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BTCC Manufacturer Madness: Can We Bring Them Back?

For many years, intrepid explorers have ventured deep into the vast depths of the British Touring Car Championship to see what we can understand and learn about this fascinating world. Searching through the great annals of its past, it is easy to see that throughout the 1990s, the BTCC enjoyed its golden years. The times were fruitful, the manufacturers came thick and fast. Alas, as the unstoppable juggernaut of time rolls by, the ‘Super Touring Years’ have been confined to the stuff of legend. The modern times have not been kind to the BTCC; the once flourishing manufacturers have all but disappeared. It is time for change. It is time for action. It is time to save one of the cornerstones of the BTCC from extinction. Some of our latest findings may have given us renewed hope.

The entrants in the BTCC may be flourishing, but only two manufacturers entered the 2014 season. Image Credit: BTCC.net

The entrants in the BTCC may be flourishing, but only two manufacturers entered the 2014 season. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Throughout the 1990s, it was hard to keep track of the number of manufacturers within the championship; Ford, Renault, Vauxhall, Nissan, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Volvo, Peugeot, Toyota and BMW, coupled with such legends as Andy Rouse, Alain Menu, and John Cleland helped to construct some of the best spectacles ever seen in motorsport. As the 90s fell away to the 00s, a great many of these left the sport. For the first few years of the new era, the sport was dominated by Vauxhall under the piloting skills of Yvan Muller and James Thompson. Honda and Peugeot made their return, while new faces were seen in such names as MG, Lexus, SEAT and Chevrolet. However, over the most recent seasons these names have all but jumped ship, leaving only MG and Honda as official manufacturers. With Honda pursuing new routes and returns to F1 and MG coming to the end of its development with its current model, the future is uncertain.

If you are now thinking that manufacturer extinction is a certainty, it is time to think again. Not too long ago, I published my view on the announcement that Infiniti with Support Our Paras Racing will be entering the 2015 championship. On top of that, Ciceley Racing has now released that its 2015 car of choice will be another Mercedes, like that of Adam Morgan and WIX Racing. Until this year, Mercedes had never entered the sport and now it shall enter the 2015 season with a race win under its belt and two entrants just to top it all off. It may not be a manufacturer entry, but it does present an opportunity. I think it is possible to see not only a return of manufacturers but the addition of some brand new names.

Out of the shadows emerges Infiniti, a brand new manufacturer for 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Out of the shadows emerges Infiniti, a brand new manufacturer for 2015. Image Credit: BTCC.net

Let us begin with the Infiniti announcement; the luxury Nissan manufacturer has teamed up with game changing ‘Support Our Paras’ Racing, who are a non-profit team who aim to raise awareness and funds for injured paratroopers and their families. This new team will change how we look at motorsport forever. Motorsport has gone from being a simple sport to a vehicle to bring help and affect real change. All the profits made by the team are to be donated and put to a good cause. With such a fantastic new direction for a team to go in, it can only make sense that they would get manufacturer backing. In this case it just happened to be a brand new manufacturer never before seen in the sport. For a revolutionary new project, of course there needs to be a whole new car to act as a spearhead for the campaign.Perhaps it is here that lies a clue to attract more manufacturers to the sport once more. If there are teams in the championship that can provide exciting new opportunities that may benefit a manufacturer. In this case, the charity link will heighten the credibility and reputation of Infiniti as a manufacturer, which combined with the media coverage through competing in each race can only have a direct effect on sales.

Throughout the 1990s, the BTCC was considered the top touring car series in the world, cemented and confirmed by the packed out circuits and prime time television coverage. Therefore it was in the best interest of the manufacturers to enter teams into the championship. For example, as I sit writing this article I am in full view of my prized Nissan poster from 1999, signed by both Laurent Aiello and David Leslie. Atop the poster reads the line:

“The Primera. Britain’s No.1 Touring Car”

The Nissan Primera was on sale throughout its time as the Nissan entry in the BTCC. This simple slogan acts as simple yet truly effective advertising. Unlike the technologically advanced world of Formula One, touring cars are directly based on their road going counterparts. How great would it be to say that you own the same car that is currently dominating the best touring car series anywhere in the world? Ever since the championship changed from the Super Touring specification in 2000, there has been a significant drop in audience numbers. Even the television coverage has switched to ITV4 which is hardly much of a widespread and watched channel compared to that of the BBC.

