This weekend sees the return of Britain's premier racing series at the fastest circuit in the country. The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championships visits Thruxton in Hampshire for the opening rounds of the 2010 season in what promises to be...
This weekend sees the return of Britain's premier racing series at the fastest circuit in the country. The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championships visits Thruxton in Hampshire for the opening rounds of the 2010 season in what promises to be just as dramatic season as last year.
Long term rivals Jason Plato and Matt Neal head the entry list in their works entered Chevrolet and Honda, respectively, but cars from BMW, Ford, Vauxhall, Seat will be present and also a Volkswagen on the grid for the first time since 1989. Out of these seven marquees there will be some nine different models making up a bumper 23-car grid with a total of eight drivers having stepped on the top of the podium during their BTCC careers.
Plato will start the season as title favourite in his Silverline Chevrolet Cruze and must be a good bet for a win this coming weekend, which will take him closer to BTCC legend Andy Rouse's all time BTCC record which he is just seven wins away from. Chevrolet last season always seemed to have the quickest engine in the Lacetti and with speeds approaching 140mph at the high-speed circuit that could prove all the difference.
Pushing Plato hard will be the BMW's from Airwaves BMW and West Surrey Racing. Airwaves have their best opportunity to challenge for overall glory this year with 2008 BTCC runner-up Mat Jackson, who is returning to a BMW since his championship season when he ran for his family's team. Jackson will be ably backed up by Steven Kane who returns to the team that he ran with in 2008. Kane graduated with Airwaves to the BTCC after running in the Porsche Carrera Cup with them. He produced many good performances in 2008. Kane secured several podiums and out scored teammate Rob Collard that year. With a best position of second place. Kane must expect and will target for wins this season.
Heading up WSR's title defence will be Collard who has jumped ship from Motorbase, after last season's champion Colin Turkington sadly couldn't find the sponsorship to defend his title. Collard will have plenty of support this weekend as it is his home circuit and said, "This has all the makings of a phenomenal event, both for the drivers and the public. It's been six months since last year's final round so every driver will be fired up to get their season off to a good start - that can often lead to some very dramatic action, possibly even more so this year as Thruxton is a really high speed circuit. There could be some very hairy moments. Thruxton is also one of the BTCC's best circuits in terms of atmosphere and viewing. It always pulls a huge crowd."
The two time winner from last year clearly has more success on his mind for this season starting off at Thruxton and finished by saying, "I had two race wins last season and was briefly looking at challenging for the title, this year I've given myself the best chance possible by driving for WSR, the reigning champions. Although Bizarrely, Thruxton's not been too kind to me in the past but this year I'm aiming to put all that right."
There should be a third BMW team out of multiple John Cooper Challenge winners, Forster Motorsport. Although the team faces a major battle for the season opener after Martin Depper's car suffered a power plant failure at a previous test, before media day, at Croft. Arthur Forster's car then had an oil leak during media day and managed just 12 official laps all day. Both engines have been returned to Schnitzer in Germany and they face a race against time to have them ready.
Although not present at media day, Triple 8 Racing announced that they would be returning to the series with two Vauxhall Vectras without manufacturer support. Since then, the team have unsurprisingly announced that 2009 Clio Cup driver Phil Glew will race for the team and will continue his battle with, runner-up in that series, Alex McDowall, who will of course drive the second Chevrolet Cruze for Silverline Chevrolet.
Glew tested the Vectra, which will use the S2000 engine previously at Rockingham, and said,"I am over the moon to finally get my chance to move into the BTCC after such a successful season last year and especially with such a prestigious team as Triple Eight Race Engineering. I tested for the team two weeks ago and was blown away by how professional they were and I knew straight away that this was the place for me. We had to work really hard since the test to put a deal together with the team and I am delighted that my current sponsors WD-40 and 3-IN-ONE as well as new sponsor, paint company Glasurit, will be supporting us for the 2010 BTCC season.
"I am extremely excited about making my debut at Thruxton, but it is going to be a steep learning curve especially with no opportunity to test the car. I am going to be thrown in right at the deep end and will have to make the most of the two free practice sessions on Saturday morning, but I am looking forward to the challenge and learning from Triple Eight's experience as the season unfolds," added Glew.
Team Boss Ian Harrison is pleased to have Glew on the team and, after he took 11 victories in 20 Clio races last season, thinks he can make it in the BTCC by saying, "I'm really pleased to have Phil on board the Vectra this season. Although he will be starting with very little preparation time, his track record in Clios will stand him in good stead."
No news has been announced yet who or if a second car will be out at Thruxton. Last season's Formula Renault winner Dean Smith tested the car along with Glew at Rockingham but it is believed he favours the single-seater route whilst there as been no news on the rumours that former double champion Fabrizio Giovanardi will return to the Triple 8 Racing team whom he won his championships with.
We might see a Ford back on the top step of the podium for the first time since 2000 under the old Super Touring era. Last year the Ford Focus entered the series for the first time under Arena Motorsport but they were short of development work and testing. After a miracle turn around at the end of last season, Team Aon now go into the season bang on the pace with LPG power and, with two previous winners in Tom Chilton and Tom Onslow-Cole, wins must be just around the corner.
The biggest surprise at Thruxton may come from fan favourite Paul O'Neill. O'Neill was running second last year when a cruel puncture denied him of glory. Despite that set back O'Neill went on to score a podium at Snetterton and many other top-ten finishes. The Honda Integra may be near the end of its life span but it has always been one of the cars to beat around Thruxton, most famously known for where Dan Eaves scored a Hat Trick of wins way back in 2005.
Thruxton marks the dawning of a new era with the introduction of the NGTC turbo charged engines, which will be part of the new generation of touring cars that came into existence next season. There will be two of these engines in use this weekend driven by Andrew Jordan and Dave Pinkney, both in Vectras
Thruxton is a firm favourite with fans and drivers and is simply known as the fastest circuit in the country. Even so the fastest circuit in the country, the Airfield circuit also has two slow chicanes that will make or break one's lap. The first is at the complex where you have a left, right, left at Campbell, Cobb and Segrave. The exit out of Segrave is vital as this will determine the speed for the ultra fast flat bits around the back of the circuit, where they will only lift slightly around Church, the fastest corner in Britain, before making the climb up Woodham Hill. Here they will reach almost 140mph ahead of breaking heavily down to just over 50mph for the tight Chicane of Club, where plenty of thrills and spills are guaranteed, taking them over the start/finish line ready for another roller coaster lap.
So stay tuned on Motorsport.com for all the results and images from Thruxton and for the entire season, in what promises to be another unpredictable and explosive year in the BTCC where, according to series director, the only winner will be "the public".