Looking for a racing series to fill the F1-free weekends before the Spanish Grand Prix? The British Touring Car Championship is racing on the next two Sundays. Guest writer Allan Mooney tells you why you should tune in.
Get ready to rumble! The BTCC is Britain’s best motor racing championship and this weekend the battle rages on.
There are 24 drivers competing for the championship and together they cause enough panel-bashing and overtaking to give F1 stewards a heart attack.
A busy weekend’s racing
Thirty races are held over ten rounds, stretching from April to October on some of the best British Circuits: Brands Hatch, Croft, and Silverstone to name a few.
The 2010 season is shaping up to be one of the best yet. Although there are only three manufacturer teams, seven car makers are represented through manufacturer and independent teams.
Ticket prices are reasonably wallet-friendly: a weekend ticket purchased in advance costs £28 and children under 15 get free entry. The BTCC is much more fan-friendly than F1 with dedicated autograph sessions and pit lane tours.
The race weekend runs from Saturday morning with two 40-minute free practice sessions followed by a 30-minute qualifying session in the afternoon.
There are three races on Sunday, all of equal length and with no mandatory pit stops. The grid for race two is determined by the finishing order of race one.
Unusually the grid for the third race is partly decided by a lottery. The winning driver of race two picks a number from six to ten at random. The number he chooses determines how many cars have their places reversed on the grid.
For example if number seven is picked, the driver who finished seventh in race two takes pole position for race three, sixth place starts second and so on, with the rest of the grid remaining in the order they finished.
The BTCC race weekend also includes action from other championships such as the Porsche Supercup and British Formula Renault. It’s an entertaining support bill which provides great racing.
The next race meeting is at Rockingham this weekend, followed. For those in the UK, ITV4 is showing the race weekend in two parts: 11:00am – 3:15pm and 8:30pm – 10:00pm.
Then the weekend after that the cars are racing on the glorious Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, scene of 14 F1 races between 1964 and 1986.
Then and now
The championship’s heyday came in the 1990s in the ‘super touring’ era. The cars used 2.0-litre engines and were based on road-going models, but spiralling developmental and technology costs meant manufacturers were no longer willing to put up the multi-million pound budgets needed to be competitive in the series. They quit en masse in 1998-9.
New rules were introduced in 2001 to cut costs. Development in aerodynamics was restricted, engines remained 2.0 litres but were limited to 270bhp. Suspension had to remain faithful to that found on the road-going version and all cars carry standard six-speed sequential gear boxes. This successfully cut costs from £6-10 million per car per season to roughly £1.5 million.
The BTCC suffered a slump in popularity from 2000-2003 while new series boss Alan Gow set about rebuilding the championship. His first move was to allow WTCC-spec cars from 2004. Although only SEAT joined as a manufacturer entry, the rules meant a number of manufacturers returned to the sport via independent teams with cars purchased from WTCC teams.
In recent years the BTCC has begun to recover its popularity and race day crowds are getting larger each year.
ITV now broadcast the series with several familiar faces from their F1 coverage team including Steve Rider and Louise Goodman.
Ordinarily they show all BTCC and support races live on ITV4. This weekend’s coverage is a rare exception to that – the third race will not be shown live – but full live coverage will resume at Brands Hatch.
BTCC in pictures
Steven Kane hits the lead as Matt Neal and Rob Collard collide in race three at Thruxton.
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Images (C) BTCC & Peter Still Photogrphic