However, from my going to various rounds of the championship this year it is clear to see that the audiences are indeed returning; there was a record 31 car grid coupled with much improved racing and full race-day coverage on television. Even the famous (or infamous) show Top Gear often now uses or references touring car drivers within its shows; anything that appears in a positive light on that show will always receive increased interest after all. Even Airwaves racing use the BTCC car in its advert for its chewing gum, proving the effect of the ‘Airwaves kick’ can turn you into someone as talented as Mat Jackson in his BTCC Ford Focus. Not only that but it does provide indirect advertising for Ford itself.

With a race win under their belt and a large fan base, could Mercedes not provide some manufacturer backing? Image Credit: BTCC.net

With a race win under their belt and a large fan base, could Mercedes not provide some manufacturer backing? Image Credit: BTCC.net

Following the Infinity announcement, the press release that Ciceley Racing is to enter a Mercedes A-Class in 2015 is also significant to this discussion. 2014 was the first year that a Mercedes had entered the championship, and under the control of Adam Morgan and WIX Racing significant results were made and even the first even win for a Mercedes which came in the final weekend of the year. Adam Morgan has always been one of the fan favourites in the championship; there was no one at Brands Hatch that day that was sad to see him win the race. Mercedes are most commonly known for their entrance into DTM and of course Formula One, but with the returning audience figures, a deal with the BTCC would be ideal. Furthermore, some believe that DTM is suffering a downfall in popularity due to decreased entries and driving standards. Surely then switching the focus from the possibly suffering DTM to the ever evolving and expanding BTCC would be beneficial to their interests. As if by some poetic coincidence, as I was forming this section an advert for the Mercedes A-Class came on television and I must say that using the BTCC model in the advert would have worked perfectly. The style, sophistication and speed can be only furthered using a race winning car in one of the most challenging race series around.

In 1992, Toyota was one of the most successful teams in conjunction with Andy Rouse. Can it make a return? Image Credit: BTCC.net

In 1992, Toyota was one of the most successful teams in conjunction with Andy Rouse. Can it make a return? Image Credit: BTCC.net

In the case of every other team in the 2014 BTCC (with the obvious exception of Honda and MG), the car they are using has once been a manufacturer-backed team in the championship. Ford are the most successful name in touring car history; I believe that their return would refresh the championship, combining history with modernity with the biggest name in the motoring world. Along with them we also have Toyota who now represent a significant portion of the entries in the current crop of teams. Back in 1992, coupled with the monstrous force of Andy Rouse engineering, Toyota were the biggest and arguably best team in the championship. The same can be said about Vauxhall, who have all but disappeared from the championship having been so dominant in the early 00s. BMW have seen great success as an independent team, which could possibly lead to manufacturer interest in conjunction with WSR. The return of these legendary names may just be the final step in the evolution, revolution and rejuvenation of the BTCC.

There is one great fear in seeing returning manufacturers to the sport, and that is one of finance. One of the driving forces behind the fall of the Super Touring era was one of money; team costs were spiraling out of control. The most famous example of this was the 2000 championship winning Ford team that had a rumoured budget of £12 million. I quite enjoy an interview with series director Alan Gow who said that by the late 90s, the catering budget for the big teams was enough to have run an independent team only a few years earlier. The new NGTC regulations are to make the championship affordable, hence the almost full independent team entrants. If the manufacturers returned, the costs may indeed begin to rise again with the consequential increase in competition. But hopefully the new regulations are strict enough that it prevents too much of a cost increase while fluid enough to provide variability in the entrants. In a world of limited economic availability (apart from maybe Germany, so BMW and Mercedes have no excuse really), it helps having a set of regulations that limit costings which will subsequently appeal to manufacturers who need a new avenue of marketing their products.

