The sixth running of the annual FIA European Touring Car Cup starts this weekend at the Portuguese circuit of Braga, the opening round of 3 weekend series.

2010 sees the annual event expand from a single, stand alone race weekend towards the end of the season to a mini Championship, with races being held in Portugal, Austria and Italy. The German Round has been cancelled due to a clash with the WTCC and BTCC.

Braga held the event last year, which saw James Thompson claim the overall honours, and helped the MSA take the Nations cup, while Latvian driver Marcis Birkins took the Super Production title with the S1600 title heading the way of Carsten Seifert.

The Previous winners since 2005:

Year Venue S2000 Winner Super Production Winner S1600 Winner
2005 Vallelunga, Italy Richard Goransson, BMW 320i Lorenzo Falessi, Alfa Romeo 147 N/A
2006 Estoril, Portugal Ryan Sharp, Seat Leon Alexander Lvov, Honda Civic N/A
2007 Adria, Italy Michel Nykjaer, Seat Leon Aleksey Basov, Honda Civic Jens-Guido Weimann, Ford Fiesta
2008 Salzburgring, Austria Michel Nykjaer, Chevrolet Lacetti Fabio Fabiani, BMW 320i Ralf Martin, Ford Fiesta
2009 Braga, Portugal James Thompson, Honda Accord Marcis Birkins, Honda Civic Type R Carsten Seifert, Ford Fiesta

The 2010 running sees all of the 2009 Champions return to defend their titles, James Thompson in his Honda Accord Euro R, which is run by leading Danish outfit Hartmann Racing, and is joined in the team by Swede Tomas Engstrom, who races for Swedish Honda team Engstrom Motorsport. Engstrom is the only driver to have competed in all of the previous editions of the ETCC.

Marcis Birkens returns in his Honda Civic Type R, looking to retain the crown he won at Braga last year, but will face opposition from Italian Fabio Fabiani, who won the crown in 2008, at the wheel of a BMW 320i.

In the S1600 Category, Carsten Seifert is back, looking to retain the crown in his Fiesta, but will face competition from fellow Fiesta pilots Jens Lohnig and Florian Heitmeier.

Other noticeable entrants for this year's ETCC include WTCC Independent regulars Marin Colak in his Petrol powered Seat Leon, WTCC Independents Champions Sunred Engineering with a brace of Leons for young Russian driver Timur Sanredinov and Frenchman Michael Rossi.

Kristian Poulsen has entered at the wheel of his BMW 320si E90, and Turkish driver Ibrahim Okyay has joined the grid in his BMW, and his team, Borusan Otomotiv Motorsport are looking for funds to enter fellow Turk Aytac Biter at the Salzburgring and Franciacorta.

A trio of BMW 320i E46 have been entered for the Protasov family, Father Leonid, Son Yuriy and Daughter Irina, and they are being run by the Bevz Kostantyn outfit.

The official FIA ETCC Entry list:

Number Driver Nationality Team Car Class
1 James Thompson GBR Hartmann Honda Racing Honda Accord Euro R S2000
2 Tomas Engstrom SWE Hartmann Honda Racing Honda Accord Euro R S2000
3 Marin Colak CRO Colak Racing team Seat Leon 2.0 TFSi S2000
5 Irina Protasov UKR Bevz Kostantyn BMW 320i E46 S2000
6 Yuriy Protasov UKR Bevz Kostantyn BMW 320i E46 S2000
7 Leonid Protasov UKR Bevz Kostantyn BMW 320i E46 S2000
8 Timur Sadredinov RUS Sunred Engineering Seat Leon 2.0 TFSi S2000
9 Cesar Campanico POR Novadriver Racing Team BMW 320si E90 S2000
11 Kristian Poulsen DEN Poulsen Racing BMW 320si E90 S2000
12 Michael Rossi FRE Sunred Engineering Seat Leon 2.0 TFSi S2000
13 Ibrahim Okyay TUR Borusan Otomotiv Motorsport BMW 320si E90 S2000
14 Francisco Cavalho POR Sports & You Seat Leon 2.0 TFSi S2000
51 Marcis Birkins LAT SC Papa's Racing Team Honda Civic Type R Super Production
52 Fabio Fabiani ITA F. Motorsport BMW 320i E46 Super Production
71 Carsten Seifert GER NK Racing Ford Fiesta ST S1600
72 Jens Lohnig GER ATM Racing Ford Fiesta ST S1600
73 Florian Heitmeier GER NK Racing Ford Fiesta ST S1600

Looking ahead to Braga – local drivers Cesar Campanico and Francisco Cavalho will both be looking for a positive start to the Championship, and hoping that local track knowledge will give them an advantage come race day.

The weekend will see three test sessions held on the Friday for the competitors to learn the track and find the best set up, before a 30 minute practice session on the Saturday.

The teams will then head into qualifying, another 30 minute session. This will decide the grid for the opening race of the weekend, which will start at 11.20am, with the second race straight after that, starting at 12.35.

The grid for race 2 will see the top 8 from the opening race reversed, ahead of the standing start. Race 1 sees the rolling start race.

The races will be shown on Eurosport 2 at 4.30pm and 5.00pm UK time.

Last year saw Norbert Michelisz and James Thompson take the S2000 race wins, in what was a wet but drying opening race and a drier second race. This weekend saw Michelisz make it Seat Leon TDi debut, and took a surprise pole position. Michelisz won the drive as a prize for winning the WTCC Supporting Seat Eurocup.

At each event, the Nations Cup will be awarded to the Nation who have the best placed two cars in each race – in 2006 and 2009, the MSA Won it, and 2007 and 2008, the title went to Denmark.

The sole tyre supplier, Yokohama, will award prize money of 100,000 Euro's to each of the winners: 70,000 Euros to the S2000 winner, 20,000E to the S1600 winner and 10,000 Euros to the Super Production winner.

After Braga – the next event takes place on July 23rd to 25th in Austria, at the Salzburgring before the finale on the 15th to 17th October, at the Franciacorta circuit in Italy.