The British Touring Car Championship heads to Rockingham, Northamptonshire this weekend – the first part of back-to-back weekends for the UK's premier racing series.
Although it's the second weekend of the championship, it's very easy to see Rockingham as a fresh start. Double series champion, double Thruxton race winner and current championship leader, Fabrizio Giovanardi has been replaced by young Brit James Nash at Triple Eight, seemingly for the remainder of the campaign.
Despite the eleventh hour nature of their entry the privateer Vectras, running with the team's logo where the car's badge should be, were immediately on the pace for the opening three race weekend – Giovanardi's brace of wins overshadowing two solid points scoring finishes from BTCC debutant Phil Glew. Nash clearly had pace when he ran a RML supported Chevrolet Lacetti, only missing out on a win at Snetterton by a controversial stewards decision, his return to the series, with another top team should see him challenging for wins – if not at Rockingham, then later in the season.
However, just like Thruxton expect tyres to be a storyline, though for entirely different reasons.
Three weeks on from the spate of tyre failures round the Hampshire speed-drome this weekend will see the debut of the of the new Dunlop Sport Maxx tyre. The new rubber designed to more durable, but the technical, twisting nature, as well as the warm weather forecast over the race weekend should prove a good initial test for the tyre, which so far has only seen outings at pre-season runs.
The Thruxton tyre problems left many – notably the Team Aon Ford Focuses of Toms Chilton and Onslow-Cole and Pirtek Racing's Andrew Jordan with largely barren weekends that started full of promise.
Predictably, they and others are looking to bounce back with strong showings at the 1.9 mile circuit.
“We know that the speed is definitely there in the car, I even think there is even more to come,” says Jordan, driving one of two of the new BTCC-spec turbo engined cars.
“This weekend we really have to get some points on the board, I would really like to take away a podium from one of the races and hopefully an Independent class win, but obviously the main goal is to go for outright victories which I'm confident we can achieve.”
Of course, despite the event's early place in the calendar, the top drivers are already peering gingerly at the championship. “I've got a very clear target for Rockingham and that's 40 points,” Jason Plato tells BTCC.net. “I'm going there with the mindset of winning races but, as a team, we have to keep reminding people that, just as in 2009 and as I also did with the diesel SEAT in 2008, we're effectively starting with a car that is new to the UK's circuits and Dunlop tyres.”
While Plato may protest his history at the track makes him an early favourite for weekend, and to make that 40 point target. The BTCC veteran holds both the qualifying and race lap records – set last year driving a Chevrolet Lacetti, predecessor to his current Cruze challenger.
But some teams will be glad just to make it to Rockingham!
Having missed out on the series curtain raiser with engine woes Forster Motorsport were hoping to make their debut at Rockingham.
However, then a volcano intervened, leaving Martin Depper, who comprises the team along with the owner Arthur Forster, in America unable to return home. Forster and the team had hoped to bring Depper back to Madrid, before returning him to UK soil with an epic road journey.
Where Depper, and Forster for that matter, are is unknown, but the team remain hopeful of making the green flag this weekend.
The first two of the three BTCC races will be broadcast live in the UK on ITV4. However, The Checkered Flag will have from the track reports from all three of the weekend's races.
Photo Credit: btcc.net