The 2020 Kwik Fit British Touring Car Championship finally roars into action this weekend, four months after it was originally scheduled to start.
The Coronavirus pandemic has meant that the calendar has had to be completely re-scheduled and will now consist of nine rounds across 27-races – the first of which will take place this weekend at Donington Park.
Reigning British Touring Car Champion Colin Turkington kick-starts the defence of his title and bids to become a five-time series Champion. In a dramatic and enthralling season last year, the Northern Irishman equalled Andy Rouse’s record of four BTCC titles after winning the Championship by just two points form teammate Andrew Jordan and Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Dan Cammish.
Speaking about the up-coming campaign, Turkington told the BTCC website: “It feels so good to finally go racing again! You can test and prepare all day long, but the buzz of competition and the excitement the BTCC brings is hard to find anywhere else! The return of the series is going to entertain a lot of people over the next few months. It’s going to be as competitive as ever and the racing should be worth the wait.”
Turkington will also go into battle with some new team personnel, with experienced engineer John Waterman partnering the defending Champion.
“John Waterman is one of the most experienced engineers in the business,” said Turkington. “We’ve slotted into the groove seamlessly. He’s been with the team since 2015, most recently with Andrew Jordan. We actually worked together in China over the winter on a different programme and he lives locally to me, so I can easily pop over.”
With nearly an entire season being condensed into just three and half months, Turkington is relishing the prospect of a busy ‘summer of sports.’
“The next five weeks are going to be a very busy spell, with four events in five weekends, but this is motorsport and we’re used to being adaptable,” he explained. “I’ve had plenty of time to prepare and make changes to the way we plan to go about our business. Recovery will be key for me and the top priority is ensuring I remain healthy and well. A summer of sport awaits!”
It proved to be double delight for all at Team BMW last season with the team also securing the Manufactures title as well as the driver’s title – their fourth straight Manufacturers crown.
Team Principal Dick Bennetts said: “We should be halfway through the season by now, but for reasons we’re all aware of, we’re now ticking down to the opener. The past few months have been challenging for all teams, but the spirit within Team BMW has never wavered and we have an incredibly talented and motivated group of people at WSR ready to go.
“Colin is a class act and his experience will be invaluable with so many back-to-back events this year, while Tom (Oliphant) made very good progress across his first year in the BMW in 2019 and will certainly be a contender to get his first win. Donington gave us some excellent results last year but has traditionally favoured front-wheel-drive cars, so we know that we’ll have to dig deeper than ever to come away with a good points haul this weekend.”
Donington last year saw Turkington put his BMW 330i M-Sport on pole position – the first for the new car – and also secure his first wins of the season in a weekend that would already prove to be pivotal for the Championship fight after Andrew Jordan’s retirement from the weekend when he got caught up in a multi-car pile up at the Old Hairpin.
The weekend also saw Oliphant secure his first BTCC podium when he finished third in the first race of the day on only his second weekend as a Team BMW driver.
The Leamington Spa-based driver went on to finish 11th in the Drivers’ Championship and second in the Jack Sears Trophy, making it his best season in the BTCC to date.
He looks to build on that this year and challenge for more silverware.
“I couldn’t be more excited to get back racing again,” said Oliphant. “It’s been a long wait to get going and I know it’s been a stressful time in lockdown for a lot of the BTCC community, so I can’t wait to get out there alongside the rest of the grid and put on a show for all the fans again.
“The Snetterton test was really important to dust off the cobwebs, but the Silverstone running – in the dry – allowed me to work with the team on some crucial set-up and tyre work so we can hit the ground running at Donington Park.
“Donington is one of my favourite circuits and the BMW was fantastic there last season, so I want to be challenging for silverware from the opening race of the season. With a year under my belt with Team BMW, I’m ready to fight for the top prizes!”
One man who will be looking the rectify the misfortune of 2019 will be Cammish, who came within a lap of clinching his first BTCC title at the finale at the Brands Hatch GP circuit last October. He took two race wins last season and stood on the podium 14-times.
Whilst the season was delayed, like many other driver all over the world, Cammish has been keeping sharp through virtual racing.
“With the season delayed I, like a number of other drivers, have turned my attention to the virtual racing world, and boy is that tough and highly competitive, but it’s been a great way of keeping my eye in,” Cammish told the BTCC website. “I’ve been doing a lot of training whilst I’ve been off and really got into my e-biking.
“Our Honda Civic Type R FK8 felt sharp at the official test at Snetterton and we hope to hit the ground running. It’s going to be a demanding few months both physically and mentally with the condensed season. But I’m just glad to go racing, it’s what I live for, so I’m raring to go!”
The Halfords Yuasa Racing squad will once again also be looking to retain their Teams Championship this year, as well as winning the Drivers’ Championship and the Manufacturers title too.
There was a change of the teams’ over the winter-break for the reigning Independent Drivers’ Champion Rory Butcher. He will line-up with Kent-based outfit Motorbase Performance for this year’s campaign, piloting one of their three brand-new Ford Focus STs.
In a tense conclusion at Brands Hatch, the Scot secured Independence glory by just two-points from BTC Racing’s Josh Cook. Butcher was also in the mix for the overall title too, right up until the penultimate round of the season at Silverstone.
After two days of running at Snetterton last month, Butcher set the fastest-time out of everyone and hopes to use that as a catalyst for this weekend and the rest of the year moving forward.
“Snetterton went really well, despite only getting half a day of dry running,” he admitted. “We had a lot of things we wanted to try, and the car has a great feeling in both conditions, so I’m really pleased with its performance – it’s a big step forward from the older Ford Focus RS. Wherever we go, it seems to be in the window or very close to it and only requires little set-up changes to find the sweet spot.
“With the Snetterton event being moved to October, the wet weather running was actually very beneficial. I was able to learn where the grip is and isn’t on the track and also learn what works with the car.
“Both the team’s and my own aspirations are to pose a real challenge this year, and we have real intent going into the opening round. We face a gruelling compact season with many challenges ahead, so we first need to keep focused on doing our jobs the very best we can and give our best performance.”
Donington Park last year also saw Tom Ingram clinch an emotional first win for the Toyota Corolla in only its sixth race. With one full season under his belt with the new car, Ingram targets the biggest prize in UK Racing.
“Naturally, this is a big season for us, and we go into it with a completely different mindset,” Ingram told the official BTCC site. “Last year, we didn’t really know what to expect with the new car, but this time around, there is no question that we are targeting the top prize – that’s the sole focus.
“It’s clearly going to be an intense few months given the compressed nature of the revised schedule, which will make it even more important than usual to maintain momentum – experience and consistency will be key factors, and I think we’re in a really good place.
“We were quick in all conditions at the Snetterton tyre test, particularly in the rain, which was encouraging – I’m no weather expert, but with the season running later into the year, I reckon we could see more wet races than usual!
“It was a really useful couple of days in general, and I’m feeling very comfortable in the Corolla. We’ve done a huge amount of work with it since the end of last season and have improved it in every area, which has been corroborated during testing. We’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made, and we have a much better overall understanding of the car now, which immediately puts us in a stronger position.
“It’s almost as if we’re coming out of a second winter at the moment. From being ready to race back in March following a positive build-up to the start of the campaign, all of a sudden, the brakes were applied, and we had to go through what felt like another off-season. I’m just really excited now – so, so pumped for this and eager to make up for lost time and put on a great show!”
Ingram set the fastest time at the media day back in March and will be eager to start the campaign well this weekend as he bids to win his first BTCC Championship.
With no fans allowed to attend the event, you can catch all the action live on ITV4.
Header image from the BTCC.
By Jordan Hollands.