BTCC 2014 – Runners and Riders

…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.

Rob Collard

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.

Dan Welch

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.

Wacky Races

It has been said that life seems to go in cycles, and the world of BTCC it’s usually around 24 cycles in a 30 minute period as the cream of Britain’s motor racing crop go tyre to asphalt, headlamp to brakelight and, most thrillingly, bodywork to Armco round the racetracks of the UK.

Far slower than the breakneck pace of the on-track action has been the series’ rise in profile after the Super Touring era of the 1990s, when the sport became a serious rival to F1 as the highest profile motorsport in the UK.

Back in those heady days came manufacturers in their droves. Ford, Volvo, Vauxhall, Nissan and Honda – to name but a few – threw large chunks of their marketing budget into a competition where paint was exchanged on every corner.

Super Touring era BTCC cars

Televised on BBC2 with the inimitable Murray Walker describing the thrills and spills, BTCC was prime Sunday afternoon viewing as an international cast fought it out for the honour of becoming champion, and the teams battled for forecourt, as well as racetrack, supremacy.

But, as will no doubt happen in the world of football at some point in the future, the bubble had to burst. The money which had flooded in would dry up. The manufacturers moved their budgets elsewhere, BBC dropped their coverage, and interest in the championship waned.

Series director Alan Gow began the long, slow process of recovery. Rules were changed and formats altered to reduce the cost of competing, and to make the series more attractive commercially.

It’s been a long haul, but with the support of ITV, who picked up the broadcasting baton in 2002, and long-term sponsors Dunlop, interest has steadily grown over the past few years.

A key element in the revitalised BTCC has been the introduction of Next Generation Touring Car regulations in 2011.

These updated rules standardised many of the parts used during a car build, limiting the development of bespoke parts and somewhat normalising performance. The intention is that this will make it easier and more rewarding for smaller teams to take part in the series and build up the field to a maximum grid of 32 cars.

It says much for the growing reputation of the series that many events last year pulled crowds comparable with those during towards the end of the previous century, and it looks likely that 2014 will be the first year a full grid is achieved.

Perhaps the most telling sign of how far Gow has taken BTCC is the level of driver that will compete this year.

The 2013 season began with four champions on the grid: Jason Plato reprised his role as the championship’s very own Dick Dastardly, facing off against his long-time rival Matt Neal, the 2012 winner Gordon Shedden and the returning 2009 victor, Colin Turkington.

Last season’s champion, Andrew Jordan, is the fifth previous winner on the grid this year, and over the winter two more drivers have returned for another crack at getting their name on the trophy.

Action at the Konockhill Hairpin, 2013

Both are double-winners. Swiss driver Alain Menu  took silverware with Renault in 1997 and Ford in 2000 and has signed up to pilot a VW Passat CC for the ambitious Team BMR, while feisty Italian Fabrizio Giovanardi will be the lead driver for Motorbase as they aim high with their Ford Focus.

Gio won back-to-back titles for Vauxhall in 2007 and 2008, but could not repeat the feat in the manufacturer’s final season, 2009. He made a fleeting appearance in 2010, but lasted just one meeting before sponsorship issues saw him pull out.

Incredibly, as I type this article there are rumours that 1990 champion Robb Gravett may return to the grid in 2014, at the ripe old age of 57. That this is even being discussed shows the BTCC is back to it’s bizarre, weirdest and most entertaining best.

Lets hope that this time, Wacky Races are here to stay!

Red Dwarf: Bodyswap

I’ve done that thing again where I’ve not blogged for an eternity. Something like twenty months, give or take. Time flies! I guess, were this a film, it’d be time for one of these

But a blog isn’t a film, is it? I mean, I could do one of them new-fangled video-blog (vlog?) things but quite frankly you don’t need to be subjected to either my face or my voice. Nor do you want to see the state of my abode!

In the absence of a montage, here’s a quick summary:

  • Red Dwarf died
  • I got a new job
  • Saw some horses racing and some cars racing in Englandshire
  • Saw Scotland so nearly defeat the Auld Enemy
  • Travelled outside the UK (it was only to Dublin but it counts!)
  • Met my adorable nephew and a heap of new family
  • Saw my brother get married (hence the above)
  • Red Dwarf was resurrected

That about sums it up, really. I’ve been having fun all week because after a nine month absence, half of which was due to my own stern refusal to actually – y’know – do something about sorting it out, RED DWARF CAME HOME ALL ROAD LEGAL AND EVERYTHING! With some new metalwork.

Let’s give that some focus. Last year, it went for an MOT and required some welding. After some to-ing and fro-ing, the garage it was at did this:

Red Dwarf - No boot!

“I think it might need a new boot floor,” I was eventually told. No kidding! Long story short, Red Dwarf was trailered off to see a nice man called Dave (natch) who, under his Icon Restorations superhero pseudonym, restores icons.

The trailer it went away on may have been a little less than subtle:

Red Dwarf - Trailered

Off it went, and Dave went to work. He’s a nice man, is Dave. Likes decent music, plays in bands and has some killer motors of his own.

