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BTCC 2014: (E)State of Play for Honda Yuasa Racing

The start of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship draws ever closer, and one of the big questions that has had us all talking in the season break is whether Honda will once more dominate proceedings. For the last few years, the Honda Racing effort has all but destroyed its opponents. Even though the championship victor in 2o13 was Andrew Jordan in the independent Pirtek Racing Honda, the machine was basically the works car in a colourful blue Pirtek mask. In many ways, Honda has become the Red Bull Racing of the BTCC world. One of the only other teams that ever really stood a chance against the mighty Civics was the KX Momentum MG team, spearheaded by the legend that is Jason Plato.

With mere weeks to go until the season opener, let’s take a look at what the Honda team will be offering the 2014 British Touring Car Championship.

The Honda Civic Tourer for BTCC 2014

The Honda Civic Tourer for BTCC 2014. Image Credit: BARC

A Brief History of Honda

This is not the first time I have written about the new Honda machine. I previously found myself saying that the decision to race the Tourer in the 2014 season was a showcase of arrogance from the team; Honda was just getting cocky having been so dominant so wanted to give itself some form of challenge this year. I will be the first to admit that over the last few years I have gone off the Honda outfit, mainly because they were so dominant and the racing became laborious and predictable. In the latter half of the 90s the Honda team were always competitive yet had an edge of underdog quality going on. Call them the Mark Webber or the David Coulthard, they had all the necessary parts for success yet never won the title.

The 1999 BTCC Honda Accord

The 1999 BTCC Honda Accord

When Honda returned to the championship in 2002, they were the very definition of plucky underdogs. They started the year slowly, until Priaulx and the team unlocked an explosion of speed and talent that culminated in a highly competitive and race winning car by the end of the year. The Honda team was competitive yet comparative. Back then the team had a car that they knew could win races and challenge for the title; they were on the same level as the other titans of touring cars like Vauxhall and MG. That was always what I loved about the BTCC; it was a mixture of teams and manufacturers that all were comparatively similar, but with their own quirks, quarks and quacks that gave their own colourful individuality. The last few years I found myself releasing large audible sighs every time a Honda would dominate a race or somehow come from nowhere and steal a win from another deserving driver. I know I cannot really blame the team, they were just doing their job, same as Red Bull really. I think I was just beginning to miss the characteristic unpredictability that defined the true meaning of the BTCC.

Andy Priaulx in the 2002 Honda Civic Type R

Andy Priaulx in the 2002 Honda Civic Type R

Are Honda stretching it with the new Tourer for 2014?

Over the last few months, I have spent a great deal of time reading up about what is to come in the 2014 BTCC season. As THE team to beat, it will most likely come as no surprise to you that Honda has taken the spotlight in the media coverage. It has therefore given me ample opportunity to read up about this radical new decision from Honda. At first it makes sense to be skeptical, but when you hear from the horses mouth, the decision by the Honda team begins to make that little bit more sense.

Steve Neal, the team boss, suggests that the decision to move to the Tourer was a clever move by Team Dynamics to keep Honda interested in the championship. Past championships have shown that when a manufacturer loses interest, the resulting team does sometimes suffer. One example is the 2004 championship; the MG team had lost factory backing and as a result did lose out in the main championship battle. Team Dynamics are especially determined, considering that from 2015 Honda will be focusing a great deal of their time and energy on Formula One. In addition to this, Neal senior has been concerned that his team were beginning to suffer from the ‘Vettel factor’ and that people were getting bored with Honda winning. It was almost like he read my mind.

Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden, who will be piloting the cars this year have both seemed very positive about the new machines. Neal junior has been racing for 20 years and this will be the first time he has had the chance to drive a car he describes as ‘wacky’. Similarly, Gordon Shedden admits that the car itself will by definition divide opinion, but having something different in the championship is always great. After all, this is not the first time that the BTCC has had itself an estate car in the field…

…anyone remember 1994?

You are not going blind, that is a Volvo Estate that entered the BTCC in 1994. Don't get that in F1 now do you?

You are not going blind, that is a Volvo Estate that entered the BTCC in 1994.

The 1994 Volvo Estate has become a beloved legend of the BTCC history books. Nobody thought they were being serious, but they were. Tom Walkinshaw, the late great team boss of TWR entered the Volvo in 1994 in what would become a 5 year love affair with the championship. They may not have really achieved anything that year, but they most definitely made a name for themselves and gave them a good starting point for when they moved onto the saloon in 95 and beyond. Volvo eventually won the championship with the great Rickard Rydell in 1998, and everything has got to start somewhere. For Volvo, that estate was the start of something special. It may have been utterly ridiculous, and both Rydell and Jan Lammers have said it was a total animal to drive, but it was definitely individual. For the Honda team, they have already been basking in their own success and are now choosing to use an estate. Maybe 2014 will make history as the year that an estate touring car not only wins a race, but challenges for the championship.

It is not very often I change my views, but I am starting to come around to the idea of the Honda Civic Tourer. It is different, it is wacky, it is ridiculous. And I like ridiculous. At first I thought them arrogant, but I actually am beginning to respect the Honda team for their decision. It is yet another sign that the BTCC is one of the worlds premiere racing series. It is so refreshing to know that the teams are considering the fans in their decision. The Honda team could very easily upgrade the 2013 model and walk away with another championship, but that would indeed be boring to watch. At the end of the day it depends how you want to look at it. This time I am going for the optimistic approach.

But only time will tell. Bring on the 2014 BTCC season opener at Brands Hatch!

Keep Driving People!

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Peace and Love!