Saturday, 31 August 2013

WTCC 2013: Muller and Lopez star on Argentina's Debut...

When the FIA World Touring Car Championship calendar for 2013 was published earlier in the year, there was some confusion as to whether or not there would be a Brazilian round in the series.

Since 2005, the Brazilian round of the WTCC has always been held at Curitiba. Well in 2013, there was no Brazilian round. Instead the event was to take place in Argentina at the newly revamped Autodromo Termas De Rio Hondo circuit.

Now I should point out that there is some history with trying to get a meeting in Argentina going back several years. Back in 2009 there was talk that the Super TC 2000 Honda squad were considering an entry in the WTCC with Mugen Honda supplying engines to the S2000 Honda chassis. This announcement also included a possible event in Argentina...

But neither announcement came to fruition.

Fast forward to 2013 and the WTCC now has a fully fledged Works Honda Team and the confirmed round in Argentina...

All Good Things...

So as the first of the flyaway races, Argentina marks the final run to the championship finale in Macau in November. However both the Drivers and Manufacturers Titles will be decided well before then.

Yvan Muller has stamped his authority on the 2013 championship with no clear, consistent challenger to stop him. Indeed his victory from Pole in race one was the usual formbook showing. Yvan has usually taken Pole and the race one win in 2013, however although he has often started 10th in race two, he has often finished on the podium as well.

But there was a surprise in Argentina and a reminder that Mullers luck doesnt always run in his favour in the flyaway races...

Remember Sonoma 2012? Well Argentina 2013 would prove to be a repeat.

The surprise? That came in the form of former USF1 (remember them?) nominated driver and Super TC 2000 star Jose Maria Lopez. Now in South America, Super TC 2000 is the biggest Touring Series around and has as bigger following as V8 Supercars does in Australia and as bigger following as the DTM has in Germany.

So with Fredy Barth unable to race due to business commitments, Lopez was signed up for the Weichers Sport BMW seat.

And this would turn out to be the surprise of the weekend with Lopez showing good pace in both practice sessions and in qualifying too where he qualified in 10th place for race one putting him on pole for race two, his experience with the rear wheel drive Super TC 2000 cars transferring to the Super 2000 BMW 320 TC.

After Qualifying finished, the top ten for race one were Muller, Chilton, Michelisz, Tarquini, Oriola, MacDowall, Montiero, Nash, Nykjaer and Lopez. ROAL Motorsport team-mates Tom Coronel and Darryl O'Young collided whilst trying to give each other a tow, eliminating them from the top ten. Rob Huff suffered an engine failure in practice meaning he needed an engine change and this put him to the back of the grid for both races.

There were 2 rolling starts for race one. The first start was aborted as Chilton was out of position. On the second start, Muller led away and would never be challenged, leaving the action to take place behind. Now there was some niggle between Oriola and Chilton during qualifying with Chilton unhappy about Oriola's driving and blocking and this spilled into the race.

As Muller disappeared off into the distance, Chilton lost 2nd to Michelisz and then fell to 4th as Oriola passed him also. However after some good close racing between the three drivers, Chilton made his way back up to 2nd place on lap 4. To add to Michelisz's bad luck Chevrolet drivers Pepe Oriola and Michel Nykjaer passed the Zengo Motorsport Honda driver so that on lap 5 he would cross the line in 5th with Bamboo Engineering's James Nash closing on him.

At the start of lap 6, Nash tried to pass Michelisz at the first corner, however James made contact with the Honda and that contact included Nykjaer also. All this resulted in Tarquini overtaking all three drivers after he made a poor start at the 2nd attempt. Lopez was in a fighting mood as he made his way through from 10th on the grid. This was to be a preview of what he could do as on lap 8 the Argentine driver made his way past Nash and Nykjaer to become the lead independent on track.

