Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
With just 6 weeks until the official unveiling of the 2012 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship at Silverstone, we at Motorsport.com have decided to make your life easier by showing you clearly who is in and out for 2012, as well as showing the deals that are likely to happen before Media day.
We start off at triple-champions Honda Racing. They were one of the first to confirm their plans for 2012 when the team announced before rounds 19, 20 and 21 that they will build and run 2 all new Honda Civics, built to full New Generation Touring Car regulations with current drivers BTCC champion Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden and continuing with the team.
There will be two other Honda Civics on the grid built by Team Dynamics, the men behind the works Honda outfit for Pirtek Racing, who will be continuing with drivers Andrew Jordan and Jeff Smith.
The biggest announcement over the winter was from Triple Eight Racing after they confirmed that they have secured a works MG contract. This will be the first in a 3-year deal and they will run under the name of MG KX Momentum Racing. Leading their attack will be Jason Plato with Andy Neate joining the double champion from Team Aon.
Plato departs RML Chevrolet after the team announced that they will not be competing this year, deciding to concentrate instead on the World Touring Car Championship. Second driver Alex Macdowall will either continue to race for RML and move to the WTCC, or stay in the BTCC, after having confirmed that he has an up and coming test for Motorbase at Brands Hatch. MacDowall commented to Autosport, "That is when the decision will be made, the drive with Motorbase is really the only option available to me in BTCC now for this season, so it's all down to the test as to whether I will remain in the championship."
After originally putting all of their 3 Ford Focus’ up for sale Motorbase, or Airwaves Racing, have confirmed that they will run all 3 cars for 2012. Apart from MacDowall who is set to test the car it’s almost certain that Mat Jackson will continue with the team. Meanwhile Michael Caine, who drove for two rounds with the team last year, is set to stay with the team, although it’s not confirmed whether this is in the BTCC team or the Porsche team, while last season’s other driver Liam Griffin is also in the frame.
Motorbase are set to be the only Ford team in the BTCC this year after Team Aon made the decision to join the WTCC. Regular driver Tom Chilton will continue to drive for them and he will be joined by current Independent driver champion James Nash. Nash is delighted to be making the step up and driving against some of the biggest names in Touring Cars with Ford and said, "Taking the step up into the WTCC is a great challenge and very exciting. The whole Team Aon and Ford package is fantastic. With Ford's support and Team Aon's detailed knowledge of the car I'm hugely looking forward to what I hope will be another rewarding season."I can't wait to go wheel to wheel with people like three-time World Champion Yvan Muller, Rob Huff, Alain Menu and Gabriele Tarquini. I've grown up watching them race and I'm itching to get behind the wheel and make my own mark too."
With Neate already confirmed at MG that leaves Team Aon’s third driver Tom Onslow-Cole without a drive. Onslow-Cole has confirmed the BTCC is where he wants to stay in the series and is working hard on securing the budget and said, "All my personal backing is in the BTCC and I really enjoy the championship. It's growing each year and I think it's the place to be. I'm still trying to raise budget and am speaking to teams."
All my personal backing is in the BTCC and I really enjoy the championship.
One of those teams Onslow-Cole could be talking to is Special Tuning Racing (STR). Onslow-Cole tested for the team before the start of last season and the team have confirmed they will make the most of their 4 Seat Leon’s for 2012. They have already confirmed that regular driver Tom Boardman will be competing in a two car team for the WTCC but STR also confirmed that they hope to have another two cars competing in the BTCC.
Last seasons' other STR driver, Dave Newsham, has already confirmed that he will join Chris James at ES Racing driving in last seasons' Triple Eight Racings Vauxhall Vectra. There will definitely be a third Vauxhall Vectra on the grid with Lea Wood and his Central Racing Group having purchased Jordan’s Pirtek Racing Vectra from last year.
One of the stars from last year, Frank Wrathall, is all but confirmed to continue with Dynojet as they will have the second generation NGTC Toyota Avensis. There will be two more Toyota Avensis’, albeit last seasons' spec cars belonging to Speedworks. Last years' driver Tony Hughes will be joined by Ginetta Supercar champion Adam Morgan who receives his drive as prize for winning that championship.
There will also be 3 other teams using full NGTC cars. Rob Austin Racing will return with his two Audi A4’s with Rob Austin himself hoping to be at the wheel. It's believed that he is in talks with 2009 BTCC champion Colin Turkington, although nothing has been made official. Dan Welch will return in an updated Proton Gen 2 belonging to his father’s former Rallycross champion John’s Welch Motorsport, while there is also some talk of a second car. The final team is Thorney Motorsport. They had hoped to run at the final race of the year at Silverstone but were restricted to just a handful of formation laps for team boss John Thorne in his Vauxhall Insignia. Again like Welch Motorsport, Thorney Motorsport originally stated their intention to run two cars but whether this happens remains to be seen.
The final driver confirmed at present is Ollie Jackson. Jackson drove the final two meetings of the year for Triple 8 and he has confirmed that he will compete for a full season for AMD Miltek who will compete for a third season in their VW Golf.
Now we will have a look at the teams that are likely but yet to be confirmed. First up is West Surrey Racing (WSR). WSR have been ever present in the series since 2001 and again it looks likely they will be running at least 2 BMW’s. Its likely that current driver line up of Rob Collard and Nick Foster will remain. However, reports suggest that WSR have been working on their own Turbo engine to give the BMW so much needed extra speed.
We should also have another BMW team on the grid that belongs to Geoff Steel Racing (GSR), GSR had an on/off season last year entering the first two meetings of the year with Newsham before his departure to STR, while Tony Gilham came in for the final three meetings including the final one with a Turbo engine. Despite GSR having one of their two cars for sale it now seems likely that they will enter just one car, with Gilham likely to continue with an announcement due any day now.
Over the winter there has been little news from Tech-speed. Last year they ran Chevrolet Cruzes for fans' favourite Paul O’Neill and John George under the name of Go Mobile. Despite the lack of news it’s likely that the team will return with the Swindon powered Turbo engine under the bonnet. Although budget does seem to be tight with the team and O’Neill, they seem likely to be relying on a team sponsor which perhaps could come from Sunshine.co.uk, a long term supporter of both O’Neill and Tech-speed.
It is also likely that we will see one of the RML Chevrolet Cruzes from last year. This was after an advert appeared on E-bay from a team advertising sponsorship for a 2012 BTCC campaign. In the advert it states they will be running the car with the TOCA engine and it’s believed that they are already halfway there to securing their budget for 2012. The team in question is Hawken Racing, which is run by Richard Hawken, a long-term competitor running an old Super Touring Nissan Primera in a Eurosaloon championship. Its unknown whether Hawken will be at the wheel himself or another driver will come in.
The final team we will look at is TH Motorsport. They ran George up until 2010 when they ran Matt Hamilton for the first 4 meetings that year. They originally stated that they would enter Hamilton in an NGTC Skoda Octavia. However, the deal has hit the rocks after a Sponsor pulled out. Its believed the project never really got going and it seems very unlikely we will see the team unless they manage to get a S2000 car with a Turbo engine.
So as you can see things are shaping up nicely for 2012. Despite the loss of some teams and drivers to the WTCC we are still expecting a grid of around 27-30 cars. With many of the stories mentioned likely to happen in the next few weeks be sure to stay logged onto Motorsport.com for news as soon as it breaks as the start of 2012 draws ever closer.