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Has the BTCC just stolen the show?

Image Credit: BTCC.net

Image Credit: BTCC.net

The British Touring Car Championship blasted back onto the scene at Brands Hatch for the opening round of the 2015 season. As the dust clears on what can only be described as a sensation return to form, the time has come for some evaluation. With other world series underway, how has the BTCC fared? The world of motorsport is ultimately for the collective enjoyment of the drivers, teams and fans. And after what I had the pleasure of witnessing on Easter Weekend, I am starting to believe. Has the BTCC stolen the show?

From the outset, not that it really needs stating, I must mention that as a passionate fan of the BTCC this may just be a little biased. But I am a firm believer that everything is subjective, as objectivity does not exist. But that’s another story. Having followed the series from my childhood years in the 90s I have been a first hand witness to the changes and evolution undergone by the series. From the days of astronomical budgets and worldwide glory, to the years of lacking driving standards, I have been there for all of it. Since the introduction of the NGTC regulations, the championship began to take a sudden turn for the better, with a staggering 31 car grid last year. How could that be topped? Was it possible? As I made my way home from the opening round at Brands Hatch, the answer was all too clear. Not only has the BTCC managed to outdo its dizzying heights of 2014, but it might have killed it all stone dead and just stolen the show all together.

I realise that this is a bold statement to make but when the evidence is there it is hard to deny. My first point comes from a few months back where the BTCC was voted by Autosport as one of the greatest touring car series in the world, only falling behind DTM. On that note, I do find it ironic that the BTCC was voted one of the worlds best, far above the WTCC which you would have assumed would be the top touring series. But more on that later. All of this took place in the close season, before the BTCC had taken to the track for the first round at Brands Hatch. Having been there for every moment of the first BTCC race weekend of the year, I can categorically say that things have changed. And what an amazing change it is.

This is not staged, that is how close the finish was. Image Credit: BTCC.net

This is not staged, that is how close the finish was. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Just look at the intense criticism launched at Bernie Ecclestone and F1 recently; teams threatening to leave and dwindling attendance figures. The world is being sent into a laborious pit of predictability with the consistent Mercedes domination, broken on occasion by the plucky Ferrari of Vettel. I could even use almost the same description for the state of the WTCC, except there is no breaking Citroen domination. They are everywhere, and there is no stopping them. So while the FIA continues its relentless offensive on the state of world motorsports, the BTCC stands firm.

Even before the racing began, let us not forget that the championship has been blessed by not one, but two teams that are raising money and awareness for charities. Infiniti with Support Our Paras alongside the #RacingForHeroes (as part of Power Maxed Racing who are an official partner of Help for Heroes) represent a true first in motorsport, and a step forward in the effect motorsport can have in wider society. In both cases, not only are these teams supporting their individual charities, but they are both aim to give our injured veterans a chance to work as part of a race team. You read all the time in the news the sad stories of ex-soldiers who are struggling to make a living, so it is so inspiring and almost revolutionary for the BTCC to be having such concepts as this. Hopefully from their example, the rest of the motorsport world can follow.

The BTCC / TOCA format is the biggest and most successful in Europe and every year it goes from strength to strength. From the 3-race format of the BTCC which makes perfect viewing for both on-track and television audiences (especially at a time when people want instantly accessible action, and not longer endurance viewing), to the outstanding support package, the overall weekend feel is one you will get nowhere else. The rejuvenated Clio Cup and Carrera Cup UK saw non-stop action throughout the weekend. The Porsches last year were often when people would lose interest, but there was no way I was going to take my eyes off the action for even a single second this year. The two Ginetta championships showcase both young talent and those hoping to transition into GT racing, and the skills are undeniable. Finally, the introduction of the MSA Formula for 2015 proved to be a never ending thrill ride alongside the touring cars. Most fitting was the moment that Ricky Collard won his first race, just before his dad Rob Collard went out and won the first BTCC round of the year.

A truly multi-generational win for a multi-talented family in a multi-faceted race series.

In case you were worrying, I have not yet forgotten the racing itself from Brands Hatch. As they say, it is better to save the best for last. Throughout the mid 00’s, it was often the case that there would be the one dominant team or driver that would consistently fill the top places. Even in the last few years, the winner may not have been so clear cut but it was usually a combination of WSR, Honda and MG in the top places, often even the same for the reverse grid too. The impressive pace of Tingram and Morgan can only get better over time, and they are slowly but surely climbing up the order. Furthermore, fan favourite Austin and team mate Abbott have been showing that they are a team to be taken seriously in the Exocet Audi A4s. Well, if of course we forget the whole ball-gate scandal.