Things weren't over between Oriola and Chilton as the Spanish Chevrolet driver hassled the English RML driver to the end for 2nd place and his efforts were rewarded by the end of the race as Muller took victory from Oriola and Chilton to make it an RML Chevrolet 1-2-3 on the podium. Tarquini finished in 4th with Lopez in fifth and taking the independent race win. Nykjaer and Michelisz finshed 6th and 7th whilst Huff managed to finish 8th after starting 22nd. Nash and Montiero completed the top ten.

Race two offered some interesting action as Lopez took off like a scalded cat at the start to take the lead from Pole. As he led, Nykjaer had no answer for the BMW as the Danish driver bogged down at the start and lost the place to Montiero in the Honda. As the laps progressed, Muller went on the hunt for another podium finish in race two. His cause was aided quite nicely by Tarquini who made contact with Nykjaer, allowing the Frenchman through to third and in pursuit of Montiero...

Heres where Mullers luck runs out. As he pursued Montiero, both the Chevrolet and Honda drivers were closing on Lopez's BMW, setting up what would have been an exciting race to the finish for the win. However on lap 5 Muller tried to pass Montiero first on the outside of turn 5 and then as he tried to pass him on the inside,  this resulted in contact between the drivers with the Honda driver spearing off into the gravel.

As Muller carried on he would later be handed a drive through penalty that dropped him from 2nd to 18th. Yvan would finish 13th at the end. Lopez was assured of the win and duly took it whilst Tarquini was ideally placed for 2nd place.

Oriola managed to grab third and prove again that given the right car, he is in the hunt for podiums and more wins and that maybe, just maybe he would be in the hunt for the Independent title.

Behind Lopez, Tarquini and Oriola came Nykjaer, Michelisz, Montiero and Nash followed by Valente, Coronel and D'Aste.

Hang on... Valente, Coronel and D'Aste???

Yup. During the race, Coronel made contact with Huff as he tried to pass the SEAT and this broke the achilles heel of his car, the steering arm, sending the Englishman into the gravel. The BMW drivers (apart from Lopez) suffered during both races and didnt make a big impact on the points table. The Lada's also found the going tough despite James Thompson topping morning warmup on sunday and Kozlovsky suffering penalties from qualifying and parc ferme from race one that dropped him to the back off the grid for both races

The SEAT's also suffered with a lack of race pace with Valente pushing off Huffs team-mate Marc Basseng during race two. Monje didnt feature in either races and Boardman was missing from both races to allow time to repair his STR SEAT in time for the Sonoma races.

So, this brings us to the next round in the USA at Sonoma raceway where last year the Chevrolets dominated qualifying and the races and where Muller got a drive through for pushing Franz Engstler round and this helped Rob Huff closed in the title chase.

This time you can virtually guarantee that Yvan Muller will be crowned champion after race two, making it the earliest championship title win since 2010 when Yvan won the title at the penultimate round in Japan after his main title rival Andy Priaulx was disqualified for a technical infringement. Honda can win the Manufacturers title as they have a sizeable points gap over Lada.

However, this is the FIA World Touring Car Championship... And anything can happen...

Anyway enjoy both the USA WTCC races and if you need a motorsport fix before hand, apparently there some big Formula One race on in Italy...



Monday, 19 August 2013

BTCC 2013: Panel Bashing back to its best at Snetterton...

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship came back with a bang at Snetterton from its summer break with the drivers showing that they are not afraid to bend and bash panels to pass each other...

Something that is cemented in the history of the BTCC and tintop touring car racing in general.

What was also provided was some exciting racing that has given the championship another twist in a season where, in my opinion, there are still 5 drivers fighting for the overall title.

Those 5 drivers being Matt Neal, Andrew Jordan, Gordon Shedden, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato. With these 5 drivers, you have the cream of the current BTCC Crop and anything can still happen between them...

And at Snetterton it did...

Now if you are a regular reader of my blog, you will recall how impressed I have been with MG's Sam Tordoff this year, in what is his first full season in BTCC. Well he started the weekend off well by taking Pole Position for race one from his much more experienced team mate Plato on the front row with him.

