As seen on:

SMH Logo News Logo

Call 1300 303 181

BTCC 2014 Review: Bringing the Thunder to Brands Hatch

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

After months of excitement and anticipation, the time finally came for the first round of the 2014 Dunlop British Touring Car Championship. There was no better proving ground than the hallowed tarmac of Brands Hatch in Kent. The Indy circuit provides a sub-50 second thrash of a lap, demanding both high speed and perfect handling. It will come as no surprise (based on the monumental BTCC-based output I am prone to) that this championship has and probably will always be my favourite motor sport series. So one can only imagine my uncontrollable happiness to be first hand witness to the rebirth of a racing phoenix on the weekend of March 29th/30th.

The return of the true champions of motor sport also coincided with the new-look F1 series, with their fancy power-block-drive-train-why-is-it-not-just-called-an-engine. A week previous to the Touring Car return had seen the first race in the F1 calendar fail spectacularly to impress the general public. Since then of course, F1 has proven these new rules can work, but it is still far from convincing many. Could the full NGTC low cost, close racing Touring Cars show the big boys how to start a race season?

A blistering 31 car grid. 7 previous champions. Full NGTC outfit. Supported by an amazing BTC package including Renault Clio Cup UK, Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Formula Ford, Ginetta Junior and the Ginetta G50s, the weekend promised something special.  This was going to be good.

The BTCC grid were all fired up and ready to go. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The BTCC grid were all fired up and ready to go. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Qualifying

Before any racing got underway, there was still the issue of qualifying to get through. The word thrilling does not do justice to what I was privileged enough to witness on that Saturday. Crowd favourite Rob Austin complained about his 11th position start for the first race; usually I have no time for comments like this. This time was an exception however, considering Austin was only 0.260 seconds off the pole time. I completely understand his frustration; his car is massively competitive yet due to the clever NGTC rules, he is only 11th. In fact, of the 30 cars that turned up for the first race weekend, the top 23 all qualified within one second of each other. If that isn’t competitive then I don’t know what is. Granted, the top 5 positions were filled with the ever familiar faces of Jordan, Plato, Turkington, Neal and Shedden, but no one can deny the level of competition present in the championship this year.

As the cars lined up on the grid for the start of the first race, you could feel the magic in the air. Nobody knew what was going to happen.

As the flag dropped on the 2014 season, it was all out action from the off to the flag. Image Credit: BTCC.net

As the flag dropped on the 2014 season, it was all out action until the flag was waved. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Race Day

For those who were watching on television, the first two races may have appeared to be a continuation of form from last year. It was very much a Honda, MG and BMW affair, with Jordan taking the first two races rather comfortably. But, in the midfield the changes of position were constant and mostly all very well undertaken. It was all rather thrilling. In terms of the usual suspects, it was quite interesting to see an uncharacteristic set of problems appear for Jason Plato in the MG team, who after a podium finish in the first race, had to start the race from the back. It was fascinating to see him carving his way through the field up to 11th by the end of the race. In a post-race interview, Plato said that he did the best he could and ‘to get from last to the top 10 was basically impossible’.¬†Considering this was the most successful touring car driver ever saying this, you must admit you would be pretty inclined to believe it.

It may have been a common occurrence to see the works Honda team fighting for the top positions, but it came as a considerable shock to many. The Yuasa Honda team had introduced their new estate Civic (the ‘Tourer’) to the surprise of many, and pre-season testing would have given the impression that they may not be as competitive straight away. Yet they come to Brands Hatch (a track they specifically mentioned would be tricky for them) and were as strong as ever. In many ways I should be happy for the Honda team that they have managed to get good performance from their new model. Yet, I find myself audibly exhaling with a hint of frustration; for the last few years the Honda team has been so utterly dominant that I was hoping for a change. And if this was their weak track, I can see them doing rather well at Donington Park next weekend. My feelings aside, well done to them, the new car may be a bit of a shock to the eyes, but it definitely works.