After a short period of time, word came through the wires that it was done. No sweat, simple as that. Why the hell did I miss the entirety of the 2013 show season?

Red Dwarf - in progress

Red Dwarf - almost done

Red Dwarf - Done

BOOM!

Still a bit of work to do to get the motor into the kind of condition I’d be totally happy with, but certainly the fact I can get out on the open road and do what Minis are supposed to do in the year of a British IMM makes me a happy Nev!

Who knows, I might even write some blogs this year.

Grampian Country Fair

Another week, another Mini show as AMOC took part in the Grampian Country Fair at Fyvie Castle. It was an early start on what was a miserable day, but fortunately the weather mostly held.

The event is a long-standing charity fundraiser with the cast of Emmerdale on site as special guests.

Kelvin Fletcher who plays Andy, made a couple of stops by the AMOC display and happily posed for photos. Kelvin has recently started racing Minis so took a keen interest in the seven cars we had on display, which included two from Inverness as friends of the club had made the trip down to join in the fun.

I’m not a fan of soaps so didn’t embarrass myself by asking for a pic of the chap with my Mini, but made up for it by being dragged into the show ring to talk about the club and draw some punters our way… Oh the joys!

AMOC display at Fyvie

AMOC display at Fyvie

Thistle Run 2012

Having got Red Dwarf back on the road, I felt it was about time I started to get involved in more Mini events, and what better place to start than the Thistle Run?

This annual event is run by the Central Belt-based Mini Clan, and this year’s route was to run from The Falkirk Wheel to Anstruther Harbour, with funds raised being split between the MS Society Scotland and Anstruther RNLI. Thanks to my sponsors, who pledged a total of £240 for these worthwhile charities.

My passenger Chris and I convoyed with Iona and Andrew on the way both to and from the run.

The run route was never going to be direct and took in some stunning scenery as we headed north through Dunning Glen and back down towards Falkland in Fife. The final leg took us back north towards Cupar, and then cross-country to Anstruther for a static show of the 180 participant Minis.

It was a bumpy ride at times, quite literally, but all the cars made it to the end by hook or by crook

In terms of Red Dwarf, she didn’t miss a beat though there was a slight “SPANNERS OOT!” incident when she failed to start after a fuel stop in Dundee on the way down. Nothing serious, though!

A few pics below, including a very unusual “old” Mini!

Red Dwarf is back!

Well then, well then! I’ve not forgotten about you blog, I know you are here, just waiting for me to return. Where were we when last we spoke?

That’s right; I’d just bought a second car as a daily driver due to general Mini unreliability, and was awaiting pickup. Since then, I’ve had two cars for 10 months and driven countless miles (yeah, I know they are counted. I just can’t be bothered to “do the math”).

Crucially, what I’ve also done is bring the Mini back to something resembling full health. Not perfect by any means, but close to it.

Let’s go back to the end of February. After a winter off the road, my faithful little friend was much like this blog. A little sorry for itself, seemingly neglected and in need of a little something to perk it up.

So, off for an MOT it went. And lo and behold, it… failed. Miserably. While mechanically sound, there might have slightly been some holes requiring attention. Erk! Erk to the tune of 850 quid, even.

Still money well spent, only for the starter motor to die when I went to pick the car up from the garage. Another £150 spent, and the rolling total up to £1000. Ouch.

But you know what? Driving a Mini is such fun, it’s worth it. Fully MOT’d and taxed, the beast is BACK!

So then, back to the road we go, and after a few trips to road-test, we really are back in action… UNTIL… (you knew there was an “UNTIL”, didn’t you?).

Off to a mate’s for a BBQ and, as I start up the car on a warm and sunny evening, I wonder why there’s condensation on the windscreen… then notice the unexpected water feature in the passenger footwell. I can’t find any leaks so best guess is the heater matrix has given up the ghost. Let’s test those Mini-fixing skills I’ve acquired!

Changing a Mini heater matrix is pretty simple, though it can be a bit awkward getting the unit out due to the cosy nature of such a small cabin. You’ve got to drain the cooling system, trying not to get coolant everywhere, and then haul the heater unit out the car. Then it’s just a case of withdrawing the matrix and slamming in the new one.

The worst part? Driving around for the duration of the hottest week of the year so far, with the heater at full blast to try and dry out the carpet. Joys!

Hello, dear blog!

Hello. Long time no see! What you been up to?

Here’s a brief synopsis of my life of late. Drinking, City winning cups, working, drinking, working more, drinking more, gigs (encapsulating drinking), coming second at quizzes, making plans, ruining plans by buying a second car…

Which is why I’m blogging. The Mini now has a companion! Being the sensible adult I am, Red Dwarf developed an(other) issue, so I bought a (hopefully) more reliable companion for it. Despite having nowhere to store the Mini. I’ve not fixed the issue, and have an MOT (and tax, insurance) due in August. Whoops.

If you remember when I bought Red Dwarf, almost two years ago, I couldn’t even drive, so this is hardly a surprise. Whims I am accustomed to.

So, the plan is that Red Dwarf will go into some form of hibernation, and I will drive the new thing (an 05-plate VW Golf) while carrying out essential maintenance. And looking for a flat in Aberdeen, rather than being in Kemnay. Yes, I’m made of money, apparently.