In fact the grid for race one had a slightly different look to it. The top 10 for race one read as Tordoff, Plato, Jordan, Shedden, Turkington, Aron Smith, Morgan, Goff, Newsham and Welch. Lea Wood would be the fastest Jack Sears Trophy competitor putting his Vectra in 22nd. Matt Neal suffered technical issues and would start 11th for race one...

Aron Smith showed the pace that the Airwaves Fords are now capable of by taking 6th in qualifying, however even though he had a massive crash after the first turn, he managed to keep the position as no one went faster and it would be a preview to what Airwaves could show and would show in race pace.

Of the newer drivers and cars to appear at Snetterton, Warren Scott traded his S2000 SEAT Leon for a Team HARD built VW Passat and will receive assistance from Team HARD for the rest of the season, Andy Neate made his debut in his NGTC Chevrolet Cruze Saloon and popular american driver Robb Holland drove the 2nd Vauxhall Insignia.

So onto race one...

Well to be honest it was the quietest race of the day for the BTCC racers. Tordoff disappeared from Pole to go and take his first ever BTCC win from Plato, giving MG a 1-2 finish. Shedden made it past Jordan as did Turkington and Smith at the start and the 2012 champion would chase home Plato to the finish. Jordan would repass Smith during the race and would hound Turkington to the end.

Smith stayed in 6th position after Jordan passed him. Morgan would take another points finish whilst Newsham and Welch would suffer a spin and retirement respectively. Welch's retirement would be assisted by Collard firing him off at the first turn.

Matt Neal would chase down Jack Goff during the race but the lack of boost the Honda had during the weekend was obvious as the Vauxhall pulled away on the straights. However after Neal passed Goff, contact with Newsham would drop both men to finish 11th and 12th. Mat Jackson would make his way up through the field and pass Neal who would take 9th place with Collard 10th. Will Bratt had an interesting start as his bonnet flew up during the race and he had to pit to have it replaced by one of Rob Austins for the rest of the day.

So to recap race one finished as Tordoff, Plato and Shedden with Turkington 4th, Jordan 5th, Smith 6th, Morgan 7th, Jackson 8th with Neal and Collard completing the top ten.

Race Two would up the ante for the excitement...

Try and keep up...

Tordoff led from Pole Position again with Plato alongside him, however it would not finish that way. Plato retired on lap 5 whilst Tordoff would fall to 18th due to failing brakes on his MG6. So this left Shedden, Jordan and Turkington fighting for the lead of the race. After a brief safety car period due to an incident involving JST runners Kaye, Nye and Griffin, the race resumed and Jordan passed Shedden for 2nd.

Jordan then went after Turkington for the lead and it was obvious that the BMW did not have the pace to hold back the Pirtek Honda driver. On lap 11 Jordan passed Turkington in a close move that saw Turkington spin down to finish 6th at the end. With no weight now in his Honda, Neal fought his way through to finish 2nd after an amazing last lap pass on Airwaves Ford man Smith. For a while during the race there was a queue for the lead and during this time Collard retired after contact with Shedden trying to pass the Honda driver for position.

So race two finished with Jordan winning from Neal and Smith with Jackson 4th, Morgan 5th and Turkington 6th followed by Shedden, Newsham, Tom Onslow-Cole and Frank Wrathall hauling his Toyota Avensis up to 10th. Lea Wood took his 2nd JST win and would cap off Sunday by winning the Race Three JST as well, becoming the first man to do so all year.

For the Race Three grid draw, Dave Newsham in the Speedworks Toyota Avensis was picked for Pole Position for Race Three by 1958 BTCC Champion Jacks Sears himself and hopes were high that Newsham could replicate the win he took at Snetterton 12 months ago in the Team ES S2000 Vauxhall Vectra. However it was not to be.

But race three would be rather exciting...

Take a breath...And continue...

