As we’ve come to expect from the BTCC the championship is close once again this year with several leaders up to this point. Jason Plato of Team BMR leads the title hunt going into the weekend but with the top four separated by only thirteen points the order could have turned around once again as we leave North Yorkshire. Currently Platos nearest challenger is Gordon Shedden just three points behind with Shedden’s Honda team mate Neal a further five point off. Andrew Jordan is fourth and despite not having an ideal start to his year is only thirteen points off the lead. The rest of the top eight are further behind but with over half the available points still to be contested they aren’t out of touch. Fifth to Eighth are defending champion Turkington. Wix Racing’s Adam Morgan, Sam Tordoff who is the best placed WSR driver and the early championship leader Jack Goff. Aron Smith is in ninth meaning 3 of the 4 Team BMR VW Cc’s are in the top ten with WSR’s Rob Collard tenth. Andy Priaulx is out of the top ten in eleventh after some bad luck and some mistakes. Perhaps the biggest was last time out at Oulton when he ran into his team mate Collard, robbing them both of valuable points.
There are two new drivers out this weekend. First up, Croft see’s the BTCC Debut of Nicolas Hamilton, who you may also know as the brother of a certain Formula one world champion. He joins the championship driving for Essex based AMD Tuning in the Audi A3 formerly driven last season by Rob Holland with his Rotek Racing team.
This is the first of five guest drives for the 23 year old who becomes the first disabled driver to compete in the BTCC in the championships’ history. Guest status mean he isn’t eligible to score points or take a championship position but his guest status is only because he isn’t competing in every round and not a reflection on his disability. He’ll race this weekend at Croft and then compete in every remaining meeting with the exception of Knockhill.
He’s clearly very enthusiastic about his debut;
“I’m excited about starting my BTCC career at Croft. The unique mix of fast, flowing corners and tight, twisty sections means close wheel-to-wheel racing, especially in the BTCC.”
He also spoke about his preparations to compete in the championship
“I’ve had to work and train hard to get to the stage where I can race in the BTCC and I know it will be tough, but it’s all about learning. I want to develop and push myself, and we’ll see what happens.
“Regardless of their condition, it’s also important for me to show people how they can exceed expectations and push themselves to their limit. I can’t wait to go racing.”
Team boss Shaun Hollamby is also thrilled to see his team expand to run two cars in the BTCC foor the first time;
“It’s a big step for us this weekend as we expand to run a second car and it’s a progression of the motorsport side of the business after our expansion into GT racing earlier in the year,” he said. “There is no doubt that these are exciting times for AmDTuning.com and we are looking forward to Nicolas making his long awaited debut when we get to Croft.
He spoke about the testing that the team has done with Nicolas to help him prepare
“Testing with the Audi has gone well and Nicolas has been able to get himself comfortable behind the wheel. There are two targets for him this weekend; to qualify in the field on Saturday and then take three finishes on Sunday. If he can do that, then we’ll be pleased.
He also spoke about the team’s other driver, Mike Bushell, who has had mostly bad luck so far in his Ford Focus including a huge shunt at Thruxton;
“With Mike, there is no doubt that he has the pace, as he’s shown all year, but the only luck he’s had has been bad. It’s important for him to try and get the results that his pace deserves, and the target is to replicate the kind of performance he showed at Brands Hatch during the opening rounds when he took rookie honours in race three.
“If Nicolas can get three finishes and Mike can make a return to the points, it will be a good way to head into the summer break.”
AMD aren’t the only team to have driver news as we head to Croft. Support our Paras Racing announced that Max Coates will be driving their second car at Croft and for the rest of the season. The team ran only one car at the previous rounds as they tried to regroup from the turmoil that was caused by the withdrawal of the works backing of Infiniti after Thruxton. The Thruxton round had proved controversial for the team as early season driver, Richard Hawken was replaced at the request of Infiniti by former F1 driver Martin Donnelly.
Once the team lost the works backing the team’s priority was to find a new driver to help them progress toward the front of the grid alongside Derek Palmer jr. Donnelly has hoped to continue but the team finally opted for Max Coates who makes his BTCC debut at his home circuit with the family business just a short drive away. Many were surprised but happy to see Coates signing given his recent seasons have seen only sporadic outings, (Ginetta Supercup and a guest drive in the Porsche Carrera Cup.) due to his lack of budget.
Max commented on his Facebook page after the news was released;
“This has been a 15 year journey! From starting Karting when I was 6 I have always wanted to be a racing driver and compete at the top! The move to Ginetta Cars Juniors got me on that track, but five years ago I could never have imagined reading that press release yesterday. There has been a lot of hard work and dedication from a number of people as well as myself, and now I’ve got the break I always wanted; this weekend I make my Official BTCC debut at my home track, Croft Circuit!”
We’ll be bringing you full coverage from this weekend as usual. Qualifying is viewable on the ITV website if you can’t attend in person and then race day is shown on ITV4 as always. Tickets are available on the gate. by Marc Waller