BTCC 2017 preview - 32 drivers make up the most competitive grid ever

Five manufacturers head the highest quality field the BTCC has seen in recent times (Photo by Marc Waller)The 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring car championship gets under way during the first weekend in April with what could be it's most competitive grid in hit's history.


An incredible 16 previous race winners make up half the grid with an amazing 329 wins between them.

As well as the strength in driving ability, the championship also is boosted by the presence of two more manufacturers, making five manufacturer-backed teams. Vauxhall and BMW, join Honda, MG and Subaru to fight for manufacturer glory with the remaining eleven teams fighting for the independent teams championship all sixteen will battle for the teams championship.

All cars will now be on the newer RML supplied NGTC parts. Dunlop have also updated their control tyres and teams running the TOCA Swindon engine will have an updated version.

As normal there will be thirty races spread over ten weekends in 2017 all broadcast live on ITV4 as well as a highlights show in the following week.

The Teams

Halfords Yuasa Racing (Honda)

Having won the past two titles at the final round, reigning champion Gordon Shedden will be hoping to take a fourth title much earlier but the competitive field suggests it will be his hardest task yet. If he does make if four titles he will draw level with Andy Rouse. Matt Neal is entering his twenty seventh season and will also be looking to add to his title tally. The Honda Civic Type R has been worked on over the winter and will have a new Black and orange colour scheme. As winners for the past two seasons, they have to be seen as one of the favourites to challenge again but it looks certain to be tougher than ever for them.

Team BMW/ BMW Pirtek Racing

West Surrey Racing have snared long deserved manufacturer backing from BMW, their first time as a works backed team since they ran the MG squad in the early 2000s. Colin Turkington rejoins Rob Collard to form the Team BMW squad with Andrew Jordan enterered as BMW Pirtek Racing. All three drivers have been independent champion with Jordan and Turkington both overall champions, Turkington twice with the last time being in the BMW 1 series in 2013. All three are proven winners and hope to be title contenders. Jordan may take longer to get up to speed as he hasn't raced rear-wheel drive before but the Team BMW drivers are well used to the car and will be on it from the start. They will all benefit from a new BMW NGTC engine to power the 1 series. The 2017 teams champions will be challenging once again.

Adrian Flux Subaru Racing/ BMR Racing Academy

After a slow start last season, the BMR run Subaru team got close to taking the title with Turkington and Plato both contenders going into the final round. With Turkington leaving the team, Plato is now the clear number one. Ash Sutton joins the team after his impressive debut season with MG and he should again be strong although the Subaru will take some getting used to after racing front wheel drive cars previously. Plato has been a championship contender for the past few seasons now but always misses out at the final meeting. He will be more determined than ever to take his third title. James Cole continues in a third car and will be hoping to progress up the grid. Announced on media day, former Clio driver Josh Price drives the fourth car under the BMR Racing academy banner. He will be looking to learn from his more experienced team mates and will have the Jack Sears trophy for Rookie drivers as his target for the season.

Powermaxed Racing (Vauxhall)

This team has gone some radical changes over the winter. Kelvin Fletcher (Emmerdale's Andy Sugden) and Hunter Abbott have both left the team who have sold their Chevrolet Cruzes to BTC Norlin Racing (More on them later) in has come a manufacturer deal with Vauxhall and two all new Vauxhall Astra NGTC cars. On the driving front, the team has attracted Tom Chilton to return to the BTCC for the first time since 2011. He will be driving in both the WTCC and the BTCC this season and has looked strong in testing so far. Joining him will be Senna Proctor, son of former BTCC driver Mark Proctor. He has been strong in Ginetta Juniors and Renault Clios but he now makes the big leap up to the BTCC. If the car is good, he should go well. His main aim will be the Jack Sears trophy. Chilton could be a championship contender if the car is up to it.

Team Shredded Wheat with Duo (Motorbase Performance)

Motorbase have attracted a major sponsor in Shredded Wheat and this should give them moire stability than they've had in recent seasons. Mat Jackson is in the Focus once again and he is joined by Martin Depper who has arrived from Eurotech. The third Focus will be driven by Luke Davenport who graduates from the Ginetta GT4 supercup. Jackson will almost certainly be the quickest of the trio and aims to try and take the overall title. Depper has had erratic form in recent years, at times challenging for podiums and on another day he ends up further back. This season had the toughest opposition yet and so Depper will need to be on top form every weekend or he will find himself at the back of the rapid field. Davenport has been quick in Ginettas but going to the Front-wheel drive Focus will take some adjustment and he will need to do this quickly to try and challenge for the Jack Sears trophy.