Plato managed to well deserved podiums over the opening 3 rounds. Image Credit: Adam Johnson

Plato managed two well deserved podiums over the opening 3 rounds. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

Jordan and Plato have assumed their usual positions at the top. Is a new rivalry forming? Image Credit: BTCC.net

Jordan and Plato have assumed their usual positions at the top. Is a new rivalry forming? Image Credit: BTCC.net

The third and final race of the day has always mixed up the action somewhat, due to the reverse grid system that is used. The clever thing is that the drivers have no clue how many positions will be reversed; the number is picked out of a hat after the second race. So where once you would see drivers purposely slowing to get themselves 10th and therefore pole for race three, now nobody knows. All rather exciting really. The reverse grid greatly benefited the eBay BMW team, who began the third race with the perfect start and a formation fly into the first few laps. This began to fall apart when the limits of Nick Foster’s talent began to show. I do feel sorry for him, because he really does suffer with the ‘other driver’ syndrome. It is clear through example that he lacks the same ability as Collard and Turkington, and this was shown at Brands when he slipped from his early lead to 19th by the end of the race.

Formation flying: the eBay motors BMWs proved they have the performance to challenge for the title this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Formation flying: the eBay motors BMWs proved they have the performance to challenge for the title this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

After the first round of the championship, the points totals are somewhat predictable, yet still interesting nonetheless:

  1. Andrew Jordan – 47 points
  2. Matt Neal – 45 points
  3. Colin Turkington – 44 points
  4. Gordon Shedden – 40 points
  5. Jason Plato – 38 points
  6. Rob Collard – 34 points
  7. Adam Morgan – 18 points
  8. Sam Tordoff – 17 points
  9. Nick Foster – 16 points
  10. Rob Austin – 16 points

The old flames may be dominating the top of the table, but the first round at Brands Hatch did definitely raise some interesting talking points that may change the course of the championship over the year.

Talking Points from Brands Hatch

Towards the rear…

I often find that with many motor sport series that some of the best talking points come from those who occupy the back of the grid. The 2014 BTCC season appears to be no different. There are some towards the back who I believe are only there because they have not yet had the development or experience to challenge the top end. One example of this is the wonderfully named Simon Belcher in the Toyota Avensis; he may have occupied the back of the pack most of the weekend but his lap times were plummeting. I suspect he may be reaching the high mid-pack and maybe even a top 10 by the end of the year. And then of course there is United Autosports who have their fingers in many a motor sport pie (usually GT based series); they have now decided to enter the BTCC with James Cole and Glynn Geddie. Given their previous successes, after a few races and further work they will be much further up the grid. It will be nice to see a fellow Glynn on the podium!

Someone else I definitely had my eye on was the sole American entry Robb Holland in his Audi S3 saloon. Not only does he have one of the best personalities in the field, but I foresee a great future for him. If he follows the path of the Rob, like Austin before him, he will soon be sticking it to the big boys. Same goes for the young Jack Clarke in the Crabbies racing Ford; he may not follow the path of the Rob, but I just cannot wait to see a car sponsored by alcoholic ginger beer at the front.

The American Robb Holland may follow his fellow Rob (Austin) into greatness. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

The American Robb Holland may follow his fellow Rob (Austin) into greatness. Image Credit: Adam Johnson Photography

Ollie Jackson and 'The Man Who Beat Button' (Marc Hynes) were both unimpressive at Brands, but hey its only the first round. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Ollie Jackson and ‘The Man Who Beat Button’ (Marc Hynes) were both unimpressive at Brands. In the case of Jackson he seemed to enjoy being a flamethrower most of the time so I shall let him off, but hey its only the first round. Image Credit: BTCC.net

As much as I reward greatness in eternal praise through words, I also rather enjoy a bit of naming and shaming. Two names stand out more than any other; the first of these being Marc Hynes, or should I say ‘The Man Who Beat Button’. Ever since he was a confirmed entry to this years championship, he has only been referred to as the man who beat Jenson Button to the F3 championship many moons ago. Considering his wildly amazing reputation (he is also a driver trainer for the Marussia F1 team), I was expecting him to be the next Gabrielle Tarquini and storm the championship and blow everyone away on his first attempt. He may be ‘The Man Who Beat Button’, but over the weekend it seemed that he was more ‘The Man Who Was Beaten By Everyone’. If it wasn’t for the fact he had received so much hype I wouldn’t be so critical, but his performance was the ultimate characterization of exhaustive disappointment. His crowning moment was undoubtedly his destruction of the ever ridiculous Martin Depper.

I almost feel sorry for Martin Depper; as the team mate to the mighty Andrew Jordan he was rather embarrassing to watch. He was disqualified in race one, and then failed to finish both race two and race three. It takes a special kind of fail to manage that, especially with a team that is a proven race AND championship winner. He appeared to lack any form of pace or potential. He has gone from being ‘the other one’ in the Pirtek team to nothing but a slow and deep exhale, laced in exhaustion and derision.