In 2002, there were still manufacturers but with smaller budgets. Can we return to that? Image Credit: carenthusiast.com

In 2002, there were still manufacturers but with smaller budgets. Can we return to that? Image Credit: carenthusiast.com

Seeing manufacturers return would be great for not only the sport but the spectators too. Imagine the strength of Rob Austin and Sherman if there was some direct backing from Audi; many of his downfalls in 2014 were as a result of financial issues and lack of funds after all. Additionally, Team BMR have already grown substantially in 2o14 but with Volkswagen in on the deal as well they would most definitely be challenging for the championship. So many of the teams would become substantially more competitive with manufacturer backing, which would then cause an exponential rise in the overall spectacle and racing with more cars able to challenge for wins. Back in 2002, Proton entered the championship and saw some strong finishes with the late great David Leslie. Sadly, in 2014 the independent Proton entry with Dan Welch struggled to find a competitive pace, yet has always been a fond favourite of mine. I would very much love to see how competitive Welch could be with manufacturer backing, considering his unbreakable determination.

It may not be an easy task, but it is entirely possible that the championship could bring back manufacturers once again. What is clear is that communication is key from both sides to see that the benefits are mutual to everyone concerned. Whether this can be done through an attractive deal such as one with a charity based team that will of course bring in a great deal of media and product coverage, or from the other direction where manufacturers are attracted through existing success and a possible marketing direction, the point remains that the potential is there just needing to be exploited. At the centre of it all will always be the BTCC itself; the championship needs to be successful for manufacturers to return and I believe that 2014 represents a turning point in this theory. In my view, 2014 proved that the BTCC is on the rise to its former glories but is still missing the final piece of the puzzle; that final piece of the puzzle is the manufacturers. The manufacturers bring an added spectacle and glamour to the sport that is seen not only on the race weekends themselves but is echoed across the media in adverts, marketing campaigns and other sponsorship outputs.

Everything we need is there. Let the cogs begin to turn. Lets stop the extinction. Bring back the manufacturers.

I would love to hear what you think about this. How would you bring back the big names?

Follow me on Twitter to continue the conversation @lewisglynn69

Keep Driving People!

Peace and Love!

The famous Volvo Estate, who wouldn't love to see a return of a manufacturer doing something this wacky? Also, Volvo have entered the V8 Supercars in Australia, why not bring them back to British shores too? Image Credit: ar15.com

The famous Volvo Estate; who wouldn’t love to see a return of a manufacturer doing something this wacky? Also, Volvo have entered the V8 Supercars in Australia, why not bring them back to British shores too? Image Credit: ar15.com

2 comments

  1. Sam Mace says:

    Great article, Lewis. I really enjoyed it.

    But you say that the Super Touring era cars were “directly” based on their road-going counterparts. That’s only partly true.

    By the end of the ’90s to be competitive cars had to use a space frame based body, similar to how to NASCAR racers are made (or always used to be).

    Some early super tourers used production shells but this didn’t last long. A few teams switched to factory lightweight shells before space frames became fashionable towards the end of decade.

    By 1998 the Primeras (including Matt Neal’s) were purpose built race cars and the Prodrive Mondeos were near as dammit F1 cars in terms of R&D and budget, when Ford through everything at them.

    November 6th, 2014 at 7:32 am

  2. Lewis says:

    Hey Sam,

    I totally understand what you mean, by the end of the 90s the BTCC was more removed from the road going versions. But at the end of the 80s and 90s obviously the cars were still more similar. Also, what I was trying to get at was the fact that when people watch the BTCC, they can relate a lot more to the cars because they look similar to the cars that you see on the road, unlike F1 obviously.

    And yeah the ProDrive Mondeos wow they were expensive pieces of touring car kit. There was a reason the regulations had to change after all.

    Thank you for the kind words though 🙂

    November 14th, 2014 at 5:16 am