- March 30th, 2014
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…Or maybe that should be Crashers and Brawlers?
The wait is almost over and excitement is building as the 2014 Dunlop BTCC season careers round the bend and heads flat out towards us.
The teams have begun to arrive at Brands Hatch, with confidence high for many after the pre-season testing schedule, and the back-to-school atmosphere of last week’s Media Day.
A 31-car grid has been confirmed for the season, with the erstwhile Mat Jackson becoming the final name added to the roster after a deal put together on Media Day itself. Nothing like leaving it ‘til the last minute!
With no less than SEVEN former champions on the grid this year, competition will be tough at the sharp end of the grid, and at least five of those seven are very likely to be involved in the battle for the championship this term.
Andrew Jordan has it all to do in defence of the title he won last term, and after impressing at the Media Day public test session, it’s very likely his Honda Civic will be among the front-runners.
Jordan has, though, lost his Pirtek Racing team-mate Jeff Smith, but welcomes Martin Depper as his replacement, Depper having last run in a BMW in 2010.
The new Honda Civic Tourer run by the Honda works team in association with Team Dynamics will also be up there, and with triple-champion Matt Neal lining up alongside 2012 winner Gordon Shedden, they have the experience to manage the introduction of the new car and challenge at the front.
Double-champion Jason Plato is among the most high-profile drivers in BTCC and his MG 6 has been there or thereabouts since its 2012 introduction. He is confident this year’s improvements can see the car threaten a title challenge.
Another team with manufacturer backing, Sam Tordoff lines up alongside Plato for a second season, and will be looking to compete for race wins, if not an overall title.
The MG lineup is completed by Marc Hynes who will provide an air of intrigue. Hynes career has gone off-track and into a management role with the Marussia F1 team, but he’s still a racer at heart and has found sponsorship to pull together an entry.
The fifth threat is Colin Turkington. The Northern Irishman took the title for WSR in a BMW 3-series back in 2009, but had not appeared in the BTCC again until last term.
Despite being entirely unfamiliar with the eBay Motors BMW 125, he put together a stunning campaign and remained in contention right up until the end of the season.
Team-mate Rob Collard is himself a proven race winner, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him top the podium over the course of the season, but Nick Foster is likely to be happier with top ten finishes.
The remaining two champions on the grid are both unknown quantities as regards the NGTC regulations, and the teams they are involved in.
Fabrizio Giovanardi’s signing lays down a marker as to the ambitions of Airwaves Racing after a disappointing 2013 campaign, but having been out of the BTCC since the first meeting of 2010, the Italian has to get used to a Ford Focus built to the current ruleset.
Mat Jackson will provide capable backup to Giovanardi, while rookie Jack Clarke will be hoping his on-track performances are as eye-catching as the livery of the satellite Crabbies Racing.
There are even more questions surrounding the final ex-champion, Alain Menu. The Swiss may be a double champion, but in signing for Team BMR, who were formed out of the ashes of last year’s ambitious but underwhelming Team Hard lineup, there is some development to be done to rival the frontrunners.
The VW Passat he is picking up showed promise last term, but the new management and new drivers – team-mate Aron Smith has also taken a risk in leaving his Motorbase comfort zone – will be hoping for a more consistent campaign.
Team BMR will be racing as a split team, and in the other side of the garage are the Vauxhall Insignia duo of Jack Goff and team owner Warren Scott.
Goff has the potential to threaten the podium, as he did at the last meeting of last term at Brands Hatch, and will be looking to build on that success. Scott, meanwhile, is likely to switch to a Passat mid-term to aid his own development.
It’s likely that Rob Austin will be a regular in the top ten with his own Rob Austin Racing Audi A4.He scooped a popular victory at Rockingham last year and with improved backing from new sponsors FAST Exocet, he and new team-mate Hunter Abbott have the potential to breach the podium.
Austin’s good friend Dan Welch also has a home-grown car, and his Proton Gen-2 has undergone a significant rebuild over the winter break. The ambitious Welch Motorsport team has added a second car for Ollie Jackson, and the pair should be regularly within the points.
But as well as friends, Austin also has rivalry on the grid in the form of Adam Morgan, who introduces the Mercedes A-Class to the series with the family’s Cicely Racing team. Cicely have picked up sponsorship from Austin’s former partners, WIX Filters, which will add needle to an already competitive battle.
Dave Newsham will be racing for a sixth team in five years in the BTCC. It was in 2012 that he really announced his arrival, topping the podium for Team ES Racing, but had a disappointing term in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis last year.
He’s washed up at AmD Tuning this year, where he will be racing a Motorbase-developed Ford Focus and will be hoping for a more successful season.
His replacement at Speedworks is Ginetta champion Tom Ingram, who has the potential to develop the Avensis into a machine that can challenge, but it won’t be easy for him.
New entrants United Autosports are a familiar name from GT racing, but make their BTCC bow this term. Aberdonian racer Glynn Geddie makes the move from GTs with the team, while James Cole had half a season with Team Hard last year, and will be looking to build upon solid foundations. Both take the wheel of an Avensis.
Also racing the Toyota model will be Simon Belcher, who steps up from the Renault Clio Cup under the Handy Motorsport banner.
Reigning Jack Sears Trophy champion Lea Wood will pedal a fifth Avensis, with Houseman Racing ensuring he gets a crack at NGTC machinery for the first time.
Towards the back end of the grid, American Robb Holland will be hoping to learn quickly in his new Audi S3, run under the Rotek Racing banner.
Finally, an old favourite car in BTCC, the Chevrolet Cruze, is represented by two teams. 17-year old Scotsman Aiden Moffat will drive a Cruze saloon for Laser Tools Racing, while Chris Stockton will drive the hatchback version for Power Maxed Racing.