Despite tough economic times inflicting casualties on British race grid and series this year's Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship shows glimmers of growth, with several teams bringing new cars to the first round of the 2012, taking place this weekend at Silverstone.
For the uninitiated the British Endurance Championship (BEC) was born out of James Tucker's Britcar championship. Previously featuring races including both GT and more production based machinery the 2012 season dawns on two separate championships – longer races in the BEC for the GT cars, and the Production Cup for cars including SEAT Leon Supercopa, Mazda MX5 and BMW M3. Both championships will be covered with full race reports on The Checkered Flag throughout the season.
Even after the split the BEC field is still split into four classes, with competitors competing for points awarded for each class. Thus at season's end, as well as an overall champion, each class has its own champion. As points are awarded equally to each class the overall champions need not be the driver and with the overall wins as last year's title winners Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins demonstrated in their thunderous Class Two Dodge Viper.
Scott and Wilkins have departed to pastures new for 2012 – a brand new Viper for a Blancpain Endurance Series assault – but the 2012 will still feature a superbly varied grid of GT racers.
Class One is the fastest of the four classes, the most likely to include the races' overall winners. Here reside the likes of Moslers, and Ferraris, with both the older 430 and new 458 represented on the entry list for the opening round.
The remaining three classes feature Ginetta G55, Lotus Evora, Lotus Elise, Chevron GR8 and Marcos Mantis, several of which are new for the 2012 campaign.
The top of the entry list stars several regular Britcar and BEC runners of years past, Andy Schulz and Paul Bailey's Ferrari 430 and the Neil Garner Motorsport run Mosler for the trio of Javier Morcillo, Manuel Cintrano and Paul White. Moving into class one are another team familiar to the BEC paddock in Motionsport. Simon Phillips and Pete Storey were a fixture in the Production classes in the blue and white Lotus Elise in 2011 and ended the season third in the championship. For 2012 the pair have remained under the Motionsport name, but taken the leap into class one with a Ferrari 458.
Storey and Phillips' new ride is just one of several new additions to the grid.
After occasional appearances in recent years, including a short-lived run in 2010's Britcar 24 Hours, not one, but two Chevron GR8 are set to be amongst the starters for Saturday's three-hour curtain raisers thanks to Track Torque and Jensen Lunn, the latter moving into Class Four of the BEC after contesting the Production championship in a BMW last term.
Track Torque's entry slots into Class Three alongside two of the higher profile new additions to the gird. Bullrun – Production champions in 2010 – have brought a Lotus Evora into the championship for drivers David Green, Richard Adams and Martin Byford. Also new to the class (and the BEC) are former Le Mans Series class winners Virgo Motorsport, who are running a Ginetta G55 Cup for father and son team Peter and Matt Smith, who return to competition together after a 2011 campaign cut short when kidney patient Peter underwent a transplant in the summer.
Of course, the new teams and cars line up around teams remaining with the same equipment after last season, such as the Neil Garner Mosler.
Topcats Racing, victors in the tremendous 2011 season finale in the darkness of Brands Hatch, maintain their two car team with their pair of Marcos Mantis, the responsibility of opening the campaign given to drivers Dan Jones, Kyle Tilley, Owen O'Neill and Neil Huggins.
Further down the classes another of the most experienced teams from Britcar events return for another campaign as Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson line up their Intersport BMW M3 at the head of a Class Four entry that also includes the Motionsport Elise in new driver's hands and a similar car for Jeff Mileham and Steve Gugliami.
After the season begins at Silverstone, the BEC season takes in Snetterton, Donington Park and Brands Hatch multiple times, with more drivers and cars almost certain to make at least one-off appearances, especially at the summer meeting at Brands Hatch which supports the FIA Formula Two championship on the Grand Prix circuit.
The main highlight of the Britcar and BEC season is the Britcar 24 Hours, where GT and Production cars are put back onto the same grid at Silverstone for Britain's only (sorry 2CV fans) twice-around-the-clock challenge, this hear held on September 21-23.
The race also begins the chase for the 2013 Sunoco Rolex 24 at Daytona Challenge, with all BEC drivers eligable for the competition offering a Daytona Prototype drive at next January’s Daytona 24 Hours. After falling short last year Class One driver Javier Morcillo is again likely to be amongst the leader of the BEC contingent in the challenge standings during 2012.
The Checkered Flag will follow the Sunoco Challenge throughout the 2012 season and into 2013 for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.