At the start, Newsham tangled with Neal and the resulting contact between the two sent Neal to the back of the field and Newsham to retire. Neal would work his way back up to finish in the top 10 by the end. Shedden fought for the lead with Turkington in another show that the BMW was capable of taking the lead but it was not able to up the pace, leaving Turkington open to attack from another Honda during race day.

That poor bloke must be wondering if he has a Honda Target on the boot of his BMW 125i as each time he was attacked for the lead, Turkington came away with panel damage to his car. Shedden took the lead and would go on to keep it.

In another show of improvement, the Airwaves Fords of Jackson and Smith moved up the field and pounced on Turkington after Shedden passed him to move up to 2nd and 3rd positions.This was the best finish yet for both drivers and hopefully shows of more pace to fight for wins in the weekends to come. 

Normally Snetterton is a good race track for Jason Plato but this year it proved to be his bogey. Although he took 2nd behind Tordoff in race one, that would be his best position on raceday. During the final race, Plato was making up positions from the back when he was tagged on the back of the car coming through the infield. This contact would send the MG6 spinning off and into a barrel roll off the track.

Jason would emerge from the car ok, but it would cap off a bad weekend for him and even he acknowledged that it made things difficult in the overall title chase.

Morgan would finish 4th in the end whilst Tordoff showed more of his talent by driving from the back to finish 5th at the end, hounding Morgan for 4th but to no avail. Jordan lost positions to Tordoff and Turkington as his Honda hurt whilst it carried maximum ballast from his race two win, but he would finish ahead of Matt Neal, which is something he will need to do more often in the coming weekends.

There was a big accident between Ollie Jackson in the 2nd Speedworks Toyota, Dan Welch in the Proton and Will Bratt in the Audi that led to all three retiring from the race. Rob Austin was on for 5th in the race but then suffered a spin to fall down to 12th in the end.

So the overall finishing order for race three was Shedden, from Jackson and Smith on the podium. Morgan, Tordoff and Turkington were followed by Jordan, Neal, Collard and Foster.

However due to the days robust driving there were penalties to follow and a severe penalty earned by one driver to race one at Knockhill...

For his move on Gordon Shedden in race two, Jordan was given two penalty points on his racing licence. For his move on Turkington in race three, Shedden was given 3 penalty points and a £500 fine for the move. However there is a new rule this year for driver conduct that states if a driver racks up three infractions in volving penlty points during the season, they will suffer a 6 place grid drop at the next round and Andy Jordan is the first driver to receive this penalty. This will take place at Knockhill for the Pirtek Honda Driver.

So, where does all this leave the driver standings? Well Matt Neal leads the overall drivers title on 256 points. However Jason Plato is 5th in the drivers table on 206 points with Jordan, Shedden and Turkington in between. Thats the top five drivers covered by 50 points as the series moves to Knockhill.

Its getting close...

As for the other teams and drivers not mentioned, apart from his 9th place in race two, Snetterton was a quiet weekend for Team HARD. Robb Holland scored 15th place to score his first ever BTCC points whilst TOC was in the top 15 suffering with issues all weekend. Warren Scott had teething troubles in the new VW Passat but it was first rolled out on Saturday Morning and he has since tested the car at Brands Hatch.

Jack Goff had his best qualifying yet in 8th for race one, but it would go downhill from there during all three races for the former Clio Cup Champion. 12th would be his best finish and retirements in races two and three would be little reward. During the Dunlop Tyre Test, Goff learnt a lot in the Insignia and its pace improved. However Goff is now out of the car for Knockhill, replaced by Paul O'Neill but hoped are high that he will be back in the car for Rockingham, Silverstone and Brands Hatch as he has shown he has the speed and the tools to fight with the established teams.

Team Hard has what it takes to fight th established teams, it just needs to find the speed that TOC has unlocked in the VW Passat and transfer that to the Vauxhall Insignia also. But i feel we will see that speed return soon...

