Saturday, 30 March 2013

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda... WTCC Style

I've noticed a worrying trend in the WTCC in the last couple of seasons and wanted to share this with you...

Since its re-introduction in 2005, the WTCC had a stable base of manufacturers taking paft in the form of BMW, Alfa Romeo, SEAT, Chevrolet and Honda's, all having works teams representing them apart from Honda who ran as an independent.

Then the exodus began. Alfa Romeo and Honda left, citing rising costs as their issue.This left BMW, SEAT and Chevrolet as manufacturers. In 2008 and 2009 LADA entered, first with their 110 model followed in 2009 with the Priora. Both driven by former SEAT and Alfa Romeo man James Thompson.

However, they disappeared in 2010, as did SEAT works support. SEAT's issue was rising costs and falling car sales. LADA didnt give a reason at all.

This left BMW and Chevrolet with Works teams. However issues with the parity of the SEAT Turbo Diesel added to the fact that BMW were unhappy with how the championship was being governed ended with their withdrawal.

Chevrolet was the only works team left.

Now, heres the pattern...

Volvo first. They made annual appearences in the WTCC from 2008 onwards at Brands Hatch only with the C30 model. In 2011 they fielded a new C30 with Robert Dahlgren at the wheel. They also made it clear that 2011 was an evaluation programmme for a possible expanded works team in 2012.
The WTCC changed its engine regulations from 2.0 litre normally aspirated to 1.6 litre turbo engines.Once the turbo engine was fitted, Dahlgren was a match for the works Chevys in every meeting.

However, in 2012 they too cited the volatile sales market and the budget not being available for WTCC. But they had a budget to allow the same team to run cars domestically in the STCC.

Hmmm... same as SEAT and Alfa Romeo. There's definitely a pattern here...

2012 arrives with the UK based Arena International team aka Team Aon entering the WTCC with 2 updated Mk 3 Ford Focuses for Tom Chilton and James Nash. Now this wasn't a works effort and Ford had offered works backing for 2013 based on interest generated and sales of its new Ford Focus WTCC road model.

While both drivers soldiered on with the car being constantly updated due to a mis-interpretation of the regulations and scored points sporadically, the Focus never troubled the frontrunners sadly. The backing from Ford never materialised and over the winter, Team Aon was closed down. The 3 cars built have been sold to new owners and word is they could appear in the flyaway WTCC races this year.

So with Honda and LADA returning this year, both in a Works capacity and Chevrolet having withdrawn works support for the Cruzes (not that its slowed them down), the WTCC has a healthy manufacturer count of 5. Possibly 6 if the Fords return.

But that count could've been higher if some of the previous manufacturers had stuck to it. And the effect could've been even better. Follow me through my ideal world for WTCC...

Ok. BMW first. Its well known that Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus tested the BMW 320TC for the new 1.6 litre turbo for the BMW customer teams but that was it. BMW switched its focus to the DTM. Now if they had kept a 2 car team in WTCC, say Priaulx and Farfus stayed on, then Chevrolet would have had the  competition to work against they wanted and have the fight in the championship they said they missed...

Volvo next. For those in the know, James Thompson was a works Volvo driver for about 8 months before leaving and heading back to LADA. Had Volvo brought a 2 car team to WTCC in 2012, my guess is Dahlgren would have stayed on and the 2nd C30 would have been occupied by an experienced WTCC driver. Rumours at the time put Tarquini in the second seat after a weekend in the STCC in the C30. Again giving Chevrolet the competition they craved to have...

So there is a case for the "Ideal World" WTCC that it may not have been the borefest many considered it. In my opinion it wasnt, but again all this is in my opinion.

However, with a brighter future ahead including new rules for the cars and more manufacturers looking to join, this year the WTCC looks in good health.



Friday, 29 March 2013

Team Orders...An integral part of Motorsport...

Being a lifelong fan of Formula One, it was inescapable to not notice the Red Bull/Mercedes display last Sunday in the Malaysian Grand Prix of Team Orders and its popularity among the fans...

So as the title suggests, are Team Orders an integral part of Motorsport?

Based on the two examples from the Malaysian Grand Prix, here are my thoughts...

To be honest, it was clear to me that Red Bull had decided Webber should lead Vettel across the line by the last pitstops. However Sebastian had decided he was quicker and was going to exploit his advantage to take the win, despite being told to stay in formation and turn the engines back to keep the cars in working order.

Now this was a clear situation of Vettel over-ruling Car Designer Adrian Newey and Team Boss Christian Horner when they were worried about reliability and tyre life. To have the Team Boss say over the radio "This is Silly, Seb" is embarrasing enough, after Vettel dived up the inside of turn one squeezing himself into a gap that would have made Schumacher proud but also wiped out both cars had Mark defended more robustly.

