A number of you may be unfamiliar with the British Touring Car Championship. Considering the plentiful arenas of international and Middle East motorsport open for crankandpiston coverage, the BTCC might seem a little too focused. The recent opening weekend at Brand’s Hatch though presents several good reasons for its inclusion.
Firstly, there’s the array of racing machinery on display. Granted the series has lost a lot of manufacturer support since its early-90s heyday, but that hasn’t stunted grid numbers. At in the opening race at Brand’s Hatch, for example, Rob Collard led the opening laps in his eBay Motors BMW 320tsi after an electrifying start from the second row. Slotting in behind him was reigning-BTCC Champion Matt Neal in his works-supported Honda Civic NGTC, surprise polesitter Dave Newsham in the Vauxhall Vectra, and two-time series Champion Jason Plato in the Triple Eight MG 6 GT.
In hot pursuit was Rob Austen in his eponymously run Audi A4, multiple race winner Matt Jackson in the Redstone Racing Ford Focus ST, and Oliver Jackson – who would later sit on the reversed grid pole position for race three – in the AmD Tuning VW Golf GTI. Also bear in mind that each 2.0l turbo-charged Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) produces a not too shabby 300+bhp.
Secondly, the 2012 season boasts a seriously competitive driver line-up. At Brand’s Hatch, series Champions Neal and Plato had multiple race winners Gordon Sheddon (Honda), Mat Jackson (Ford), Tom Onslow-Cole (BMW) and Andrew Jordan (Honda) breathing down their necks, even if event-long technical gremlins haltered Sheddon’s progress. The Scot though was on a charge in race three, authoritatively picking his way through the field from 21st on the grid. Within twenty laps, he’d made up over thirty seconds on the leaders, and with just one more lap, may well have finished on the podium.
Similarly Jackson, fresh off a fighting drive with Pirtek Racing’s Jordan to secure seventh in the opening bout, hauled his brand new Focus further up the field than it had a right to be in the second race, finishing just off the podium in fourth after another gutsy battle. An early engine failure in the final race almost certainly cost Jackson a potential podium. Jordan meanwhile was a revelation in the final showdown, stealing a march on race one winner Collard at Clearways and taking his second consecutive second place, leading convincingly until his tyres went off just two laps from home.
Thirdly, and as ever, the BTCC season opener provided a wealth of close, on-track action. Long-time arch-nemeses Neal and Plato circulated closely in the opening stages of race two, a nudge here and a bump there showing the determination of each to get one over on the other. Ultimately it was Neal who secured race two victory, while Plato made do with the MG’s debut BTCC podium in its first event.