The class of 2017 (Photo by Marc Waller) The new Astras (Photo by Marc Waller) New colours for Honda (Photo by Marc Waller) One becomes two at AMD (Photo by Marc Waller) Stephen Jelley almost literally flew in the afternoon test session (Photo by Marc Waller) Austin tested well (Photo by Marc Waller)

 

 

 

 

 


MG Racing RCIB Insurance (Triple Eight)

MG has an all new line up after both Ash Sutton and Josh Cook left the team over the winter. In their place will come two more quick young driver. Aron Taylor-Smith and Daniel Lloyd. Taylor-Smith's name has grown after he got married over the break and after a succesful season with small team BKR he steps up to a works car. He's proved himself quick is past seasons and so will be looking to win once again. Lloyd had a part season with Eurotech last year. At times he was the quickest out there but he also made mistakes. If he can match his awesome speed with some mistake free driving he will definitely be a race winner again at the very least.

Speedworks

Tom Ingram had his first win in 2017 and looked like a title contender for a while. The team has done a huge amount of work on the Toyota Avensis once again this winter including a major facelift to match the latest version of the road car. Ingram will be looking to continue winning in 2017 but this time with more consistency to enable him to challenge for the title overall.

Handy Motorsport

It took Rob Austin longer than expected to adjust to his Front-wheel drive Toyota Avensis last season but once he did he was a regular challenger for podiums. This year he hopes to continue where he left off 2016 and be a regular front runner. In a season this close, consistency will be important for any title challenge. He is one of the most popular drivers on the grid and it'll certainly be popular with a big chunk of the fans if he can find his way to the top step.

Ciceley Motorsport

Adam Morgan's family team were strong at the beginning of last season and actually lead the title battle but then some poor results dropped them back. If he can avoid the bad results this season and combine that with more wins, he could be another contender. His Mercedes A-Class has gone from Yellow to Red as Mac Tools swap with Wix Filters to become his main Sponsors.

Laser Tools Racing

It's easy to forget that Aidan Moffat is still a young driver as he's already competed in the BTCC since 2013. He has been edging closer to that first win and he hopes 2017 will be the season he finally does it. With his Ciceley built Mercedes A Class he has the equipment to do it and this could be the season he finally becomes a consistent front runner.

Eurotech Racing

Martin Depper leaves the team and is replaced by Jack Goff in the team's Honda Civic Type R. Teasm owner Jeff Smith drives the other car. Goff has already driven several cars in his BTCC career but has settled in well with Eurotech. He could help bring the team back to the level it was when Andrew Jordan won the overall championship. Owner Jeff Smith has been a podium finisher in the past but he also has weekends where he struggles. If he can unlock his pace on a more regular basis he could surprise people.

Autoaid RCIB Insurance Racing/TAG Racing (Team Hard)

Tony Gillham's popular team go back to the VW CC, a car that the team originally introduced to the BTCC. Jake Hill and Michael Epps continue with the team and they're joined by Will Burns. Epps and Burns are entered as Autoaid/RCIB Insurance racing with Hill enterer under the TAG Racing Banner. The cars have won races in the past few seasons and the team have upgraded them over the winter. Hill is always quick and Epps was a regular points scorer too last year. They look set for strong point, possible podiums and maybe even the top step.

Simpson Racing

Matt Simpson returns with his Civic Type R. This time, Team Dynamics, the people behind the Honda team will also run Matt. This should give him a boost but he will also need to up his game from last season or he could find himself left behind by the increased pace. A big winter testing crash hasn't helped his preparation although he can console himself with the fact that it was caused by a fault and not his driving.

Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport

This team ran Alex Martin last season under the Dextra Racing banner in a Ford Focus. They return with the same car but now driven by former BTCC race winner Stephen Jelley. They will also run the Maximum Motorsport Ford Focus after the withdrawl of Welch Motorsport. Stewart Lines should have been behind the wheel but a cycling crash caused a change of plan and it's the rapid Josh Cook that takes the seat. Cook is quick but so far only Motorbase have succeeded in making the Focus a winning car. If between them, Cook, Jelley and the team can unlock the car's true pace then they will be up with Mat Jackson fighting for points. Podiums and maybe even wins.

Alan Gow remains in charge (Photo by Marc Waller) BMW give WSR manufacturer backing (Photo by Marc Waller) Jack Goff is at Eurotech (Photo by Marc Waller) A new look for Adam Morgan (Photo by Marc Waller) Ingram fastest in his new car (Photo by Marc Waller) The BTC Norlin cars look dramatic and did well in testing (Photo by Marc Waller) Subaru look strong (Photo by Marc Waller)

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMD Tuning.com

Ollie Jackson returns in his Audi S3 but he is now joined by 2016 Clio champion Ant Whorton Eales in a second Audi. Jackson struggled for much of last year but in the last few races he began scoring regular points finishes. If he can keep up the pace he should be a regular top ten runner with a chance for a podium. Ant Whorton Eales has been quick in Clios, if he can work out the differences to the Audi he should be able to power up the field.

BTC Norlin Racing

In it's original form BTC racing was known as Power Maxed Racing when it last competed but after a buyout by the sponsor, Power Maxed that team morphed into the Vauxhall backed team we see today. Bert Taylor has now relaunched his team who are kwown as BTC Norlin Racing. Running the Chevrolet Cruze purchased from Power Maxed, BTC Norlin have opted to hire Dave Newsham a proven race winner and Chris Smiley who graduated to the BTCC briefly last season before dropping down to the Clio cup. Newsham and Smiley have looked quick in testing and could be one of this season's dark horses.
So in the 32 entries we have eleven different makes giving the spectators a varied grid when they line up on the 2nd April at Brands Hatch.