Now the emotion was evident on Marks face in the post race pre-podium room and how he brushed off attempts by Seb to speak to him until blurting out the now infamous "Multi-21" phrase were perfectly understandable when, for a change, Mark was chosen to lead the Red Bull 1-2.

It was also a sign we have seen before from Seb where he has decided to ignore instructions from Rocky when advising about how fragile the car is. Recent examples include Spain 2012, Canada 2012 and Italy 2012 where he has been told the tyres or car are about to have a failure unless he eases off.

But we know Seb better than to slow down. Its just not in his nature. Hell even in 2011 when he'd sealed the title, he reluctantly moved over in the lead of the Brazilian GP to allow Mark pass to help his championship position, he still made sure he was close and Mark couldn't relax...

Besides its not as if we saw Dr Helmut Marko walk over to his young german charge and spank him hard for not obeying orders... Oh thats right... We wouldn't anyway...

Meanwhile at Mercedes, a similar situation arose. It was obvious that neither Mercedes was a match for the Red Bulls but they were a match for each other. With Hamilton ahead but having to back off because he'd used too much fuel, Rosberg was in a better position with Tyres and Fuel himself.

But again an embarassing radio conversation ensued, this time between Rosberg and Team Boss Ross Brawn, a tactical genius in F1 circles. But while there were no banzai moves took place, Rosberg made it clear of his position on the slow down lap... "This will be remembered." Hamilton did not celebrate as much as he could have, acutely aware of the sacrifice Nico had made for him. He also acknowledged this in the podium interview.

Lets hope Ross remembers Nico's sacrifice later in the season, otherwise commments will be rife about Lewis being Number One...

So, do Team Orders have a place in Formula One? For me, yes, they do and they have been in place for decades. Its simple. This is a Team Sport. Without a driver, the car doesnt move. Without a design team, the car for the driver isnt built and so on and so forth. So as its a Team Sport, the fact that orders are put in place to keep cars in position for maximum points or reliability issues makes sense.

People have debated this and will debate this for years to come but Team Orders are a part of Motorsport in general, whatever level it is at. At Le Mans, after 23 hours, both Peugeot and Audi have been known to order their cars to stay in formation to bring their cars to the finish. In Touring Cars, BMW and Alfa Romeo have been known to play the tactical game and ask drivers to swap positions for better points gain.

If there weren't team orders then drivers would race each other hard and fast, which we the fans want. But then cars would break, lives would be endangered and the team would breakdown due to not everyone pulling together for the common goal of lifting the championship silverware and glory at the seasons end.

Quite simply, Team Orders are a part of Motorsport...whether we like it or not.



Thursday, 28 March 2013

How I found the WTCC...And supported a BMW Driver...

So, I've explained how I found out about F1, BTCC and the DTM. All that is left is the WTCC...and this one gets a little chequered in my stick with me...

But... Let me make one thing clear. In Touring Cars, I have NEVER been a BMW supporter. Ford, Vauxhall always but never BMW. Couldnt stand the might of those German cars as they dominated in the BTCC... Remember that as you read on...

The year is 2000...ish. The Millenium Bug was a miserable failure, The BBC has happily been providing coverage of the BTCC to me and many others for over 10 years and ITV has the rights to F1 and highlights of the DTM. Sky Satellites on the sides of houses and flats are becoming commonplace and everyone has some sort of Nokia for a mobile phone. I had recently (at the time) become a customer of Sky's rival in the tv channel wars, NTL, later renamed as Virgin. And this opened up more motorsport veiwing to me.

With the FIA SuperTouring rules being adopted during the 1990's by a host of countries in Europe and the rest of the world, I discovered Eurosport. And its coverage of the European Super Touring Championship.

With the success of SuperTouring regulations came the rising costs of developement and soon the various Touring Car Championships worldwide were adopting different rules to make Touring Car racing cheaper. So the FIA decides to keep the SuperTouring regulations alive a bit longer by merging the Italian and German SuperTouring Championships into a European Championship, combining the best talents in tintop racing in Europe.

So one day as I flick through the channels, I find the ESTC racing at Estoril, Portugal, with names such as Tarquini, Giovanardi, Biela, Pirro, Morbidelli, Rustad and...Matt Neal?!?!

The cars were recogniseable as BMW 320si's, Audi A4's, Honda Accord's Nissan Primera's and Alfa Romeo 156's and the racing as close as ever. So I followed this new series for the next few seasons as it morphed into the FIA European Touring Car Championship, far different from its previous incarnation that ran until 1988.

The regulations changed to become Super 2000 and the cars retained their "road going" racing thoroughbred look. The driver quality increased with BTCC greats joining as Muller, Rydell, Tarquini, Thompson and Andy Priaulx???

