Thruxton thriller set to kickstart new BTCC campaign
The new British Touring Car Championship season kicks off this weekend at Thruxton, with a full grid of 29 cars ready to do battle on the quickest circuit on the calendar.
Although no fans will be in attendance – hopefully the final time that will be the case – there is set to be plenty of action for those watching live on ITV4 to enjoy after a busy winter that saw a raft of chances across the grid.
That is most notably true amongst the manufacturer-backed teams after the departure of Honda from the series, leaving Team Dynamics to run as an Independent outfit for the first time in more than a decade.
There are also changes on the driving front as well after Matt Neal elected to take a year out, and Dan Cammish found himself on the outside looking in as the change in circumstances surrounding the team saw him drop out of his drive.
In in their place come Dan Rowbottom and the returning Gordon Shedden, who is back in the series for the first time since 2017.
Already, Shedden has topped the times during the season launch test at Silverstone and returns to action with his sights firmly fixed on a fourth championship title. Given how well the Honda Civic FK8 has performed at Thruxton in the past, a winning start to the campaign could well be in the offing for the Scot this weekend.
Rowbottom has also show solid pace during testing in the sister car as he too returns to action after a year away, and will expect to be in the fight for points.
Although he has been replaced at Dynamics, Cammish will be on the grid this weekend having been drafted in at BTC Racing in place of Michael Crees after he split with the team last week.
Cammish has a strong record at Thruxton in the past and will be keen to show what might have been, with his focus for the season being on the Porsche Carrera Cup. The BTC Racing car is now fitted with the Swindon engine after a switch over the winter, with Cammish and Josh Cook likely to well in the mix for the opening round.
Jade Edwards in the third car will be making her full season debut this year after a one off outing at Silverstone last year with PMR and ran well in the pack at Silverstone recently – giving her confidence of a strong start to her campaign.
Aside from Dynamics, the two main title rivals from last year – champion Ash Sutton and former champion Colin Turkington – will both also be keen to start on a high.
Sutton returns with Laser Tools Racing and the Infiniti squad should be even stronger than last year, having been able to go out and do some proper testing with the Q50 over the winter. The team has also strengthened behind the scenes with the addition of championship winning engineer Dan Millard to the line-up as well as the addition of a third car for Carl Boardley – who switches over from his ex-WSR BMW 1 Series.
Turkington also has two team-mates once again this season, with Stephen Jelley coming in from the departing Team Parker to partner the four-time champion and regular team-mate Tom Oliphant.
The BMW squad has been hard at work over the winter trying to improve the performance of the car after Turkington missed out on a fifth title on Finals Day back in November, with all three drivers expressing confidence about what they can achieve on track this year.
One title they will aim to defend is the Manufacturers’ / Constructors’ title, which will be between WSR, Speedworks and the new-look Motorbase this year.
Speedworks finally expands to run a second car but in order to do so, has split with long-time driver Tom Ingram after differing commercial requirements for team and driver became apparent. Rory Butcher moves over to fill the void and is expected to be a contender for the title, although team-mate Sam Smelt is more of an unknown given his only season to date in the series in 2018 was also his first full year of racing.
Motorbase meanwhile expand to four cars and also run as a constructor for the first time. Pete Osborne has now taken control from David Bartrum – with Shaun Hollamby’s planned involvement ending early – and the team split in two, with two cars entered by Motorbase and two by MB Motorsport.
The MB side of the garage provides the best chance of success as Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson are partnered together, with Andy Neate and Sam Osborne hoping to spring a surprise on the other side; both drivers having been closer to the pace than many might expect during testing.
A new partnership also begins at EXCELR8, with the team doubling in size thanks to a partnership with Trade Price Cars. The two Audis run by the latter have been replaced by two more Hyundai i30 Fastback Ns, and the driver line-up strengthened by the addition of Ingram – who partners Chris Smiley in two cars run with title backing from Ginsters.
Both drivers are proven race winners and provide the team with its best chance yet of scoring a race win, with the less experienced duo of Jack Butel and debutant Rick Parfitt on the other side of the garage hoping to improve as the year goes on.
Alongside the departure of the Trade Price Cars Audis, the Mercedes that was previously run by Ciceley Motorsport is another car to have dropped off the grid – with the team instead moving over to a pair of BMW 330i M Sports bought from WSR.
Adam Morgan is joined by Tom Chilton in what will be the strongest line-up the team has fielded to date in the series, although it remains to be seen whether or not the pair need some time to get use to the switch to rear-wheel drive. Although both have raced RWD cars elsewhere, it will be a first in the BTCC, with Thruxton being a far from easy place to start.
A new car is also debuting at Team HARD after it switched to the CUPRA Leon; building up four cars to replace the ageing Volkswagen CC.
Jack Goff remains in the position of team leader in what will be his third year with Tony Gilham’s team, but Aron Taylor-Smith will hope to push him close as he returns to the championship after a spell in GT competition. Glynn Geddie and Nicolas Hamilton round out the line-up for what will be an important year for the team as it bids to get the CUPRA up to speed.
The 29 car grid is then completed by Power Maxed Racing, as it reverts back to a two-car team after downsizing last season. Jason Plato heads the line-up after a year away as he bids to try and move closer to the landmark of 100 BTCC wins, with support coming from Dan Lloyd has he heads back to the series for what is set to be his first full season after spending recent years competing in various TCR championships around the world.
The action this weekend will kick off with two free practice sessions on Saturday before qualifying at 14:45, with Sunday’s three races at 11:40. 14:35 and 17:20.