The 2019 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship roars into life this weekend at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit with yet another capacity grid ready to do battle.
The grid completed over 3000 laps between them last Wednesday where Cobra Sport AmD AutoAid’s Sam Tordoff stole the headlines by setting the fastest time in both the morning and afternoon session, setting at 47.927 second lap around the 1.2-mile circuit.
The reigning and defending manufacturer and team champions, West Surrey Racing have built three all-new BMW 330i M Sport’s with Colin Turkington, Tom Oliphant and Andrew Jordan piloting the cars for this year.
Turkington clinched his third BTCC drivers’ title last year and could make history this year with a record-equalling fourth title if he is lucky enough to win again.
Turkington said: “This is the first time I’ve been able to continue with WSR after a title-winning season and I’m thrilled we can do this in a new car for Team BMW.
“I’ve been working closely with the engineering team and we’re doing everything we can to fast-track our understanding of the 330i M Sport.”
Speaking about the 30-car capacity grid, Turkington added: “The grid looks as strong as ever and I’m prepared to battle hard for points. It won’t be easy to retain my title, but ultimately that’s the target and I’m incredibly motivated to bring something new to my game in 2019.
“The greatest show in town is about to get going and I couldn’t be happier to be involved.”
Tom Ingram and Speedworks Motorsport pushed the Northern Irishman all the way to the title last year, only just missing out in the penultimate round of the season.
However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom with Ingram taking the independent drivers’ championship and Speedworks taking the independent teams title – retaining the crowns they won in 2017.
This season, they go into battle with the Toyota Corolla and have full manufacturer backing from the Japanese car company.
Toyota last raced as a manufacturer in the series back in the mid-90’s and won the back-to-back titles with the old Corolla GT 32-years ago with Chris Hodgetts at the wheel.
Ingram completed 72 laps at last week’s official season launch at Brands Hatch and finished an impressive sixth on the time sheets.
Ingram said: “After driving the same car for five years, it inevitably takes a little bit of time to adjust to a new one but the feeling in the Corolla is already very good.
“The BTCC is a tremendously competitive series – if you stand still, you go backwards – and with five former champions not to mention an ex-Formula 1 driver and Le Mans winner on the grid this year, 2019 will be no different.
“It was good to have the opportunity to gauge ourselves against the rest of the field at the Season Launch, although it’s not necessarily the most accurate form guide – that won’t become apparent until qualifying at Brands Hatch.
“Saying that, I think we’re all feeling pretty positive – we’ve adopted a sensible approach to testing and are moving in the right direction with the car, and there is still plenty of untapped potential.
“Ultimately, I think we need to treat this first year with the Corolla as a bit of a learning curve and acknowledge that the opening half of the season is likely to be spent getting to grips with it – before we truly come out fighting over the final five weekends.”
Along with Turkington, four other drivers in this year’s field have won the championship before – Jason Plato, Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan and Ashley Sutton.
After three difficult seasons with Team BMR driving one of their Subaru Levorg’s, Plato returns to the Vauxhall brand with whom he won his first BTCC title with back in 2001.
The cars will be run by the Power Maxed Racing squad who are about to go into their third season with the Vauxhall Astra having been driven by Senna Proctor and Josh Cook last season.
Rob Collard will drive their second car after a troublesome season last year through injuries – meaning son Ricky drove for the Team BMW squad from Rockingham onwards, helping them clinch both the manufacturers and teams’ titles.
Neal will once again spearhead Halfords Yuasa Racing’s title bid with former Porsche Carerra Cup GB champion Dan Cammish being retained as his teammate.
Both drivers had new machinery to get to grips with last year with the team building brand new Honda Civic Type R’s (FK8’s).
As you would expect with then being such a professional team, they were quick out of the box with Cammish being cruelly denied pole position at the opening round last season. However, the Honda man took two wins at the season finale around the Grand Prix circuit last year with two very impressive drives.
“We ended last season very strongly and I took two wins in the final meeting at Brands Hatch,” said Cammish. “While that was on the long circuit and the first round will be on the shorter Indy circuit, 95 per cent of it is the same and I almost got my first pole position at this opening round last season.
“We’ve had a good winter, made some improvements to the car and I’m definitely an improved driver. I’m feeling fit and healthy and can’t wait to get started.”
Neal told the BTCC website: “I’m really looking forward to the first races. We are starting our second season with the Civic Type R (FK8). The winter has gone well and I’m optimistic for 2019. Brands is the best place to start the season, on the shorter Indy circuit the races have a real stadium atmosphere. If I was a fan, Brands would be one of the first circuits I’d go to.”
At last week’s season launch test day, Cammish finished the day third quickest whilst Neal ended up ninth – just three-tenths behind Tordoff’s quickest time.
Jordan will once again be run by West Surrey Racing with backing from long-time sponsor Pirtek.
Jordan won the title back in 2013 and since then has found it difficult to find a home with an underperforming year with Triple-8 Racing in 2015 followed by another tricky test with Motorbase in 2016.
Jordan will embark on his third season with WSR this year having finished fifth in the driver’s standings in 2018.
Jordan said: “I can honestly say I have never been as excited coming into a new season as this one. When I saw my new BMW 330i M Sport for the first time in the workshop just after Christmas, it was a shell and it’s barely believable that it’s been turned into a car in such a short space of time.
“The 125i M Sport was a championship winner, but even from the two days I’ve had with the new 3 Series, I can already feel that we have the potential to do even better.
“Of course, we have to learn the car first and work out how to maximise its performance in both qualifying and race trim and this could take a little time. What’s key is to bank as many points as we can early-season while we get on top of everything and then see how we get on from there.”
Sutton will once again drive for Team BMR, the team that gave him his first BTCC title back in 2017.
After a problematic start to last year’s campaign, Sutton and the BMR squad got their act together at around the half-way stage of the Championship with Sutton only just missing out on retaining his title with a few races left – eventually finishing fourth in the standings.
He will be joined by Senna Proctor giving BMR an intriguing young driver line-up for the forthcoming campaign.
After two seasons with Power Maxed Racing driving one of their front-wheel drive Vauxhall Astra’s, Proctor will get a taste of rear-wheel drive this year at the wheel of the Subaru Levorg.
Motorbase Performance will once again run three Ford Focus RS’s for 2019 with Tom Chilton, Ollie Jackson and Nicolas Hamilton behind the wheel.
Chilton finished an impressive campaign last year third in the overall points and second in the independent drivers points.
“I’m so happy to be back for my second year with my favourite ever BTCC race team, and also my local team,” said Chilton. “After ending the official test day as second fastest last week, I’m feeling very positive for the weekend ahead.
“The guys at have done a lot of work on the chassis over the winter. The car has moved on a lot from last season and so far, that’s showing in the times. I’ve also been training hard and have dropped some weight to try and help improve the car’s performance further.
“It’s been a big effort from everybody involved, and we’re ready to start the year ahead. I’m raring to go!”
The 2019 BTCC grid looks tighter than ever with new cars for the top teams and new driver line-up’s – it’s set to be a cracking year ahead.
Header image by BTCC.net
By Jordan Hollands.