So I followed with interest this Brit who after one season as a works Honda driver in the BTCC becomes a works BMW driver racing against the worlds best at BMW Team UK. My interest grew following Thompson and Priaulx, cheering them on as they raced against the worlds best touring car drivers on many different circuits, both holding their own.

But while Thompson had team mates at SEAT to work with and later Alfa Romeo, Priaulx had to fight against his 4 BMW Team mates to get ahead. So when he won the 2004 ETCC at Macau, my support was cemented. Andy had beaten his fellow BMW Drivers and the best in their own backyard... On his own. Its also where I began the religious task of getting up early on a Sunday Morning after the end of the F1 season to watch the worlds best touring car drivers dice with the danger of racing at Macau. Worth every second. Although at the time the F1 season used to finish in early November...

It was then to follow that not only did the FIA decide to promote the ETCC to World Championship status and ressurect the WTCC (last run in 1987) but Andy work harder and and went on to win the next three World Touring Car Titles in 2005, 2006 and 2007, beating off Dirk Muller, Jorg Muller and Yvan Muller at the time. The fact that he was a BMW driver didnt bother me and still doesnt. Strange that...

So it began that the WTCC gained the same level of importance and following for me as was already in force for the BTCC and F1 and Andy Priaulx a fan for life. Since then I have watched on as he has fought against the world's best and become one of the worlds best.

At one stage called the "Michael Schumacher" of Touring Car racing with his tactical knowledge of the points systems and how by finishing 8th in Race one and exploiting the Top 8 Reversal rule for Race two, he would keep on winning races until BMW pulled out of the WTCC at the end of 2010 amidst arguments over Diesel Turbo's and other things. In 2012 he would be comfirmed as a DTM Driver as BMW returned to the German Series and I follow him still.

I support Rob Huff as well, as do I support any Brit drivers that take part in the WTCC and I'm bloody glad he won the title in 2012.

Anyway, I've bored you enough. You've earned that cup of tea.

Now that the WTCC is underway and by my next blog post the BTCC will have had 3 action packed races from Brands Hatch, I'll give my views on current events.

Enjoy that cuppa...



Monday, 18 March 2013

Myself, Motoring News and the DTM...

I've explained how I fell in love with the BTCC, so I thought the next step would be to explain how I found out about Germany's top flight tintop series, The DTM...

Between 1990 and 1991, my motorsport watching took a back seat due to moving from Bletchley, my birth town in Buckinghamshire to Flitwick in Bedfordshire. Along with changing schools, losing friends and family life becoming more difficult and unhappy due to my parents getting divorced several years before and me having a new stepfather, I just didnt get to watch it.

However, while being off school for 2 weeks with a nasty bout of flu in the July of 1991, my mother was kind enough to buy me a copy of Motor Sport magazine and a copy of MotorSport News. (It was known as Motoring News back then).

It was here that I read about the DTM. Now please take into account that my motorsport viewing was solely on the BBC. BTCC and British Formula 3 on Saturday Grandstand and Formula 1 on Sunday Grandstand. It was simple and commentated on by Murray Walker.

As well as reading about Mansell's resurgence in the title battle with Senna in F1 and how Will Hoy and John Cleland were battling for the BTCC Title, to my surprise, I read about this interesting touring car series in Germany where the cars that took part were different to the ones that raced in the BTCC.

These were 2.5 litre petrol, flame spitting monsters from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Opel and Ford raced on the best tracks in Germany. The article itself explained about the DTM in a beginners guide but also outlined the arguments the various manufacturers were having regarding the rules in place to try and equalise the various types of Front Wheel Drive, Rear Wheel Drive and 4 Wheel Drive cars.

My eyes lit up to read about these new touring cars that I hadnt known about. They weren't shown on the BBC or ITV as far as I was aware, so my information was solely provided by this amazing newspaper that was on sale Every Wednesday.

My passion for Motor Racing was re-ignited with more intensity than previously and my quest for knowledge about each series grew.

So i eagerly saved what pocket money I was given and bought a copy each week, eagerly reading about current affairs and other news in the motorsport world, concentrating on F1, BTCC and what DTM news was reported. Back then I had no knowledge of Autosport magazine and Steve Soper was the only brit racing in the DTM.

I even contacted Motoring News in 1991 to see if they had any back copies of their issues so I could read about what I had missed out on in the motorsport world. Imagine my surprise when they sent me the first 6 months worth of copies of their issues from 1990... That made bloody intetesting reading... And a lot of newspapers...

So fast forward to 1997. I'm now living in Bedford in my own place with a collection of Motoring News editions and the DTM has gone through a change. Gone are BMW and Audi and the regulations have changed to allow Alfa Romeo to come, dominate and go again and both Opel and Audi return to race against series stalwart Mercedes.