The teams had an official test on the Thursday afternoon and the following times were posted;
1 Tom INGRAM (GBR) Speedworks Motorsport 1m09.995s (101.78 mph)
2 Rob AUSTIN (GBR) Handy Motorsport +0.114s
3 Chris SMILEY (GBR) BTC Norlin Racing +0.198s
4 Adam MORGAN (GBR) Ciceley Motorsport +0.202s
5 Jack GOFF (GBR) Eurotech Racing +0.251s
6 Aiden MOFFAT (GBR) Laser Tools Racing +0.352s
7 Michael EPPS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +0.612s
8 Tom CHILTON (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +0.663s
9 Dave NEWSHAM (IRL) BTC Norlin Racing +0.682s
10 Ollie JACKSON (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +0.737s
11 Gordon SHEDDEN (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.765s
12 Rob COLLARD (GBR) Team BMW +0.781s
13 Colin TURKINGTON (GBR) Team BMW +0.807s
14 Matt NEAL (GBR) Halfords Yuasa Racing +0.820s
15 Mat JACKSON (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat with Duo +0.878s
16 Stephen JELLEY (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +0.914s
17 Jason PLATO (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +0.948s
18 Jake HILL (GBR) TAG Racing +0.988s
19 James COLE (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.062s
20 Will BURNS (GBR) Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing +1.076s
21 Andrew JORDAN (GBR) BMW Pirtek Racing +1.178s
22 Aron TAYLOR-SMITH (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.258s
23 Senna PROCTOR (GBR) Power Maxed Racing +1.260s
24 Martin DEPPER (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +1.263s
25 Ashley SUTTON (GBR) Adrian Flux Subaru Racing +1.311s
26 Daniel LLOYD (GBR) MG Racing RCIB Insurance +1.322s
27 Josh COOK (GBR) Team Parker with Maximum Motorsport +1.383s
28 Ant WHORTON-EALES (GBR) AmDtuning.com with Cobra Exhausts +1.408s
29 Luke DAVENPORT (GBR) Team Shredded Wheat Racing with Duo +1.540s
30 Matt SIMPSON (GBR) Simpson Racing +1.812s

It was clear that several drivers weren't going for times. Jeff Smith didn't run due to a wrist injury and the newly announced Subaru driver, Josh Price also wasn't on track. Ingram was happy to be fastest;

“I’m obviously happy with that. It goes to show that the immense amount of hard work put in by all the Speedworks boys over the winter has paid off. We had strong pace throughout and managed to get a lot done today in terms of the car balance and race distance runs. It’s been a good start.”

Austin was happy with second in his non face lifted Avensis;

“We just went about our business today and the Avensis feels really good. We went out on old tyres to begin with. I thought I heard ‘P10’ over the team radio, which I was quite happy with but it turned out to be P2. Today’s by no means the full picture, of course, but it’s a good indicator.”

Smiley was pleased to take a surprise third for the BTC Norlin team;

“Today was the first day I’ve driven my own car but I felt comfortable straight away. I didn’t even hook my best lap up properly because I made a mistake. Okay, it’s not a race weekend but this gives the whole team a boost going to Brands Hatch as it proves we’re not far away. We’re in the mix.”

Adam Morgan was happy to have Aiden Moffat join him in the top six (Morgan was fourth, Moffat Sixth);

“To end up with two Mercedes' inside the top six is always encouraging. We managed to diagnose and eradicate some of the issues that have cropped up in previous tests, and we continued to experiment with different set-ups and get used to the new tyres. Overall, I’m very happy.”

Lastly Jack Goff was pleased to be fifth in the sole Eurotech car testing;

“It’s great to finish today inside the top five, although on my last lap I was two-and-a-half tenths up again before hitting traffic. Obviously it’s always tricky to tell at this stage because you never know what ballast levels different people are running but I think we’re there or thereabouts.”

We'll leave the conclusion to BTCC Series Director Alan Gow who spoke at the launch day:

“We are delighted to have officially launched the 2017 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship here at Donington Park.”

“We believe this season will set the bar even higher, with 16 race-winners highlighting the strength in depth throughout the field. Furthermore, attracting two new manufacturers to the grid demonstrates the ever-growing appeal of the BTCC both on and off track. As I noted last season, this truly is a golden era for the BTCC and again proves it is the only show in town in British motor sport. With so much quality amongst drivers and teams alike, unpredictability is very much the name of the game and that is what keeps the fans coming back for more – in increasingly greater numbers.”

He continued;

“With the unstinting support of our title sponsor and loyal broadcaster, tyre and technical partners, the BTCC is set to deliver in spades once again and judging by today’s attendance, the level of interest is sky-high and everybody is excited to see how things shake out in the opening round at Brands Hatch. It’s going to be an absolutely stellar season.”By Marc Waller 

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