Preparation for the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship stepped up a gear after many of the leading teams tested during mixed conditions at Thruxton. With testing so limited at the Hampshire circuit, 7 teams decided to take the only opportunity to test prior to the real thing in May as they continue with their pre-season preparation.
The day was split up into four 55 minute sessions with the first session taking place in heavy rain, which gradually dried despite the odd shower as the day went on giving the teams some opportunity for some dry running.
Depper has one years experience in the BTCC after racing a BMW for Forster Motorsport in 2010 and spent much of the day learning the circuit; as in 2010 he missed the Thruxton event and previously has only competed limited laps at Thruxton during testing prior to that season.
After missing out on the drivers’ championship last season, Honda Yuasa Racing will be bidding to take back the crown after Matt Neal won it in 2011 and Gordon Shedden in 2012. Both drivers were out testing, Shedden in last year’s Civic hatch with Neal in the Civic Tourer Estate. This will be the first time that an Estate car has been used in the series since Volvo in 1994 and Honda hope it will quickly make history by becoming the first Estate car to win in the BTCC.
After previously testing the car at Rockingham, which was mainly for commercial/media purposes and a troubled day at Donington Park, Neal said it was nice to give the car its first positive although admits the car is currently around 0.7seconds off of the pace of the Civic Hatch. For many, title favourites this year will be the Triple 8 prepared MG after lead driver Jason Plato won the most races last season but missed out on the championship following a number of DNF’s. This will be the third year for the car with the team admitting that for the first time since it debuted major changes have been made for the season.
For 2014 last year’s drivers Plato and Sam Tordoff will be joined by former Formula 3 Champion Marc Hynes after he beat Jenson Button to that title in 1999. Hynes will drive under a separate team name for Triple 8 away from the main MG KX Momentum team and he was present testing his car along with Tordoff.
Following the announcement that West Surrey Racing/ eBay Motors have retained last year’s drivers Nick Foster, Rob Collard and 2009 BTCC champion Colin Turkington who makes it 7 BTCC champions on the grid for 2014, all 3 drivers were present testing. After a slow first few rounds with their new BMW 125i M-sport last year, Turkington went on to take 5 victories and only lost the title at the final race of 2013. Over the winter the team have made many changes to the car and hope to hit the ground running in 2014.
Last year fans favourite Rob Austin had a roller coaster of a season in his own prepared Audi A4. His opening race weekend of 2013 would sum up his season after taking a podium in race 1 he crashed heavily in race 3. The next few rounds would be a nightmare scoring just 2 points in 9 races before bursting back on the scene after the mid-season break scoring pole and a double podium at Knockhill before taking that hugely popular win at Rockingham.
Austin returns to the series for the 4th season now and for the first time he is enjoying a pre-season in his newly re-shelled car affectionately named Sherman. For this season Austin is to be run under the name of Exocet racing and was testing his stealth-like all black Audi after already having previously tested at Silverstone, Oulton and Donington.
Making their BTCC debut in 2014 will be leading GT team United Autosports. They will enter a pair of Toyota Avensis for former British GT champion Glynn Geddie and James Cole who drove for Team Hard in the first half of last year in a Vauxhall Insgnia. One car has been purchased from Dynojet and the second car is still currently being built. Driving duties fell to former Formula Ford champion Cole as the team enjoyed their first test of 2014 and a trouble free day.
The teams now will continue with their various testing programmes before the start of the season, however key dates to look out for are March 11th at Brands Hatch, with most teams expected there for general testing set aside for BTCC teams, and the 18th of March where the season will be officially unveiled at Donington Park for the annual media day which will include an official test for all the teams.