Six months on from the climax of the 2018 championship, we are already gearing up for another fantastic season of racing in 2019 with the Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship.
It’s practically guaranteed that the BTCC will throw up its usual high class drama and excitement that boring is nowhere near the vocabulary of all those in the paddock.
With thirty drivers in fifteen teams taking part in thirty rounds at eight venues, the stage is set for some of the legends, old guard and newcomers to do battle and attempt to win the most prestigious prize in British Motorsport.
Over the Winter break the confirmation that Rockingham Motor Speedway was to close meant that there was an open slot on the calendar for either a new circuit or a second visit to a track that’s already cemented itself as a BTCC mainstay. The second option was selected therefore teams and drivers can now enjoy a further visit to Thruxton in August following the initial weekend there in May.
Success ballast will see an adjustment in the new season with the weights from previous seasons now reduced due to the close nature of the cars. Previously a win saw the addition of 75kg, second 66kg and third 57kg. In 2019 it’ll now be 54kg, 48kg and 42kg respectively. Positions fourth through tenth also saw a reduction in their usual ballast weights.
Drivers will now have to be more careful in qualifying because if they are to create a red flag which stops the session, their fastest time up to that point will be deleted.
Say hello, wave goodbye
The biggest story over the Winter was the loss of Eurotech Racing due to a major sponsor pulling their support which reduced the team’s funding. This put a question mark over the future of Jack Goff and Brett Smith’s BTCC careers heading into 2019.
Whilst Brett will sadly not return, Jack was given a reprieve just a few days before the media day when it was confirmed he was to join RCIB Insurance with Fox Transport alongside Carl Boardley who took part in a weekend last year.
Mike Bushell, who was to originally drive Goff’s car, had to drop out due to sponsorship issues and a return to the Renault UK Clio Cup with Team HARD was lined up. However, personal issues has meant that Bushell is to take a leave of absence from motorsport. This is a great shame because it would have been great to see him either show his progress over the Winter with the Volkswagen CC or take his third Clio Cup title. Alas that’s motorsport.
HMS Racing and Rob Austin are missing out on the 2019 season after they missed the entry deadline to gain a grid slot. The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was a beauty that begun to show consistency in a developmental year for the car. However, progress will not be seen and one hopes that both Rob and the HMS squad use their time wisely in order to engineer a return for 2020.
Two new teams join the grid in 2019 with Excelr8 Motorsport taking charge of the former AmD Tuning MG6 GT’s and Trade Price Cars Racing running the former AmD Tuning Audi S3 Saloons. (Albeit under AmD guidance)
Excelr8 bring in two new faces to the BTCC with former MINI Challenge and Clio Cup racer Rob Smith partnering multiple top ten Clio Cup finisher Sam Osborne. Both these drivers will be out there to impress whilst bringing their cars up to speed. The team will be learning the BTCC ropes each weekend over the season so you hope that they are able to extract performance from the MG’s in between days.
Trade Price Cars managed the driver coup of the year when they signed former Formula One and IndyCar driver Mark Blundell. Blundell has been enjoying the challenge of front-wheel drive machinery in testing and he’s proving that he isn’t here to make up the numbers.
Daniel Rowbottom enjoyed his best ever Clio Cup season last year and the Worcestershire racer will now try and translate his momentum to the BTCC in his Cataclean Racing with Ciceley Motorsport backed Mercedes Benz A-Class.
Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion Michael Crees will also be making his BTCC début with GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct and with undeniable slippery speed in the VW, Michael will therefore try and become the best of the new drivers.
I’ve seen that face before
The incredibly popular return of Jake Hill to the grid with Trade Price Cars was some great news for fans of the driver from Kent. Untapped potential is the general consensus and some might say that the Audi S3 might not be the best platform for this to be realised. However, with data from the former Eurotech Honda Civic FK2s in the garage next door we could possibly see some surprises from Jake and new teammate Blundell.
We also welcome back Nicolas Hamilton to the BTCC following several seasons in the Clio Cup. Racing under the ROKiT Racing with Motorbase banner, Nic will drive a specially adapted Ford Focus RS and hopefully score valuable points towards a strong first full campaign in the championship.
Drivers moving from team to team between seasons is nothing new and 2019 will see a handful trying to get used to their new surroundings and impress their new colleagues behind the scenes.
Replacing long time Team BMW servant Rob Collard will be Tom Oliphant who impressed in his début season last year. Having a hand in the development of the brand new BMW 330i M Sport is an exciting time for Tom in his sophomore year and he’ll undoubtedly want to prove to people that he is the right man to take the seat.
Question marks were placed over Rob Collard’s BTCC career following concussion worries, but it was a surprise to many when it was announced he was to take one of the Vauxhall Astra seats at Sterling Insurance with Power Maxed Racing.
However, his new teammate took the headlines when it was confirmed that Jason Plato would be returning to front-wheel drive following three seasons of, in terms of Jason’s career, mediocrity.
Plato’s exit opened the door for Senna Proctor to become Ashley Sutton’s new teammate in the Subaru Levorg GT.
