At the start of the season, The Checkered Flag picked our way through the entry lists of the British Touring Car Championship’s band of support championships to select our 25 drivers to watch for 2015.
From across the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Ginetta Junior Championship, Renault UK Clio Cup, Ginetta GT4 Supercup and MSA Formula, we picked out a diverse range of drivers including experienced contenders, bright young talents and former champions we felt were set to impress this season.
With a memorable 2015 season now behind us, here’s a look at how each of our selections got on, and who we missed:
25. Stuart Middleton (Douglas Motorsport) – 7th, Ginetta Juniors
What we said: “Middleton will be hoping to get some good results on the board and show he was the worthy Scholarship winner.”
Final Report: Middleton certainly did just that, as he exceeded all expectations to take three outright podium finishes including a stunning pair of second places at Rockingham. Those results meant he out-performed his Scholarship winning predecessors as he marched to second in the Rookie Cup class.
24. Tom Sharp (IDL Racing) – 4th, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “Sharp made quite an impact during his last two seasons on the BTCC package, and will aim to carry across his strong British GT pace.”
Final Report: Sharp impressively returned to the support package with his family-run team, taking on the established Porsche squads and beating them. A season that featured four outright podium finishes was capped off by a maiden win at Brands Hatch GP and the Rookie Class title.
23. Ant Whorton-Eales (Maximum Motorsport) – 3rd, Renault UK Clio Cup
What we said: “Whorton-Eales knows that nothing other than a title challenge will do, and will need to convert his pace into more race wins.”
Final Report: Whorton-Eales certainly stepped up a level in his fourth full Clio campaign, becoming a firm title contender thanks to more race wins, podium finishes, fastest laps and pole positions than in his previous years combined, despite having to change teams mid-season.
22. Jonathan Hadfield (R&J Motorsport) – 8th, Ginetta Juniors
What we said: “Hadfield is one of the highest placed returning drivers from 2014, and will be hoping an early podium breakthrough could lead to a title challenge.”
Final Report: Hadfield got that early podium breakthrough during a dominant weekend at Donington Park, which featured a maiden pole position and a first Junior race win for himself and the team, but that would be the highlight of an otherwise difficult campaign that yielded just five other top six finishes.
21. Ollie Jackson (Century Motorsport) – 8th, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “Jackson has pedigree in one-make racing and he’ll be hoping to challenge for race wins from the off.”
Final Report: It proved to be a tougher debut Supercup season for Jackson than he might have hoped. The former BTCC racer found himself unable to regularly break into the front quartet, but showed his pace to notch up sixteen top six finishes and took a deserved podium breakthrough at Croft.
20. Ricky Collard (Arden) – 2nd, MSA Formula
What we said: “Collard will be hoping to use his 2014 results as the platform for an assault on the title, having shown impressive pace throughout pre-season.”
Final Report: That pace would be converted into a championship challenge, with impressive consistency seeing Collard be the only driver to finish on the podium in each of the ten race meetings. Late troubles meant his title charge was ultimately unsuccessful, but eleven top two finishes indicated his clear pace.
19. Jayde Kruger (Brookspeed) – 7th, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “With hardly any pre-season running under his belt it will be a baptism of fire, but he’ll be hoping to fight at the front as the season progresses.”
Final Report: Running as a single-car entrant with Brookspeed, it did take Kruger a while to establish himself towards the front of the field, but the ex-Formula Ford champion would become a regular front-runner as the season developed and finished it off with a hat-trick of fourth place finishes.
18. Stephen Jelley (Team Parker Racing) – 5th, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “Jelley will be sure to adapt to the new GT3 Cup car quickly and regular podium finishes and race wins should be well within reach.”
Final Report: Jelley made an immediate impact with a double pole position on the opening weekend and podium finishes in each of the first three meetings, but that would be the highs of the campaign. No more top three results followed, but he only finished outside the top six twice all year.
17. Ashley Sutton (Team Pyro) – 1st, Renault UK Clio Cup
What we said: “With Team BMR on board and reigning champions Pyro running his car, Sutton will hope to be a contender for race wins in the early stages.”
