BMW is back in top-line UK motor sport, launching a works programme in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC).
Leading BTCC team West Surrey Racing, headed by Dick Bennetts, will race as a full BMW UK manufacturer entry in the 2017 series, having previously been entered as a constructor.
WSR has campaigned BMWs in the BTCC for 10 years, taking the 2014 drivers’ title with Colin Turkington, and the manufacturer title last season in which Sam Tordoff finished second in the drivers’ championship.
The 2017 BMW 125i to be raced by WSR was unveiled during a launch event at BMW Park Lane, London on 24th February. Upgrades to the car for the 2017 season include a new modular engine evolved from the units now fitted to the road BMW 1 Series.
Two of the three cars entered by WSR will carry the familiar BMW Motorsport colours not seen in the BTCC since 1996, the last time a full manufacturer BMW team was entered in the series.
The third car will carry the livery of Pirtek, long-time sponsor of driver Andy Jordan who joins the team this year having raced for the Motorbase Ford squad in 2016.
Jordan will line up with Rob Collard, starting his ninth season with WSR, and the team’s 2014 champion Colin Turkington, who returns to WSR after two seasons with Team BMR racing the Volkswagen CC in 2015 and the Subaru Levorg last season.
Speaking to The Car Expert at the launch, BMW UK managing director Graeme Grieve said that stepping up the brand’s involvement with the BTCC programme would allow BMW to have more responsibility for how the results achieved by the team are marketed.
“Dick has been really lucky over the years with some really good sponsors but we wanted to step in this year as BMW UK, with a local involvement rather than a Munich factory involvement, to maximise the team’s chance of winning the driver’s championship,” Grieve added.
He expects the new engine technology to greatly aid the team’s chances of success. “We were running with quite an old power unit for a while – certainly Dick has been delighted with the potential from the structure of the new modular engine, and it is a lot closer to the road-going powertrain.”
Grieve added that the campaign would still be very much a WSR programme. “I don’t want to take anything away from Dick – we’ve put financial support behind it to make the engine development happen, but it is very much West Surrey Racing’s design, their car. They have shown over the years an amazing competence to deliver fantastic results, and now we’ve got probably the strongest driver line-up we’ve had for a while.”
The first three races of the British Touring Car Championship will take place at Brands Hatch in Kent on 2nd April. The Car Expert will also report direct from the championship launch day on 17th March.