After a long six winter months, the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and its band of support series finally return to action this weekend (2/3 April), with the 2016 season bursting into life around the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit.
Following a vintage year for all the championships in 2015, with nail-biting title battles and some memorable performances through the year, the cast of 2016 will aiming to push the boundaries further through the ten weekend calendar.
The Porsche Carrera Cup GB has another talent-filled entry, while the Ginetta Junior Championship grid is once again filled with exciting new talent. The Renault UK Clio Cup is set for its biggest season for years, while MSA Formula and the Ginetta GT4 Supercup are continuing to host strong entries.
For the third year running, The Checkered Flag have picked out the top twenty five drivers in the support championships we feel you should be keeping an eye on over the course of the season.
To get a flavour of what’s to come, you can see our rundowns from 2014 and 2015, and check on how our picks got on, by clicking here.
The first part of our countdown kicks off with a young driver moving up the Ginetta ladder:
25. Callum Pointon (Total Control Racing) – Ginetta GT4 Supercup
After getting a taste for the championship last season with a three weekend spell, Pointon joins the Supercup full-time this year with the potential to become a front-runner after showcasing his abilities in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge in recent seasons.
The 22 year old was a title contender in the Challenge last year with seventeen podium finishes, and with that experience under his belt, as well as some crucial track time in the more powerful G55 already, he should emerge towards the front of the Supercup field.
24. Devlin DeFrancesco (Carlin) – MSA Formula
While it may be DeFrancesco’s first full car-racing campaign this year, the Canadian heads into 2016 with some crucial track time under his belt courtesy of half a season in the Ginetta Juniors, plus some outings in the Toyota Racing Series at the start of the year.
As he adds experience and racecraft to the good raw pace he’s shown so far, DeFrancesco should develop into a front-runner through the season as he races for reigning champions Carlin, with support from US racing icon Chip Ganassi through his mentoring programme.
23. Seb Priaulx (JHR Developments) – Ginetta Juniors
Following in the footsteps of his three-time WTCC champion father Andy, Priaulx heads into his maiden car-racing campaign with impressive Ginetta Scholarship and Winter Series performances under his belt from the end of 2015.
After finishing as Scholarship runner-up, Priaulx picked up three Rookie podiums in the Snetterton mini-series, and he’ll now be keen to make a similar impression this season and challenge at the head of the Rookie pack.
22. Max Coates (Ciceley Motorsport) – Renault UK Clio Cup
After a number of seasons clutching at one-off drives, including a BTCC debut last year, Coates has finally got the opportunity to prove himself over a full season he’s been hoping for, with a first Clio Cup campaign with leading team Ciceley.
Whether it’s been in Ginetta’s, Porsche or BTCC, Coates has always adapted quickly to new cars and shown quick pace from the off – traits the popular Yorkshireman will hope to replicate this year so he can hit the ground running and work his way towards the front of the field.
21. Stephen Jelley (Team Parker Racing) – Porsche Carrera Cup GB
2015 proved to be a solid, if unspectacular, return to the Carrera Cup for Jelley after three years away, with the experienced contender only able to pick up a trio of podium finishes en-route to a top five championship finish.
Jelley feels there were some unfair expectations on him as he adapted to the latest specification of Porsche Cup car though, so now with a season under his belt, he’ll be ready to maximise all his experience and push himself into title contention.
20. Daniel Harper (Douglas Motorsport) – Ginetta Juniors
Harper joins the TOCA package this year as the latest winner of the Ginetta Junior Scholarship, having beaten over sixty other drivers to win a fully-funded season of racing in one of the most competitive years yet for the contest.
The skills and experience the Northern Irishman gained in Junior Irish rallying last season could well give him a head start in the all-action Junior series, as he tries to replicate the front-running results of his Scholarship predecessor and new team-mate Stuart Middleton.
19. Paul Streather (Finesse Motorsport) – Renault UK Clio Cup
Off the back of a breakthrough year in 2015, Streather has all the ingredients to be a real surprise package this season – just as he was on his stunning Clio Cup debut during October’s Brands Hatch GP season finale.
After starring with four wins and the vice-champion honours in the Michelin Clio Cup Series, Streather stunned the BTCC support paddock as he duelled with eventual champion Sutton for victory in only his second race, indicating he could be at the front from the off this campaign.
Keep an eye on the site tomorrow to see who comes in 18th to 10th in our 25 BTCC Support Stars to Watch in 2016 countdown.
Let us know what you think of the rundown so far by tweeting us @thecheckerflag.
*Banner image: Jakob Ebrey Photography (Ginetta, Renault, MSA Formula), Dave Ayres/Picturesports (Porsche)
*Article Images: Jakob Ebrey Photography