NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 2/3/98 QUALITY AND QUANTITY FOR '98 BTCC The Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship underlined its continuing position as the world's pre- eminent touring car series...
NEWS FROM THE AUTO TRADER RAC BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP 2/3/98
QUALITY AND QUANTITY FOR '98 BTCC
The Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship underlined its continuing position as the world's pre- eminent touring car series with the announcement today (Mon) of the official entry list for the 1998 BTCC, which reveals no fewer than nine manufacturer teams ready to contest the series, plus a bigger entry of independent racers than has been seen for several years.
There are 24 driver names on the roster, 18 of them nominated by works teams. Among them are five former BTCC champions, a double touring car World Cup winner, three former F1 drivers and a host of talented championship winners from across the globe.
Alan Gow, chief executive of championship organiser TOCA, is delighted by the quality of the field: "Nine manufacturers, six independents - plus more to come - and eight countries represented by some of the best drivers in the world. And they will be watched by more than two billion people around the globe. With the new qualifying and race formats for '98 we are headed for an exciting and vintage year for the BTCC."
Biggest surprise is the two-car entry from 1994 BTCC champion Alfa Romeo, which will field a brace of 156s for former Ferrari Grand Prix star Nicola Larini and his countryman Fabrizio Giovanardi. However, the Alfas won't be battle-ready until later in the season.
Leading the entry list is last year's runaway championship victor Alain Menu, who returns to defend his crown - and the manufacturer and team titles won by Renault - with the help of his young British team-mate Jason Plato, the rookie sensation of 1997. Like Alfa Romeo, Volvo has drafted in some ex-Ferrari F1 talent to assist in its quest for BTCC success; Italian Gianni Morbidelli will partner supercool Swede Rickard Rydell in the team's S40 racers.
There's more ex-F1 talent on the roster in the shape of former Renault and Lotus Grand Prix team leader Derek Warwick, who will once again partner BTCC double champion John Cleland in the Vauxhall squad. Ford's assault on the championship is led by 1991 BTCC champion Will Hoy, with Kiwi multiple tin-top champion Craig Baird his running mate.
Audi, the '96 champion team, return with a two-wheel- drive version of the A4, to be piloted by French ace Yvan Muller and talented young Brit John Bintcliffe, while Honda's youthful squad features Brit hotshoe James Thompson and Dutch driver Peter Kox.
Peugeot, meanwhile, has opted for the experienced hands of Britain's Tim Harvey, the 1992 British champion, and New Zealander Paul Radisich, twice the FIA Touring Car World Cup winner, while the Nissan team's unchanged driver line-up features Scottish pairing David Leslie and Anthony Reid.
But the talent doesn't stop with the works teams, for there are six top names lined up to do battle for the cash-rich Independents' Cup and - thanks to the equalisation of tyre supply between the teams - bid for overall honours. Heading the charge for the UKpounds100,000 top prize is 1997's top independent (and 1990 overall champ) Robb Gravett, whose Honda will this year be run by the Brookes Motorsport team. Another former independent champion, Matt Neal, is to return with an ex-works Nissan Primera.
But both these regulars will face a stern challenge from Scandinavia in the shape of Norwegian hot-shot Tommy Rustad, who will run one of last year's dominant Renault Lagunas under the DC Cook banner, and his countryman Roger Moen, who steps up with the Mardi Gras team to campaign a Honda Accord. Swede Jan Brunstedt is expected to contest a handful of races in his privately run Opel.
Former Volkswagen Vento VR6 Champion Mark Lemmer is the sixth and final independent. The Surrey ace will campaign an ex-works Vauxhall, his prize for finishing third in last year's BTCC-supporting Vectra Challenge. A further entry, the Toyota Corolla being developed by Andy Rouse Engineering, is also expected to appear later in the championship.
The 26-round Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship blasts into life on Easter Monday (Apr 13) at the Thruxton circuit in Hampshire. Every race of the series is to be screened by BBC Grandstand, six of them live, and there will be an international TV audience in excess of two billion.
l All the 1998 BTCC competitors will assemble in London for the official championship media day on March 24. Media not yet accredited should contact Jonathan Gill or Nick Garton on 0171 384 2121.
1998 Auto Trader RAC British Touring Car Championship - entry list 1 Alain Menu Switz Nescafe Blend 37 Williams Renault Renault Laguna 3 Jason Plato GB Nescafe Blend 37 Williams Renault Renault Laguna 4 Rickard Rydell Swe Volvo S40 Racing Volvo S40 5 James Thompson GB Team Honda Sport Honda Accord 7 John Bintcliffe GB Audi Sport UK Audi A4 8 David Leslie GB Vodafone Nissan Racing Nissan Primera GT 9 Tim Harvey GB Esso Ultron Team Peugeot Peugeot 406 11 Paul Radisich NZ Esso Ultron Team Peugeot Peugeot 406 12 Yvan Muller Fra Audi Sport UK Audi A4 14 Gianni Morbidelli It Volvo S40 Racing Volvo S40 16 Mark Lemmer GB Mint Motorsport Vauxhall Vectra 17 Roger Moen Nor Team Honda Norway/ Mardi Gras Motorsport Honda Accord 19 Jan Brunstedt Swe Janco Motorsport Opel Vectra 21 Tommy Rustad Nor DC Cook Motorsport Renault Laguna 23 Anthony Reid GB Vodafone Nissan Racing Nissan Primera GT 29 Robb Gravett GB Brookes Motorsport/ Rock-It Cargo Honda Accord 32 Will Hoy GB Ford Mondeo Racing Ford Mondeo 33 Craig Baird NZ Ford Mondeo Racing Ford Mondeo 50 Peter Kox NL Team Honda Sport Honda Accord 56 Nicola Larini It Alfa Romeo Alfa 156 57 Fabrizio Giovanardi It Alfa Romeo Alfa 156 77 Matt Neal GB Team Dynamics Max Power Racing Nissan Primera GT 88 Derek Warwick GB Vauxhall Sport Vauxhall Vectra 98 John Cleland GB Vauxhall Sport Vauxhall Vectra
-- Official BTCC website www.btcc.co.uk