The bottom bread in the Pirtek sandwich, Jordan leading and Depper far, far down at the back. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The bottom bread in the Pirtek sandwich, Jordan leading and Depper far, far down at the back. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The Shining Lights of the BTCC

At the other end of the scale, there were of course those who massively impressed across the weekend. The first of these is Tom Ingram, in the Speedworks Avensis. Ingram is a 3-time winner of the BTC support Ginetta G50 championship, and in his debut race weekend in the BTCC, he blew me away. He qualified sixth, and put in strong performances across the weekend. If he is not a race winner by the end of the year, then I will be the next Prime Minister of the UK. Sadly however, following two superb top 10 finishes, in race 3 he had an unfortunate coming together with Alain Menu which prematurely ended his race. I take my hat off to the Speedworks Team, they have done a fantastic job this year and they could not have chosen a better driver to lead their charge to glory.

The car hitting the wall, is a Toyota! Ingram suffered an unfortunate crash in race 3. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The car hitting the wall, is a Toyota! Ingram suffered an unfortunate crash in race 3. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Rob Austin, the ultimate fan favourite among the current generation of touring car drivers certainly did not disappoint at Brands Hatch over the weekend. He finished a stunning 5th in the first race, proving he had lost none of his skill and talent from last year. Sadly, a mechanical problem ruled him out of race two, meaning he started from the back for race three. Now, do you remember that Plato had said it was impossible to get from the back to a top 10 finish was impossible? (Do remember that he was driving a factory MG). The flying Austin managed to get from last to 11th, and was mere meters away from 10th. If Austin was not marred by crippling bad luck, he would most definitely be a champion. If him and his Sherman continue on this upward trend, they will soon take final victory they deserve.

Similarly, I was blown away by the WIX racing Mercedes of Adam Morgan; mot only does it look spectacular but Mr Morgan knows how to drive that machine well. He put in consistent performances across the weekend and was constantly competitive. He will earn himself a few race wins this year, that I am sure of.

Rob Austin and the amazing Sherman (his new Exocet Audi) were stunning at Brands. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The Power of the Four Rings. Rob Austin and the amazing Sherman (his new Exocet Audi) were stunning at Brands. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR (Brilliant Motor Racing)

In my humble yet passionate opinion, the team that impressed me most over the course of the first three rounds was team BMR. Warren Scott, Aron Smith and Alain Menu definitely thrust themselves into the limelight. Scott and Smith proved that the BMR boys know exactly how to make a race car that works both aggressively and consistently. The return of Alain Menu to the sport that made his name was one of the most exciting things to come out of the close season, and unlike ‘The Man Who Beat Button’ and Giovanardi in some respects, he categorically lived up to the reputation and expectation that preceeded him. Where Giovanardi (a former champion of the 00’s) struggled to find pace and performance, Menu returned to ultimate driver mode.

He may have suffered a spin at the first corner of the first race, and then struggled on the option tyres in race two, but race 3 changed that. He had made his way from the back of the grid to 17th in race two, but race three saw him blister his way up to 5th overall, defeating names such as Giovanardi and Flash Gordon in the works Honda. Having the chance to watch the return of a true legend to the BTCC at my favourite track was the perfect mix of excitement, worry, thrills, drama and general joy. Menu joins the BTCC from the WTCC, which saw one of the worst displays of touring car racing recently in Morocco. If this form continues, and with a little more development and experience, I would not be surprised to see Menu challenging for the title either this year or next year. With a cheeky wink and the love-able self confidence, this is exactly why Alain Menu is the ultimate touring car driver in my eyes.

Team BMR will soon reign after their great show. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR will soon reign after their great show. Image Credit: BTCC.net

And so, I can say without any shadow of a doubt that the BTCC is back and better than ever. It is such a shame that the WTCC has the ‘world’ status considering the shambolic race weekend that was had. Ultimate touring cars? After what I witnessed at Brands Hatch, it is clear that the BTCC should once again reign as THE international touring car championship. In a field of 30 cars, all of whom are improving by the race, who knows what will happen this year. Hard, thrilling and exciting races.

For full results from Brands Hatch, please visit: http://www.btcc.net/results/

The next round at Donington is fast approaching. This year will be something special.

Can the titans be toppled? Will we see the rise of a new star? Will a blast from the past steal ultimate victory?

Only time will tell…

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Follow me on Twitter @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

 

Comments are closed!