BTRA Truck Racing: An Introduction


Close racing is a fact of life in the BTRA where the faster class 1 trucks start at the back of the grid. (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)

Something a bit different descends on Donington Park this weekend in the form of the BTRA or British Truck Racing Association’s truck racing championship. A warm-up, qualifying session and five races form the bulk of the weekend for two classes of articulated lorry tractors. A full support package is also on track with a selection of entertainment in the paddock. The paddock is open so you can get up close to the trucks as the team service them and prepare them for racing. A race truck is a little large for most pit garages in the UK so they park up in the support paddock for each meeting.

As Team TCF’s resident truck driver it falls to me to first explain the BTRA for those of you who are not familiar, then to cover the action from Sunday and Monday. So here we go:

What is the BTRA and who runs the meetings?

The British Truck Racing Association is the organiser of the UKs truck racing series. Run by a committee formed mainly of the drivers in the sport it is their job to agree the rules of the sport, promote the events and organise the trucks to race.

They are supported by the British Automobile Racing Club or BARC who actually deal with the mechanics of running the meetings. BARC provide the officials and the marshals and also organise the support packages.

When you say race truck, do you mean like the ones on the motorway?

When truck racing first started it was, as in the early days of the British Saloon Car Championship, (now the BTCC) a case of ‘run what you brought’. By that I mean a race driver would arrive at the circuit in his racing vehicle. Preparations for racing included dropping the trailer and putting on the helmet.

These days it’s a bit more complex than that and the trucks have moved on in leaps and bounds. Truck racing was one of the last formula to drop the idea of racing your road vehicle though, with working trucks racing into the 1980s. Two classes race in the BTRA in 2014, numbered 1 and 2 with the latter being mainly for older trucks.

The class 1 trucks are proper racers, mainly developed by the manufacturers to go racing in the European Truck Racing Championship. For the first time this year the Renault Trucks factory outfit, MKR, have joined the BTRA. There are also factory spec but privateer run MANs in the field. The class 1 Scania hides a bit of a secret in that all reports state that it is in fact an MAN in disguise but this is allowable.

A racing truck doesn't look all that different to a road going unit (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)
A racing truck doesn’t look all that different to a road going unit (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)

It helps here to know a bit about the complex relationships between truck makers. Renault is owned by Volvo for example and Iveco, which is owned by Fiat also owns the rights to the name Seddon Atkinson (though very few Seddons are actually made these days and they are all rebadged EuroCargo local authority units). The important bit here is that the go to truck for racing at the moment is an MAN but the truck everyone recognises and loves is a Scania. Both brands are owned by Volkswagen!

As with most race vehicles the interior is stripped out to a bare minimum and a roll cage is added. A five point harness and all the usual electrical bits and pieces are added and it is ready to race. All trucks are ballasted up to 5500kg as a minimum.

Class 2 trucks tend to be converted road going trucks or very old ETRA racers but meet all the same technical regulations with the exception of one. Everyone knows that road going trucks have speed limiters, so do class 1 race trucks. On the road we are restricted to 56mph, a race truck gets to stretch its legs and can hit speeds of 100mph. It would also leave a Porsche 911 for dead on a standing start race to 100.

Both classes have the speed limit but class 2 drivers have to keep to the limit by personal restraint. The speed is enforced the same way my speed and driving hours regulations are governed at work, by a Tachograph. Drivers have tacho charts checked at the end of each race to ensure they didn’t go above the maximum speed.

Race trucks are also required to have a ‘fifth wheel’. This is the coupling device which hooks onto the pin of a semi-trailer and locks shut to allow us to pull the trailer down the road. It doesn’t have to work but it does have to be the same shape and size as a road-going piece of equipment.

Are they really as good as the European trucks?

Not only are the BTRA trucks as good as the ETRA racers, the drivers are too. That isn’t bias or patriotic loyalty either because every year the BTRA goes on a summer holiday to a massive event in Germany. The TruckRennen on the Nurburgring GP-Strecke sees the BTRA boys racing alongside their European championship colleagues. They didn’t do too badly either.

