The championship has it’s largest ever entry with Thirty two cars entered and with them all due to compete from the first round, we should see 32 cars fighting for position around Paddock hill bend in a couple of weeks.
In amongst the thirty cars are five former champion drivers, eleven different makes of car including three works entries from Honda, MG and new for this season, Subaru. The WSR BMW’s are also entered as a constructor entry rather than a private team despite BMW not officially making them a works team.
In addition to all the entries we’ve reported on previously, today saw Team BKR announce that they are running two of the former BMR VW CC’s for Aron Smith and newcomer Mark Howard. BKR were going to run in the proposed “Club” BTCC championship for older Spec BTCC cars, the B-TEC development series but when that was scrapped, attention returned to the BTCC.
The other new driver announcement today was the long awaited second driver for Power Maxed racing with Kelvin Fletcher, better known for playing Andy Sugden in ITV soap Emmerdale. He joins Hunter Abbott in the team’s updated Chevrolet Cruzes.
Most of the grid will be running the new NGTC standard parts supplied by RML, who took over from GPRM as the championships official supplier near the end of last year. Swindon engines remain as the supplier of the Championship spec engine which can be used in place of an NGTC spec version of the original unit. GRPM parts, such as the subframe are still legal to use in the BTCC and several cars will start the season with those parts including both BKR VW’s.
The new BMR Subaru team probably have the most new parts. The car is all new and they are working with engine builders Mountune to build an NGTC spec version of the Subaru flat four 2.0 engine. The whole car has been built to a tight schedule and just a single incomplete car was shown at the launch. The team has huge potential but it’s possibly that early teething troubles may blunt any title challenge from Jason Plato or Colin Turkington.
James Cole and Team boss Warren Scott complete the team.
There are several other larger teams with Honda signing Andy Neate to push their driver total to three, with Neate having two champions to learn from with Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden. Halfords return to the team as a sponsor alongside Yuasa Batteries.
Instead their third licence has gone to Team Hard who will run three quick “young guns” in Jake Hill, Chris Smiley and Mike Epps. The trio will drive Swindon powered Toyota Avensis.
There are further Avensis for Tom Ingram, who returns to Speedworks with increased backing and Rob Austin who is taking over the Handy Motorsport car from Simon Belcher. Handy run as a sister team to Speedworks sharing various facilities at race meetings.Belcher is taking a management role while Austin hopes that the lower demands that come with not running his own team, will help him move up the field on a regular basis.
Speedworks also have a Civic Type R for Matt Simpson meaning a total of six of them on the grid.
WSR are another three car squad although they’re divided into two separate entries. Rob Collard and Sam Tordoff make up Team JCT600 with Gardx and Jack Goff takes over the IHG rewards club entry driven last year by multiple world touring car champion Andy Priaulx. Goff says he is determined to show IHG that they were right to put their faith in him although he has a steep learning curve to get used to the rear wheel drive BMW.
Motorbase return for a full season in 2016 after a lack of funds saw them miss the first half of 2015. When they did enter, Mat Jackson won more races than anyone else during the second half of the season. He returns and will be joined by Andrew Jordan who comes from a tough 2015 at MG when he failed to win a race.
MG for 2016 have gone for two young drivers with Josh Cook joining from Power maxed and Ashley Sutton coming in as the 2015 Clio champion. They will both hope to make the Triple eight run MG’s regular winners.
The Mercedes of Adam Morgan (Wix Racing) and Aiden Moffat (Laser tools racing) return with both drivers aiming for independent championship glory.
Stewart Lines returns but now with his own Team, Maximum Motorsport who have taken over the former AMD Ford Focus. AMD have returned to a single entry with their Audi S3 being driven by Ollie Jackson.
Jackson was last seen in the BTCC at Welch Motorsport in one of their Protons a couple of years ago. That team had the season from hell in 2015 with anything that could go wrong doing just that! Dan Welch returns to drive a single entry. With the reliable Swindon engine now in his Proton, Dan hopes to get back towards the top ten.
Last but not least is the Ford Focus driven by Alex Martin for Dextra Racing. Experienced outfit Team Parker racing are running the car once again and Martin will hope to build on his debut season.