The BTCC still has drama a plenty in 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The BTCC still has drama a plenty in 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The results from Brands Hatch reflect the unpredictability that will make this years championship beyond exciting. Let us not forget that the gaps between first and second across the three races were 0.4, 0.04 and 0.1. If that is not close racing I don’t know what is. Long gone are the days where they might be a run away winner who wraps the race up by the first corner. If the success of the first rounds could be summed up in one single moment, then the battle between Shedden and Priaulx for victory in the second race is that moment. If you are going to make a return to the BTCC after going off and triple conquering the world championship, then securing pole for the first race and engaging in one of the most entertaining battles of the weekend for the win is definitely how to do it. Many doubted Priaulx’s abilities upon his return, but it is safe to say that they have been silenced.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Jack Sears contenders are showing that rookies can show the establishment what’s what. Josh Cook especially managed an overall 3rd in first practice, and spent the rest of the weekend battling with some big names like Rob Collard, team mate Dave Newsham and Rob Austin. I foresee the battle between Cook and Bushell (in the AmD Ford) throughout the year will be fierce and spectacular. They may not be a new team, but the new look BMR boys have taken the BTCC field by storm already. Interestingly, it is Aron Smith who is fast becoming the man to watch for the 2015 title, over the two double champions Plato and Turkington. Will it be two titles in a row for the Irish in the BTCC?

Team BMR are looking good for a title challenge this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Team BMR are looking good for a title challenge this year. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The overall quality of the racing from Brands Hatch was sensational, whether you were concentrating on the action at the front, mid-pack or even towards the back. In fact, one of my fondest memories of the weekend comes from race two where there was a train of 12 cars nose-to-tail from the green light to the chequered flag. The NGTC regulations have created a series with such an emphasis on performance parity yet retaining variety that the resultant races are jam packed full of action, drama and entertainment. The added aspect of the mysterious soft tyre has also played a significant part in proceedings already. We saw Priaulx fall off the edge of a cliff he didn’t even know was there in the first race, Collard driving backwards in the second race and Plato charging one step forward then taking two steps back in the final race. Surprisingly (or not) the Hondas seemed to manage the soft tyre in a way that Matt Neal was still able to take the final race win of the day. I have never been one to praise ‘tyre talk’ politics in race series but the soft tyre has added a whole new level of unpredictability that will change from track to track. Planning for the unexpected is difficult, which will throw up some surprises across the 2015 season.

The standings going into Donington this weekend reflect the excitement that is yet to come in 2015. Who would have expected to see Jack Goff in an equal points lead with Matt Neal, with Plato suspiciously absent from the top 10? And with Priaulx on such form, will he really afford to be able to miss some race weekends this year if he has a title to be fighting for?

1 Matt Neal Honda Yuasa Racing 37
2 Jack Goff MG Triple Eight Racing 37
3 Aron Smith Team BMR 36
4 Andy Priaulx Team IHG Rewards Club 34
5 Gordon Shedden Honda Yuasa Racing 32
6 Colin Turkington Team BMR 30
7 Adam Morgan WIX Racing 27
8 Tom Ingram Speedworks Motorsport 26
9 Sam Tordoff Team JCT600 with GardX 23
10 Rob Collard Team JCT600 with GardX 21
Photo Credit: BTCC.net

Can Priaulx continue his success in 2015? Photo Credit: BTCC.net

We may have only had the opening round of the year, but the BTCC is fast becoming THE motorsport series to follow in the 2015 season. It has had everything from triumphant returns to the championship, close battles and even controversy in the ‘Ball-Gate’ scandal with Rob Austin. With ever increasing track side and television audiences in Britain and the rest of the world, following their favourite drivers and manufacturers, what is there not to love? And unlike some other series, tickets are affordable and a weekends entertainment can be had for £35 or so. Compare that to your average F1 ticket.

With the backbone of the NGTC regulations keeping costs down and focusing on pure thoroughbred racing over strategy and single make domination, the British Touring Car Championship may have just become the best race series in the world in 2015.

Follow me on Twitter for all the latest motorsport updates @lewisglynn69!

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

 

 

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