Britain’s biggest motorsport series returns to action on Sunday 2nd April when the first three rounds of the 2017 British Touring Car Championship take place at Brands Hatch.
As in 2016, the 1.2-mile long Kent circuit will play host to a full 32-car grid. But amongst the 11 different brands on the grid this year there will be increased interest in the manufacturers championship – BMW and Vauxhall have signed up to take on Honda, MG and Subaru, creating the most competitive battle for manufacturer honours in 18 years.
BMW has invested in the successful West Surrey Racing (WSR) team, upgrading the squad from constructor to full works status. WSR won the makes and teams titles last year and came close to taking the drivers’ title with Sam Tordoff.
With two BMW 125i cars in the brand’s famed white red and blue racing colours, plus a third in the Pirtek livery of new recruit Andrew Jordan, the WSR team are favourites among many BTCC watchers – particularly as, after a year with Subaru, Colin Turkington is back with the team that took him to the 2014 drivers title.
Two Vauxhall Astras have been built up by established BTCC squad Power Maxed Racing. Their manufacturer status is part of a fleet deal with the Vauxhall brand, while the driving strength includes touring car veteran Tom Chilton. Brother of F1 and IndyCar racer Max, Tom is racing in both the World and British Touring Car Championships this year.
With a very real chance of taking a title hat-trick is Scotsman Gordon Shedden, particularly as for the first time in three seasons he and team-mate Matt Neal will not have a new Honda to develop, their Civic Type Rs basically the same cars they campaigned in 2016.
Similarly after a learning debut season in 2016 the four-strong Subaru squad will be considered strong contenders this year, team-leader Jason Plato hoping to stamp his authority after being overshadowed by Turkington in 2016. He also has a new young charger to contend with, Ashley Sutton having moved over after an impressive season with MG.
The MG squad will be considered unknowns this season, with a complete new driving squad in Aron Taylor-Smith and Daniel Lloyd – the former a proven BTCC race winner, the latter having shown great promise in just a few brief appearances last season. The MG6 may be one of the older BTCC cars around but it proved itself a multiple winner in 2016.
Three Shredded Wheat
Among the independents Motorbase expands its Ford Focus line-up to three cars this season, and the bright yellow machines will be among the most instantly recognisable having brought household name Shredded Wheat into the series. And Tom Ingram will be hoping for a repeat of his opening round victory of 2016 in an updated version of the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota Avensis – especially as the topped the first official test of the season at Donington Park on 17th March.
In truth picking the likely pace-setter is a very tough call, as 16 of the 32 drivers on the grid have clocked up a total of 329 race wins in the series. And the biggest unknown going into the new season is not the drivers, or the cars, but the tyres.
Dunlop has produced a new tyre for 2017 with a wider tread pattern, and at two of the meetings the softer compound mandated for use in one of the three races will be replaced by a harder compound. The destiny of the 2017 BTCC could have a lot to do with who masters the new rubber the fastest.
Qualifying for the opening round at Brands Hatch takes place on Saturday 1st April with the first of three 24-lap races at 11.32am on Sunday. The Car Expert will be reporting from both qualifying and race day at every one of the 10 meetings in 2017.