Motor II

Motor II

It’s all a bit exciting, innit?

I’ve already been on the AmD Milltek website, sadly they have nothing for the 1.6 FSI. Kents.

Now, this thing where I have two cars which need tax/MOT/insurance in August… Whoops.

All this amid the background of my work being taken over, and a (hopefully) increased workload. Woo!

An unplanned experiment

So, yesterday turned into a bit of an unintentional experiment. I’d been asked by the PA to cover the Aberdeen v St Johnstone game, and with Peterhead’s season already over, agreed to do so.

I’ve worked at Pittodrie before so know the script. There’s a wireless network there, so I’m able to work off the laptop to fulfil the copy requirements of:

120-150 words before the kickoff
Another 120-150 midway through the first half
up to 200 at half-time, to include a brief summary as an intro
Another 120-150 midway through the second half
Up to 200 again at the full-time whistle
A 600 word consolidated report ASAP after full-time

It sounds a lot of work, but it’s managable, and the requirement to send updates through piecemeal makes it easier to concentrate on the writing.

I arrived in plenty of time, before the team-sheets were even out, so was well ahead of schedule, whipped out the laptop and wrote the first piece of copy. I hadn’t been able to connect to the internet through the wi-fi connection but figured that as I was ahead of the game I’d have time to resolve any issues.

I’d had problems with the internet flaking out the last time I’d been at the Dungheap, but refreshing the browser had seen the connection come back, so I thought this may be the case. Unfortunately not.

By now, I was under pressure and decided to retype what I already had into the iphone, and email it through that. time-consuming, but eventually I got it through. The alternative would be to phone through the copy, which takes forever and isn’t really feasible in the noisy environment of a football stadium, even though it was less than a third full.

Still unable to connect to the wifi, and having also tried a BT Openzone hotspot I was detecting from somewhere, I realised I was going to have to repeat the process for all my copy throughout the game.

I don’t have a word processing app, so continued to type everything up on the laptop in order to use that functionality, but as I was going along I was also typing everything into emails on the phone and, once sent, copied the text into Notes so it’d be there for the full-time copy.

As it turned out, this worked well and allowed me to put through all the copy, bar the first piece which was slightly delayed, in a timely manner and meet all the deadlines.

The phone also acted as my stopwatch as it normally does when I’m working at games, and also the voice recorder for post-match quotes, so essentially an all-in-one productivity device for football reporting.

It’s not perfect, but as a backup solution it certainly did what was required, and with a bit of research and fine tuning, I’m sure it would be possible to find a suitable word processing app with word count feature.

The only failing as far as I could find, was that the voice recorder and notes apps, even with multitasking, are unable to run side by side, so it would be unsuitable for typing up a quotes piece without a second device of some form.

That said, I’m off to buy a mobile broadband dongle as a backup…

Gig Review: Rachel Sermanni (Snafu, 18th November)

Steven Milne’s Dirty Hearts Club is well known for pulling in some of the best new talent both locally and from around the country, and Rachel Sermanni from Carrbridge maintained that fine tradition on Thursday night.

Still just a teenager, she played at the Homecoming Scotland Burns Supper last year, and followed a tour with Stornoway earlier in 2010 with a number of festival appearances. She is booked to play next year’s Celtic Connections festival.

It was on the Stornoway tour that I first saw Rachel, and was instantly taken by the contrast between her strong delivery of her songs and the slightly nervous chat in between.

In the intervening months, she has clearly become more comfortable with that aspect of her shows, and through the night we learn that she’s a bit of a dreamer and, with a little assistance from the crowd, that being asleep is “the only time you really know yourself”.

But that’s a wee bit deep for the back of eleven on a Thursday night, and Snafu was happy just to allow Rachel to captivate us all with her soaring voice.

A lolloping rendition of Pirate Song sets the tone but I’m most impressed with The Burger Van Song, a frustrated riposte at a difficult customer Rachel experienced while spending a week working in a Burger Van.

What connects these songs is that they’re the ones that seem a bit more experimental and allow Rachel to stretch her voice a little more.That feeling of experimentation is also evident in The Circus Song, which seems to reference the likes of KT Tunstall.

Throughout her set there’s a sense Rachel is genuinely appreciative, not just of the small but attentive crowd who have turned out, but also of the talent she has. She tackles this in Ever Since The Chocolate, a song written at a time when she had lost her voice and was unable to sing.

A 40-ish minute set comes to an end with a touching rendition of Song To A Fox, written after seeing one of said animals for the very first time last year.

Rachel performed Bones for BalconyTV back in May:

She’s on Myspace at: http://www.myspace.com/RachelSermanni

Credit where it’s due

The Americans are often criticised for their lack of understanding of proper football, as best shown in their commentary of sawkerball matches, which is usually cringeworthy to say the least.

Clearly, though, they have picked up on the perfect term for the dirty reds from the wrong side of Manchester, as evidenced by their headline about Rooney’s seemingly imminent departure from the crusty claws of Sir Awex:

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