James Cole won’t be returning for 2019 and at the Autosport International Show in Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre, Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Gallagher unveiled Ollie Jackson as Tom Chilton’s new teammate. Undoubtedly impressed by the technical knowledge and speed that Ollie showed during a test at the end of last season, the Motorbase squad will hope for consistent good finishes between both drivers in order to go for independent team titles.
Sam Tordoff moved from Motorbase to Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid/RCIB Insurance in order to drive one of the former Eurotech FK2 Civics. If testing times were to be taken seriously then the rest of the grid should be very scared of the potential that this partnership may show. However, since it’s just testing we can take the lap record pace with a pinch of salt.
One of the revelations of 2018, Josh Cook, makes the move from PMR to BTC Racing in a deal which seemingly only happened two weeks before it was officially announced. With great racecraft and natural speed, Josh is an exciting championship prospect and BTC certainly have quite the driver on their hands alongside another rising talent in the form of Chris Smiley.
Three teams unveiled brand new cars ahead of this season and two of the title contenders last year are both hoping to beat each other in their developmental wars.
Team BMW announced that they were moving from their successful BMW 125i M Sport cars to the new BMW 330i M Sport. Colin Turkington is definitely a driver you want when you’re a team trying to get a brand new project to the front and the Northern Irishman, Tom Oliphant and Andrew Jordan will all provide vital data throughout the year. Expect this BMW to get quicker and quicker as the season wears on.
Team Toyota GB make their triumphant return after twenty-four years away from the BTCC and the manufacturer deal with Speedworks Motorsport was well deserved after the incredible giant killing heroics that the team and Tom Ingram have recently produced.
Gone is the Toyota Avensis and in comes the Toyota Corolla GT which has been undergoing an intensive testing programme in both the UK and Spain. Whilst BMW will enjoy feedback from three drivers, Toyota will be basing their progression from Tom’s experiences. But, considering the talent of their driver this new Toyota has the potential to be quick from the outset.
BTC Racing confirmed that they were working in conjunction with Team Dynamics Motorsport and building two brand new FK8 Honda Civic Type R’s for both Josh Cook and Chris Smiley. Following their year with the FK2 Civic which saw them score their first ever victories, this new shaped Civic is shaping hopes for a further leap onto regular podium visits.
Get out of your dreams and get into your cars
The time for talking is over and it’s finally time to practice all the hype that has been spun between teams and drivers about their chances ahead of the new season. Although the usual names will undoubtedly crop up time and time again throughout the season until they win the title.
With Team BMW And Team Toyota GB with Ginsters developing new cars this opens the opportunity for teams with highly developed cars to try and get a strong start in order to get enough of a gap at the front by the time all the others catch up.
Halfords Yuasa Racing with Matt Neal and Dan Cammish will probably be the pick of the bunch with their incredibly quick driver line-up and refined FK8 Civic Type R. This team knows how to win and only sheer negligence would seemingly derail potential pace.
Adrian Flux Subaru Racing may boast the driving talents of 2017 BTCC champion Ash Sutton but they always have an incredibly slow start to their seasons with the Subaru Levorg GT. Whilst the media day test pointed to this trend continuing, you do have to presume that it will click but hopefully not too late for both Ash and Senna’s sake.
Tom Chilton had a superb second half to his 2018 season and the Surrey driver will have an evolution of his Ford Focus RS underneath him. Whilst you get nowhere by standing still, Tom did struggle in the initial hours of the media day test before the pace begun to shine through.
Quietly getting to the business of consistent results in a car which probably didn’t deserve to get them, Rory Butcher was rewarded with the second AmD Civic seat alongside Tordoff. Much like his teammate the Scot enjoyed a speedy media day test and the chance to score his maiden BTCC podium or victory is highly likely. On paper, Rory is this writer’s favourite for the Jack Sears Trophy.
After doubling their 2017 points tally in 2018, Team Parker Racing and Stephen Jelley will be aiming to go much further with their BMW 1 series. Their chances was given a shot in the arm when it was announced they are to run with more powerful engines in 2019.
Matt Simpson returns and this will be his first full season running independently with his own team Simpson Racing. We all know the FK2 Civic is still one of the best NGTC cars despite its age and a weekend akin to Oulton Park last year will be welcomed… Just without all the engine issues.
Alongside Daniel Rowbottom, the two other Mercedes runners Adam Morgan and Aiden Moffat will probably have their sporadic race victories or podiums throughout the year. Continuity is certainly a factor towards success in the BTCC and both these drivers have been piloting their cars for many years now. This season might see both jigsaws fall into place.
With Mike Bushell leaving Team HARD before the media day, Bobby Thompson is now the only driver in the squad taking part in the 2019 season following a full campaign in 2018. In the GKR Scaffolding with Autobrite Direct VW, the twenty-two year old who showed flashes of strong pace at the tail end of last season will hope that this returns and stays for the whole season.
Sound of the crowd
The roar and support of spectators was well documented at the Brands Hatch media day when pictures of the packed pitlane were captioned “this is a test day, not a race day.”
But the racing returns at the end of this week on the 6/7 April at Brands Hatch and the excitement for another classic season of the British Touring Car Championship is palpable.