Final Report: The combination of BMR and Pyro proved to be the perfect platform for Sutton, as he exceeded all expectations by storming to a historic title success. A stunning qualifying record helped him to twelve podium finishes, with a double win sealing him the honours at the season finale.
16. Will Burns (HHC Motorsport) – 5th, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “With the reigning champions behind him and Carl Breeze as a team-mate, Burns has the perfect platform to turn his 2014 consistency into race wins.”
Final Report: An elusive maiden Supercup race win would sadly not come for Burns, though he couldn’t have come closer at Thruxton leading every lap until the last one. That aside, Burns stepped up a level to take eleven top three finishes and only bad luck cost him a top four points finish.
15. Enaam Ahmed (Arden) – 8th, MSA Formula
What we said: “Ahmed will be hoping to make an impact this season, with an extensive testing programme under his belt.”
Final Report: It took Ahmed a while to get going as he adjusted to life in car-racing for the first time, but big strides forward led to a strong second half of the season. Four outright podium finishes, including a maiden victory at the Brands Hatch finale, secured him the Rookie Class title.
14. Jack Mitchell (20Ten Racing) – 7th, Renault UK Clio Cup
What we said: “With plenty of testing miles under his belt, Mitchell will be confident of making an impression on a competitive grid.”
Final Report: Mitchell certainly adapted well to Clio life and hit the ground running with an early podium finish at Donington Park and regular top five finishes, but a mid-season change of teams hampered his rhythm and the decision was made to end his season early to focus on 2016.
13. Michael Caine (JHR Developments) – 4th, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “With his superb pedigree in GT racing in recent years, don’t bet against Caine being a title contender this season.”
Final Report: Front-running results proved to be rarer than anticipated for Caine as he and the team struggled to stamp their authority at the head of the field. Missing two meetings through injury didn’t help, but Caine ended proceedings on a high with a podium hat-trick at Brands Hatch GP.
12. Michael Meadows (Samsung SUHD TV Racing) – 2nd, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “Meadows returns for his sixth season knowing consistency is vital is he’s to come out on top in one of the strongest grids he’s faced.”
Final Report: Not only did Meadows come up against a hugely competitive grid, he also faced one of his toughest ever opponents in Dan Cammish. Ultimately unable to match the champion’s pace, Meadows still impressed with eleven podium finishes to secure a fifth consecutive top two Carrera Cup points finish.
11. Paul Rivett (WDE Motorsport) – 4th, Renault UK Clio Cup
What we said: “Rivett has set his sights on the team into championship contenders as he targets an unprecedented fourth title.”
Final Report: Rivett made the most of his Clio Cup experience to keep himself in the title hunt right up until the final few races of the season, despite taking just a solitary race win at Oulton Park. He remained a consistent front-runner though, finishing on the podium in seven of the nine race meetings.
10. Sennan Fielding (JHR Developments) – 4th, MSA Formula
What we said: “Fielding is set to be one of the most experienced drivers on the grid, so don’t be surprised if he’s a championship contender this year.”
Final Report: A host of technical troubles through the season stopped Fielding from mounting a title challenge, but the former MABA finalist showcased his talent with a great run of ten podiums in sixteen mid-season races that included a rare podium hat-trick at Knockhill.
9. Dino Zamparelli (GT Marques) – 6th, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “Zamparelli returns to the BTCC package with a second TOCA title firmly in his sights after a positive pre-season.”
Final Report: It wasn’t quite the season Zamparelli hoped for when he joined the series, but the Anglo-Italian did showcase his potential in the final two meetings after switching teams, with outright wins at Silverstone and more podiums at Brands Hatch seeing him just miss out on the Rookie Class honours.
8. Tom Oliphant (Century Motorsport) – 1st, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “Oliphant is set for another busy year, but he’ll be confident of using his positive 2014 as a platform for a championship challenge.”
