audi A4's. This will mark the return of an Audi to the grid for the first time since leaving the championship at the end of the 1998 season after 3 successful years in the championship, which included Frank Biela winning the championship in their first season back in 1996.
No news has been made yet upon the drivers although Austin himself has not ruled himself out of the drive but the team hope to announce the driver line up shortly and start testing at the beginning of March.
Over the course of the show several drivers are due to take to the Autosport stage, however its not just the drivers with BTCC boss Alan Gow taking to the stage talking about the current state of the BTCC which he rates very highly by saying, "It is a bigger draw than it has been this century, It is getting bigger all the time, we have a fantastic array of new cars coming out, we have great TV package with ITV. Everything is in place to grow the championship again."
He then went on to say about the stunning NGTC Avensis in front of him and what the new NGTC era has to offer by saying that, "it will be cheaper, faster and better looking. We are not trying to make a racecar out of a production car - it is a proper racecar underneath. There is no reason why it should not have been quicker and this is just a beginning of development - there will be five cars on the grid to full NGTC spec - and the cars will get quicker and quicker all the time."
One of the biggest unveilings of the day was that of Shaun Hollamby's AmD Miltek.com VW Golf which has gone under extensive development over the winter and now looking better than ever he believes it's finally ready to take on the big boys.
As well as looking more aggressive the changes are not just to the outside of the car with Hollamby changing to an all-new NGTC engine. Speaking to him personally at the show Hollamby said, "looking at the diagnostics at the workshop the car now appears to be putting out the same horse power as the rest of the pack. To put into perspective last season at Snetterton I was actually 12kmh down on my speed down the straight as I was in a Seat Production car in the Dunlop Sport Maxx, with the extra power the aim is now the top 10. All being well now we just need to finish putting in the engine which famous last word should be a straight forward job and the car has been pencilled in for a first run at Brands Hatch on March 9th"
Other instantly notable changes that can be seen on the Golf and indeed for all cars in 2011 is the removal of door numbers which will be put on the rear window. The changes have gone down with mixed reaction from the fans but when the question was put to BTCC chief Gow on the official btcc.net forum he explained that it was requested by the team to attract more sponsorship on the car.
Jason Plato's winning Chevrolet Cruze was on display on the Auto Glym stand and its widely expected that both will be back to defend their crown in 2011 using the same machinery as last season including the same S2000 engine. Plato will be one of the busiest men over the course of the show as he is one of the presenters in the Fifth Gear live action arena with fellow presenter of the TV car Show Tiff Needell as well as participating in various interviews around the show.
A third car has been rumoured to be in the offering with Mat Jackson one of the lead names to take the drive this was until a recent announcement that we will come to shortly. Alex MacDowall was the second driver last season and he along with a host of other top names from the world of Motorsport was at the show taking part in David Brabham's annual charity kart race.
Although no Ford Focus' were present at the show their engine developer Mountune were and they could have a busy time of things this season running at 4-6 cars with the big news from the winter that Motorsbase have bought all 3 Team Aon Fords and will run them next season under the name Airwaves Racing.
It was announced just prior to the show that Jackson would in fact carry on driving for the team along with BTCC newcomer Liam Griffin who has previously run in the VW cup and last year for Motorbase in the Porsche Cup.
Jackson who debuted in the BTCC back in the production cup with a Ford was delighted that the deal has come together so early and believes that this could help mount a serious title challenge and said, "I'm looking forward to having a direct input during the pre-season in helping the team to progress the car. Clearly that wasn't possible in 2010 because of how late our deal came together - this time we've got everything sorted early. The Focus last year proved to be a very quick car and I'd look to work with the team to move it on another step. There's a lot of testing the team has planned which can only be of benefit, plus I like what is happening behind the scenes at Motorbase."
Griffin who is managing director of London minicab firm Addison Lee in his day job one of Motorbase's main sponsors and although he admits it's a big step he's not in their to make up the number's and said, "I've got to be realistic about what I want to achieve. I was around 1.5s off the champion Tim Harvey's qualifying pace in Porsches. If I translate that over into the BTCC then part of me thinks with Motorbase and a Ford Focus then maybe I could be knocking on the door of the top ten. I certainly don't want to just make up the numbers; I'm in this to compete."
A third car is expected with 2010 racer Steven Kane, Ben Collins who drove the final meeting at Brands Hatch for the team and 2009 Porsche GB champion Tim Bridgeman the leading contenders for the drive with the latter two having tested for the team since the end of the season.
Team Aon have announced that they will be back linking up with Ford in a non-works deal in a bid to make a new shape Ford Focus that can compete in various Touring Car Championships around the world. Tom Chilton is all but confirmed for the drive with his Dad continuing to put in the Aon Sponsorship as he is one of the top chairmen within the company with images of Chilton working on the car already shown. However there is less certainty over the other driver Tom Onslow-Cole after he was twice ordered last year at Silverstone to allow Chilton through and may not been keen to work as a number 2 driver having shown great pace last season.
Other cars at the show included the Teams and Manufacturer winning car from 2010 the Honda Racing Civic displayed on the Team Dynamics stand and the WSR BMW on the Motorsport Vision stand.
Honda have already confirmed that they will enter the 2011 championship in the Civic although with an all new NGTC engine build by current engine developer Neil Brown. They were also quick to announce that current drivers Gordon Shedden and last year's runner up Matt Neal who was as ever present on his family run stand will remain with the team.
Less certain is WSR who were looking to be involved with a full works deal. However this now looks less likely but the car was at the show with Rob Collard's finishing position from 2010 on 8 and the number in the 2011 perhaps suggesting that the team will continue with Collard for 2011. Also the team were continuing to test at the end of 2010 in their BMW Collard who was seen walking around at the show and by club racer Nick Jones who apparently unfortunately had quite a smash in the car. Also spotted was team boss Dick Bennets with 2009 champion Colin Turkington with whom he won the title and raced successfully at selected rounds of the WTCC last season.
The show continues till Sunday with more news and interviews bound to circle, however away from the show recent BTCC news includes Andrew Jordan confirming that he will be back to lead a two car attack by Pirtek racing and he will be joined by ex Clio racer Jeff Smith who raced in a one off meeting for 888 last year at Knockhill and he has bought the car used by Dave Pinkney last season.
Another team expanding is Special Tuning after they announced they now have 4 Seat Leon's and could run all 4 this year powered by all new NGTC engines, which they are developing.
Also announced is that the equally awaited Media day will take place at Silverstone on the 24th March. With more teams certain to enter and other teams about to step up their testing for the current season stay logged onto Motorsport.com for all news and updates as the season starts to build up.