For some of the big events over here in the UK we also play host to a selection of the ETRA racers. Most notably the Lenz family with their violently orange Mercedes racers and Cees Zandbergen who brings the ‘rainbow warrior’ Scania T-Cab (bonneted truck) to play.

We have also produced our fair share of ETRA racers, including the current BTRA champion Matt Summerfield. Stuart Oliver and Steve Thomas are also ex-ETRA names. Other names in the sport will be familiar to people who are interested in road going trucks. Luke Taylor is linked to TTX from Oldham while Ricky Collett is from the Collett Heavy Haulage firm and Simon Reid owns Reid Freight.

Why should I go to a truck racing meeting then?

Firstly because the BTRA is some of the most spectacular motorsport you will see in the UK. It isn’t the clean and controlled speed of Formula 1. It most certainly isn’t the crash, bang and wallop of the BTCC. It is pretty good racing though, action at the front is close and with drivers on the edge it is inevitable that one will lose it every now and then. There is a no contact rule in place but it is frequently… interpreted liberally and even without the trading of paint the trucks do like to get a bit sideways.

Add to that the fact that when things do go wrong they go spectacularly wrong and there is usually something to see.

When things go wrong with trucks they go very wrong. The turbo failed on this Iveco at Donington last year. (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)
When things go wrong with trucks they go very wrong. The turbo failed on this Iveco at Donington last year. (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)

That is another bonus to a BTRA weekend. When the trucks are on track you get as close to the action, and sometimes closer, than the media and marshals. We all get ejected from the trackside positions when the big boys come out due to safety concerns. If you think about it five and a half tonnes doing 100mph isn’t likely to be stopped by a bit of Armco and we all retreat to public areas for safety.

That means that if you are a budding photographer, or even a great photographer, you have exactly the same chance of getting ‘that’ shot as the pros.

There will also be a full support package at each race meeting. Regular supports include Legends, which are little hotrods powered by motorcycle engines. The racing is close and they can hit some very surprising speeds. There is also Pickup truck racing on Monday which offers NASCAR Pickup style vehicles powered by 2.0l Vauxhall or Ford engines. BMWs and Minis are also scheduled at Donington Park this weekend.

Anything else I need to know?

On any truck racing weekend there is usually a truckfest in attendance too. Last year at Donington Park we very nearly had a full lap of trucks when the show truck parade took to the track on Monday lunchtime. The show trucks spend the weekend in the paddock too, directly adjacent to the race trucks so you can take your time to have a look at both.

Most truckers who come to these events are very welcoming and would be happy to answer any questions you have. Younger race fans might even get to climb up and have a seat and a photo taken.

BTRA meetings which coincide with a bank holiday are Sunday and Monday race meetings. Don’t worry if you turn up on Saturday though because BARC will usually have racing on the day before too.

Concerts, funfairs and other entertainments are usually laid on too and of course the Grand Prix collection at Donington Park will also be open this weekend.

There is also a paddock of show trucks for fans to browse. These two spend all week delivering bricks. (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)
There is also a paddock of show trucks for fans to browse. These two spend all week delivering bricks. (Credit: Nick Smith/The Image Team)

I can’t make it to Donington, what do I do?

We will have a daily round up of the action on thecheckeredflag.co.uk to keep you up to date with the activity at the circuit so you shouldn’t miss out on the action here. You can also catch the BTRA at Snetterton on 13th and 14th September if you are in the north or east. Welsh fans and those on the west side of the country could visit Pembrey for the first weekend of October before the championship his its big truckfest and fireworks finale, at Brands Hatch on 1st November.

Later rounds of the championship will also include more trucks. We know for certain that WDE Motorsport’s trucker from the Renault UK Clio Cup is in the process of securing a drive for the remainder of the season, starting from Snetterton.

Tell me one thing I wouldn’t expect about truck racing:

Rule 3:21 of the technical regulations is my favourite bit of motorsport legislation ever:

“Supplementary accessories which do not affect the performance or the handling of the vehicle are permitted (e.g. air horns).”

The rules actually say you can have a race truck that whistles dixie. How very Smokey and the Bandit.