Final Report: Oliphant perfectly juggled his British GT commitments with a successful Supercup title pursuit. Consistency was key, with 26 top four finishes in 27 races and 17 consecutive podium finishes, whilst he stamped his authority with a stunning mid-season run of six wins in nine for his first title.
7. Dan Zelos (JHR Developments) – 4th, Ginetta Juniors
What we said: “The only driver from last year’s top five to be returning this season, Zelos is one of the early favourites for the Junior title.”
Final Report: Various troubles through the season meant a championship challenge unfortunately didn’t materialise for the JHR Developments ace, but when his car was on form he was able to showcase his pace and took seven podium finishes across the year to bring his Junior career to a close.
6. Dan Cammish (Redline Racing) – 1st, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “Cammish made waves on a guest Carrera Cup outing last season and should be a strong bet for a title challenge.”
Final Report: No-one could have quite predicted just what a season Cammish would go on to produce, with the ex-Formula Ford champion finishing every single race in the top two as eleven wins in sixteen races guided him to a runaway championship success – putting his name forever in TOCA package folklore.
5. Jordan Stilp – 9th, Renault UK Clio Cup & 11th, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “Stilp comes back as the highest-placed returning driver from 2014, and knows a rare strong start to the season will be key.”
Final Report: A stronger start than his previous campaigns saw Stilp on the podium twice in the first four meetings, but it still wasn’t the results he’d hoped for and he made an early exit from the series. A late entry in the Supercup meanwhile saw him make an impressive impact with a podium finish on debut.
4. Carl Breeze (HHC Motorsport) – 2nd, Ginetta GT4 Supercup
What we said: “Aiming to make amends for a below par 2014, the team and driver look like an unstoppable combination.”
Final Report: Breeze certainly made amends for previous troubles with one of his best ever Supercup campaigns, but it wasn’t enough to secure him a second title. Mechanical issues mid-season were crucial in that respect, but Breeze highlighted his class again with eight wins to take the title fight to the season finale.
3. Jamie Caroline (HHC Motorsport) – 1st, Ginetta Juniors
What we said: “With HHC Motorsport and Pirtek behind him, Caroline is in a prime position to convert his potential into a championship challenge.”
Final Report: Following a slow start to the season, Caroline showcased his potential with a sensational run of five consecutive wins in mid-season to stamp his authority on the title race. Various dramas meant his pace wasn’t always converted into results though, keeping the title battle incredibly close to the end.
2. Lando Norris (Carlin) – 1st, MSA Formula
What we said: “With an extensive testing programme under his belt, Norris heads into the new campaign as an early favourite for the title.”
Final Report: Firmly living up to his billing, Norris stormed to the title with an unmatched eight wins and fifteen podium finishes across the season as he seamlessly made the transition to single-seaters. The style in which he took the crown has only served to further build his reputation as a star of the future.
1. Josh Webster (Team Parker Racing) – 3rd, Porsche Carrera Cup GB
What we said: “As the only support category champion returning to defend their title, the pressure is on for Webster in his second Scholarship season.”
Final Report: While Webster wasn’t able to reach the same stunning heights as his maiden campaign, it was another strong campaign for the Porsche scholar. An early win at Spa-Francorchamps and regular top three finishes kept him in the top two fight, with just late troubles dropping him to third.
Who did we miss?
With only 25 slots to fill, naturally we were going to miss some drivers from the countdown who would go on and do great things over the season. Most notably, Senna Proctor challenged for the Ginetta Junior titles, while HHC duo Patrik Matthiesen and Sophia Floersch impressed from the Rookie pack.
Ash Hand was a sensation in the Clio Cup, narrowly missing out on the title after winning more races than anyone else, whilst Jamie Orton converted his pace into a title charge in the Supercup and Colton Herta, Matheus Leist, Dan Ticktum and Sandy Mitchell were exciting race-winners in MSA Formula.
What do you make of our countdown of the 25 BTCC support stars to watch in 2015? Give us your feedback by commenting below, or tweeting us @TheCheckerFlag.
*Main image credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography/Malcolm Griffiths*