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BTCC: A Return To The World Stage?

The start of the 2014 British Touring Car Championship draws ever closer, and the recent outpouring of announcements have laid the foundations for what will be a year to go down in the history books. I have written previously about how this year will see 7 Former Champions competing for the crown, with a rumour of a possible eighth in Robb Gravett. And of course we have the factory Honda team entering a Civic Estate, the first time since the famous Volvo of 1994. The most recent news has been a confirmation of something everyone has been excited about since the close of the 2013 season…

There will be a 31 car grid for the 2014 season. That’s right, 31. Of those 31 drivers, 11 manufacturers are represented, including 14 different models. That is what you call variety. The BTCC has become one of the most vibrant grids of any world motorsport series.

BTCC has confirmed a 31 car grid for 2014. Image Credit: BTCC.net

BTCC has confirmed a 31 car grid for 2014. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Originally, TOCA had set a maximum of 30 licenses for the year, but how can anyone say no to the British Touring Cars? To understand the significance of this, let us go back in time to 2001. 2001 represented the last significant rule change in the BTCC; the Super Touring cars had become too expensive so the rules were changed dramatically to save money. As a result, the start of the 2001 championship consisted of a field of barely 5 cars. By the end of the year, the touring class had just about nudged 10, saved only by the tidal wave of production class entries. Ever since then, the championship has been in a kind of recovery mode. However they tried to spin it, it was tear jerkingly obvious that the BTCC was struggling to gain any kind of recognition; they were living in the shadow of their former glories. There have been slight rule changes such as Super 2000 in 2007 which saw the reliance on similar regulations as that of the European and World touring car series. Finally, in 2009 the BTCC released the details of the NGTC (Next Generation Touring Car) which would further reduce costs, separating the cars from the international touring car series, while also reducing performance differences between cars in the field. This was fully implemented in 2011, and suddenly everything began to change…

In 2001, the BTCC field was embarrassingly small, which lost a lot of the fanbase that had been so strong in the 90s

In 2001, the BTCC field was embarrassingly small, which lost a lot of the fanbase that had been so strong in the 90s

The reduced running costs gave more teams a chance to enter the championship, and little by little the field began to increase in size. Since 2011, the championship has exploded back into the limelight of British motorsport, displaying the same exciting, gritty and genuine racing talent that made the sport so successful in the 1990s. I believe that it was this very fact that enticed so many former champions back to the field. Alain Menu himself has said that he could not wait to return to the championship this year for the very reason that it had once again become so passionately exciting.

The final races of last years championship is the perfect representation of everything I have been saying. The final meeting could have seen any one of three drivers take the crown. The races at Brands Hatch were plagued by the unpredictable, explosive mistress that was heavy rain. In changing conditions, everything was up for grabs. It all came down to the final race where Andrew Jordan proved his worth as a champion with a drive from the very back of the grid to clinch the crown.

Andrew Jordan will be hoping to defend his crown in what will be a legendary year for the BTCC. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Andrew Jordan will be hoping to defend his crown in what will be a legendary year for the BTCC. Image Credit: BTCC.net

A Fruitful Future?

Back in the 1990s, the British Touring Car Championship was a truly international affair; the championship itself may have been based in the UK, but top drivers from all disciplines across the globe flocked to take part. By the late 90s, finding British drivers in the BTCC became a genuine rarity. However, when the championship fell head first into its embarrassing identity slump, most drivers disappeared over to the World Touring Car Championship, which at that time was significantly better televised and fruitful for the drivers.

I have a feeling that this may all be about to change. The return of the champions also sees a return of the international driver. Among the predominantly British field, we have Italian, Swiss, Irish and American drivers. If the touring cars continue on their rocket ship to the cosmos of awesome and beyond, I foresee that the world class drivers will come streaming back to the BTCC. I believe that the BTCC is fast returning to the glory days of old; it is not only the jewel of British motorsport, but it is fast scaling the mountain to global domination. The BTCC would once be shown on Grandstand, the prime sporting programme on the BBC, and gained a place in the hearts of our nation. These days, it is given full race day coverage on ITV4. ITV4 may be one of the ‘other’ channels to the main ITV (which is second to BBC), but not even the F1 gets full coverage including the support races.

The increasing success of this new era will see a new popularity through increased exposure; I foresee some of the main races being shown on the main ITV channel, mainly to show that there is actually decent motorsport out there, given the current failures of the new F1 season. But that is another story.

Are we seeing a return of the glory days?

Are we seeing a return of the glory days?

The future’s bright. The future’s tin top.

Bring on the 29th/30th March.

To follow all the action from the weekend, follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

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