Words and Images by Craig Venn
The VennMotorSport BTCC Diary is in no way officially recognised by the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship…but it should be because both are going to be brilliant.
If you’re not aware of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) and your passion is petrol powered then you really are missing out. It is – in the opinion of this fan – the greatest racing series in the world and what follows is an introduction to the BTCC and my BTCC Diary of 2013, in which I shall be recording all experiences from each of this season’s 10 rounds and 30 races.
Britain hosts many national motor sport series and the British Touring Car Championship is the cream of the crop. It’s bumper-to-bumper, drive-it-like-you’ve-stolen-it racing. It’s competitive, it’s passionate and it’s thrilling. The series evokes the perfect combination of professional racing and passionate enthusiasm and the current drivers echo this; proper racers, men that you can imagine drinking beer and eating fish ‘n’ chips. Some of them beer-bellied and balding with none of the plastic skin and faultless hair of the modern-day grand prix driver but with all the skill – the skill needed to control a tearaway touring car as it cascades sideways down Paddock Hill bend or to cock a rear wheel in the air through the Old Hairpin and come out of the other side ahead – albeit often with missing or dented body panels.
It’s by no means a flash in the pan racing series either. It has a long and rich history; the first race took place on boxing day 1957 and the BTCC has been a staple of the British motor sport scene ever since. It’s showcased some great driving talent over the years as well; Nigel Mansell famously had a couple of goes and managed to right off a few cars along the way. Another F1 champ did a little better in 1964 when, whilst still competing in the F1 season, Jim Clark made a BTCC title the filling between his two F1 championship wins. F1 drivers aren’t the only stars though, drivers like Jack Sears, the first champion; Andy Rouse, the 4 times champion and Jason Plato, winner of more races than anyone have all made names for themselves in the series. Many others have won and gone on to be revered in the world of touring cars. Not just British drivers either, many international driving talents come to the BTCC to test themselves against the best the UK has to offer.
Another contributing factor to BTCC’s success and appeal is that it visits some of the best race tracks in the UK and indeed, the world. Brands Hatch, Donington Park, Silverstone, Oulton Park and others; proper race tracks – race tracks with lumps and bumps and muddy car parks, none of the billiard table smooth expanses of concrete that plague the modern Grand Prix scene. Each track having its own character, each a heavenly ribbon of tarmac draped over parts of the UK by the motor racing gods and designed to test the skill and bravery of every driver who tackles them.
The other ingredient that makes the current BTCC a truly compelling affair is the cars themselves; two litre turbo tin-tops; great for alliteration and even better for close and dramatic racing. It’s intriguing to see your everyday family saloons and hatchbacks go hammer and tongs against each other in fierce competition; There’s something special about a racing series where a fan can say, “My next-door neighbour drives one of those”.
Old rivalries will be rekindled in 2013 with four Champions and a plethora of young guns aiming to take the crown. Gordon Shedden will be attempting to protect the title he won for the first time last year but his team-mate and triple-champ Matt Neal wont want to be upstaged by his team-mate for a second time. As ever, Jason Plato will be bumping and barging his way to a hopeful third title to go with the two he won in 2001 and 2010. While the 2009 champion Colin Turkington returns to the series for the first time since that successful title bid.
The brand new Jack Sears Trophy for competitors in older machinery offers yet another element of intrigue and a thirty-two car grid is going to supply drama at every turn.
The support package for the BTCC is like no other. Raceday wont just see the three headline races from the touring cars but also races from the Renault Clio Cup UK, various classes of Ginetta sports cars, the Porsche Carrera Cup GB and, for the first time in far too long, the British Formula Ford Championship. It’s virtually non-stop too; apart from the handful of minutes between races for grids to form and podium procedures to be completed (plus a short lunch break) there’s constant noise, constant action, constant motor racing! – it’s an assault on the senses and it’s always spectacular. For the cost of a ticket you wont find more, or better racing anywhere else.
Round One of BTCC 2013 kicks off Easter weekend and I’ll be there to report back on the entire experience; from the on-track action to the quality of the burger van’s grub, you’ll get a first-hand fan’s-eye view of one of the greatest motor racing championships in the world.