Pat Cranham, BTCC correspondent
Independent racer gets new machinery for 2012
Just a week following MG’s big arrival on the British Touring Car Championship scene, it was announced today that fellow manufacturer Chevrolet and Ray Mallock limited the men behind the team and will not compete in the 2012 season.
Lead driver Jason Plato has already departed for the MG project but it had widely been expected that the second team driver Alex MacDowall would be in at least one New Generation Chevrolet Cruze prepared by RML. However both RML and Chevrolet have confirmed that they will be not seen in the BTCC for 2012, instead choosing to focus on defending their World Touring Car Championship titles. It is believed that MacDowall has offers either to stay in Britain or compete in the WTCC.
We understand Chevrolet’s decision...
After a successful decade in the 1990s by winning in the Super Touring era with Vauxhall and then Nissan, RML made a return to the BTCC in 2004 running Plato and Rob Huff in a works Seat team winning 9 races. For 2005 RML secured a works Chevrolet deal in the WTCC with Huff joining them where he remains today, and Plato continuing for Seat.
Plato remained with Seat until they withdrew in 2008 and it looked unlikely that he would compete in 2009 until RML stepped in just days before the start of the season with a Chevrolet Lacetti left over from their WTCC campaign. Originally a one off race Plato scored a race win at Brands Hatch during that opening meeting and he then secured sponsorship from Silverline for the season and was joined at Thruxton the next even by Matt Jackson. Yet another Lacetti was found for James Nash and RML enjoyed a hugely successful season winning 10 races in all including a treble victory for Plato at the final meeting at Brands Hatch.
For 2010 RML upgraded to the new Chevrolet Cruze which was introduced to the 2009 WTCC championship and received full Chevrolet backing with MacDowall joining Plato who went on to take BTCC drivers title. The same combination continued for 2011 but despite Plato taking the most victories in 8 the Chevrolet’s were no match for the quicker Turbo’s with Chevrolet reluctant to upgrade themselves to the quicker Turbo.
The New Generation Touring Car era is no doubt set to be a huge success for the British championship however sadly on this occasion with the regulations now different to the World Series this has proved the downfall in the case of Chevrolet. The WTCC has always been the priority for Chevrolet and with the new regulations in the BTCC the team would have to put a lot more resources in order to develop a brand new car and engine to the new regulations where as previously the BTCC had always received the following year’s WTCC car.
RML’s managing Director George Lendrum understands Chevrolet’s decision to pull out of the UK but underlines the fact that RML still has BTCC in their plans and said, “We understand Chevrolet’s decision to concentrate its motorsport programme on the WTCC in 2012. Despite the fact that we won't be involved in 2012, RML remain long term supporters of the BTCC and hope to be back in the future.”
Meanwhile in more positive news for the series it was recently announced that Independent racer Lea Wood and his family run Central Group Racing team have purchased Andrew Jordan’s Turbo powered Pirtek Racing Vectra from last season to compete in this year’s championship.
Wood a former silhouette sportscar champion first joined the series in 2009 following a spell in the Clio Cup Championship. Despite racing in an older BTCC-spec Honda Integra Wood has impressed immensely over the last two years with his highlight undoubtedly being a 7th place in tricky conditions at Oulton Park last year.
Wood now clearly believes following obtaining a race winning car that regular points are a serious possibility and said, “We’ve got a proven race and championship-winning car in the Vauxhall Vectra and 2012 is going to be very exciting, awesome even. I think Eurotech and Andrew Jordan got the best out of the car and we’d like to keep it up there. We’d like to be up at the sharp end a bit more and, as a lot of the teams will be out with new NGTC-spec cars, we hope to capitalise on that during the first few rounds while they find their feet.
“Of course, the NGTC cars will be running larger tyres and brakes so we might experience more ‘drop-off’ towards the end of the races, but I still believe aiming for regular top ten finishes is a sensible plan. We’re looking to begin testing in the next three weeks, but we’re just waiting to finalise a few deals. The Vectra will be a completely new challenge for me as a driver and for my team. There’s no doubt it’ll more technical than the BTC-spec Integra but it’ll be quite exciting to work with and to see what we can do – I have a great race engineer in Dave Longhurst who has over 25 years of experience in motor sport who does nothing but race preparation, so I’m sure he can extract a lot from the car,” added Wood/
Despite the setback of Chevrolet withdrawing for 2012 this season still promises to be one of the best in the series history and record grids are still expected. With many teams and drivers set to be announced in the next few weeks be sure to return to Motorsport.com for all you BTCC news prior to the official Media day on March the 19th.