When the TBL (Toca BTCC Licence) holders were announced late last year it looked like we’d have an almost unchanged grid with few surprises but after a winter of deals, the entry list is now very different to 2015. To recap, 32 drivers will compete with Audi (AmD Tuning), BMW (Team IHG Rewards Club, Team JCT600 with GardX), Chevrolet (Power Maxed Racing), Ford (Dextra Racing, Maximum Motorsport, Motorbase Performance), Honda (Halfords Yuasa Racing, Eurotech Racing, Speedworks Motorsport), Mercedes (Laser Tools Racing, WIX Racing), MG (MG Racing RCIB Insurance), Proton (Goodestone Racing), Subaru (Subaru Team BMR), Toyota (Handy Motorsport, Speedworks Motorsport, TLC Racing, RCIB Insurance Racing) and Volkswagen (BKR) all represented.
Dunlop tyres will continue to be the championships sole tyre supplier with ITV4 again broadcasting the championship exclusively in the UK. Both deals have been extended until 2022.
Alan Gow spoke about the championship and how strong the new season looks;
“This truly is a golden era for the BTCC and our developments in recent months further underline its strength and position as Britain’s most successful motor sport series – and by a very big margin.
“I’m also really pleased with the increasing amount of new talent that’s been coming into the BTCC over the last few years. Make no mistake, many will go on to become the future ‘household names’ of the BTCC and are set for great long-term careers in Britain’s biggest championship.
“With our title sponsor, television, tyre and technical partnerships all secured until 2022 it not only underlines the incredible strength and success of the BTCC – but also importantly provides a rock-solid foundation on which our teams can continue to invest and build their businesses.
“Our fantastic capacity line-up for 2016 looks set to be even more competitive and enthralling than ever – I’m genuinely excited to see how the season unfolds. The anticipation amongst our enormous number of fans is also very plain to see… the off-season has been full of intrigue.
“These really are the ‘good old days’ that, one day in the future, we will look back on with great fondness and delight. But today is all about the ‘here and now’ and we’re all looking forward to witnessing another classic year of the BTCC.”
In the afternoon test session, twenty five of the thirty two entries took to the track. The top ten was extremely close and the top eighteen were separated by just over a second.
For most of the afternoon it looked like newcomer Ashely Sutton would be fastest for MG but Matt Neal put in a flying lap to take the honours in the closing stages. Rob Austin and Jeff Smith had also both headed the times at various points in the afternoon. Austin remained third by the end but Eurotech’s Smith sat out the late part of the session which saw him drop to seventh. Between third and seventh came Ingram (Speedworks), Cook (MG) and Depper (Eurotech.) However as usual with test sessions, it impossible to know what teams plans are and the grid at Brands Hatch could look very different. With the knew Subaru’s among the non runners there are still a lot of questions about who the pace setters in 2016 will be.
Neal was pleased to get top honours for the day;
“It’s a nice start isn’t it, but it’s going to be very, very close out there. The strength of the TOCA engine looks strong and there are also a lot of new faces coming in, so that’s a bit of an unknown for us. Most of the day we’ve been working on the TOCA components with the RML guys. It’s been a productive day, so that’s all good. I’ve just been doing back-to-back stuff for them and at the end of the day we just wanted to see what it was good for so we opened her up. We’re back at Brands tomorrow where we had a tough test last week. We weren’t fastest by a long margin so we’ll see what we can wind ourselves up for there.”
Sutton was happy to be competitive in what was his first run in the car;
“We’d only had 39 laps in the car when we went quickest – to achieve that sort of pace in such a short running time was clearly more than we’d expected. I was surprised that only Matt Neal pipped us in the end. I’m very happy, and we know there’s more time in the car. You’re never sure what the other guys are doing in these situations, but we know what we were doing and the MG is just spot-on – a dream to drive. It will be nice to get a solid qualifying session under my belt at Brands Hatch. It’s not going to be easy, of course – I’m the new kid on the block, so I’m going to get pushed and shoved around a bit initially – but I’m aiming for podium finishes throughout the year, that’s where I want to be.”
Rob Austin was pleased with his day as well;
“It’s been a good, solid day – we’re very happy with that. We didn’t try anything special or push too hard to be up at the front; we just went about our pre-planned programme, and to end up second quickest [He eventually dropped to third] was a really nice feeling. I’m still very aware that I have a lot to learn with regards to front-wheel drive and race runs in the Avensis, so we are keeping our expectations in check but the car is mega – the team has done a great job with it. The target for Brands Hatch will be to bring home what points we can. I’ll be happy with top ten finishes on the first weekend – although as we’ve proved today, there’s definitely potential for more…”
The first rounds are less than two weeks away with Brands Hatch the venue for the opener on the 2nd and 3rd of April. Tickets are available in advance from the Brands Hatch website or you can buy them on the day.
Times from the test session are available from TSL timing;
A full entry list for the season is available here; By Marc Waller