However with ITV now showing F1, my dream had come true. Late on a Friday Night, they showed a highlights programme at 11.30pm of the previous weekends DTM event. So the joy on my face was clear as I pressed record on my 30 year old Ferguson Videostar Video recorder and recorded the programme to watch over and over. That video player was my best friend, mechanically...until the day I used WD40 to clean it...

I recall Simon Hill was a pundit on the ITV F1 Team at the team and he commentated on the DTM Highlights. It was amazing, watching these flame spitting machines being hurled around the best german tracks by germanys best: Schneider, Reuter, Asch, Winkelhock, Stuck and others that had made brief appearances in either the BTCC or the two televised FIA Touring Car World Cups put of the three.

What kept me enthralled was that the racing was as tight and close as it was in the BTCC. Close quarters panel bashing between Germany's best drivers in iconic makes of car allied with Simon Hill's commentary made this a sport to watch...except for when Bernd Schneider disappeared off into the distance with a certain Dario Franchitti playing rear gunner.

I swear to this day that both Schumacher and Schneider taught the same tricks to a certain Sebastian Vettel...

Purists and fans alike will recall the FIA's effort to promote the DTM in 1996 to the FIA International Touring Car Championship or ITC. It didn't last long and soon it returned to being the DTM.

However the thrill of watching the DTM for me was as high as watching F1 and the BTCC. Again it was motorsport from a different country and the drive within me pushed me on to want to know more about it, to be an expert about it like I felt I was about the years of BTCC and F1 that I had watched. And i kept on reading about it and watching it where I could over the following years.

So thats how my love affair of the DTM began. I still watch it thanks to the highlights on ITV4 or read the details of the races via Autosport and TouringCar Times. I recommend both sites to you all.

Well hopefully that wasnt too long this time. But rest assured, I'll blog again soon about the other series I follow: the Modern incarnation of the World Touring Car Championship and my Support for a certain Mr Priaulx...



Wednesday, 13 March 2013

In The Beginning...

So, let me tell you how my following of the BTCC began and how its connected with my love of Formula One...

By the way, you might want a cup of tea after this...

My love of motorsport began back in 1980. I was a small boy of 3 and already a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. (Yes, I'm a geek, keep reading). Most young boys are attracted to either Football, Rugby or Cricket at a young age, however for me, sitting on my dads lap watching Arsenal games on the TV didnt do a lot for me.

Now, Sunday Afternoons watching Formula One on Sunday Grandstand on BBC2 was the beginning. The Thrill came from watching drivers such as Piquet, Laffite, Lauda, Patrese and other hurling those cars around the tracks with such skill. It had me glued to the TV watching the drivers throw cars that were glued to the ground by amounts of downforce that would increase tenfold every year, engines that pushed them on with ever increasing amounts of power and technology that would get better and more improved by the year.

I was hooked.

Now every kid has a job that they want to do when they are young. My first was to be a train driver. As my dad worked at the Bletchley Rail Depot repairing engines, I wanted to drive them. However having Epilepsy and being Colour blind put paid to that aspiration. My second was to be an astronaut like those brave guys at NASA and on Star Trek. But the same reasons applied.

So my heart was set on being a Racing Driver. However I had no idea about the money and paths required to do this. What also fuelled my interest and excitement was the excellent commentary provided by Mr Murray Walker and Mr James Hunt. They made the racing on TV even more exciting and thrilling to watch every sunday afternoon on BBC2. I was hooked.

So, I hear you ask, where does the BTCC and my obsession fit in? Well fast forward to 1988...

By now, I'm a firm Nigel Mansell fan and a complete Williams fan, watching fights between him, Prost, Senna and Piquet. But my mind had a question that would soon get an answer.

My love of F1 also spawned a love of cars in general and I often wondered if the cars that wete driven on the roads ever raced.

Well thanks to a certain Steve Rider, my question was answered in 1988 when on Saturday Afternoons, they started showing the BTCC. I rejoiced in watching Fords, BMW's, VW's, Toyota's and many more on the Silverstone National circuit. Something that I didnt know existed at the time. What also helped was that Mr Walker was commentating as well!!!

And so began my following of the BTCC with my new heroes to follow such as Andy Rouse, Frank Sytner, Steve Soper, Tim Harvey and John Cleland getting my support.

I have followed both F1 and the BTCC ever since, with one change. My job wish changed from being a Racing Driver to being a Motorsport Commentator. Trust me, ask my family and friends and they will happily testify to the many shouts when I watch motor racing I know well.

WTCC, ETCC and the DTM followed in due course, but thats for another day.

Now, go and get that cup of tea. You earnt it.




Hi there. This will be my own blog detailing my opinions and memories of the various touring car series I follow: the BTCC, WTCC, ETCC and now and then the DTM.