Andy Neate had a quiet raceday but acheived his goals by taking a finish in all three races in the NGTC Chevrolet Cruze Saloon. He has more testing planned but there ismore to come from the RML built chassis/machine. For Dan Welch it was a weekend to forget in race trim. 10th in Qualifying for race one was the best he would start however he would suffer retirements after contact with other drivers during the races. Hopefully Knockhill will see a return to form in what has been a troubled year for the privateer Proton Team.

Rob Austin and Will Bratt both showed that they were able to score points in the Audi A4, however in thier quest for points finishes, these often ended up with both cars spinning or being involved in incidents with other cars. Rob Austin ofetn seeming to have contact with Pirtek Honda's Jeff Smith in two races. However when the Audi is on the pace, it can trouble the front runners and lets hope this happens in the coming BTCC weekends.

Airwaves Ford Racing I feel made the biggest improvement after the summer break. Whilst Smith broke into the top six for the race one starting grid, he proved that this pace was no fluke and followed it up with three points finishes, two of those on the podiums. Team mate Mat Jackson also showed that he has lost none of his touch in bringing home a fast car in the points and it was made clear that team boss David Bartrum has ordered that both cars be bought home in one piece with as little race damage as possible, leading to a large points haul. Jackson has been  title contender before and in the run to the seasons end I have a feeling that both Ford's will be in the mix with the Honda's, BMW's and MG's.

Whilst Airwaves Ford showed improvement, the same could be said for the Ebay BMW's of Rob Collard and Nick Foster. Whilst Turkington has been fighting for the lead in races at Oulton Park and Croft and again at Snetterton, Collard and Foster were often in the fight for top ten positions and this is a much better showing that in the 1st half of the year. With the Independent titles being fought out between Pirtek Honda and EBay BMW, you can see that they will both fight to the last point possible. What is needed is more pace out of the BMW on the harder Dunlop tyre, otherwise the EBay boys will be sitting ducks.
Again Adam Morgan in the Ciceley Racing Toyota Avesis was the best of the Toyota's again and has been the case for ost of the season so far. Morgan took top ten points finishes in all three races whilst Newsham and jakson suffered both spins and retirements. However Frank Wrathall has had the worst reliability so far with the Dynojet Toyota proving to be much more fragile than last year. He's also using a Works Toyota engine so lets hope that he finds reliability in the car.

Whilst Jordan is fighting for overall wins, Jeff Smith seemed to have an off weekend at Snetterton, bein involved in incidents with other drivers when normally he is racing or the race three win. Knockhill last year was Smith's first visit to the podium so lets hope that he finds his way there again and can regain the good form he has.

With regards to the Honda's, whilst they were down on boost on the straights, once again, the chassis showed its strengths with Shedden taking a victory in race three and Neal taking a podium in race 2 and driving back through the field in race three. They are both drivers who can never be counted out of the title fight and this year both drivers have adopted a consistent approach to the title and its working. Neal is leading with Jordan close behind whilst Shedden is 3rd in the table.

As for MG, well they will bounce back. They will take reward from Tordoffs maiden win and Pole Position but they will also be ready to strike back at Knockhill. The MG6 is fast, thats never been denied and its also got a good chassis so the honours will almost even (except for boost adjustments of course) and you can expect some fierce fighting between Plato, Neal and Shedden in the coming rounds, all of which could work to the advantage of Andy Jordan... 

As for the S2000 runners, Lea Wood has firmly put his stamp on the Jack Sears Trophy after winning all three races. But his competition will increase as Griffin and Nye are showing increased pace in the S2000 Ford Focus's whilst James Kaye returned to the series in an ex-Team Dynamics S2000 Honda and his pace showed that he can hopefully take the fight to Wood and the others in the lst 12 races. Its possible but it will be tight.

It's also looking like we will see an all NGTC field next year in the BTCC and it will be a shame to see these pure bred racing cars to leave the BTCC, however with the current crop of World Touring Car S2000 cars looking for a new home possibly in the European Touring Car Cup, these cars will race on yet. It also allows drivers like Lea Wood to find a good race seat as they deserve in an NGTC car.

One issue that was made clear again was the unhappiness of the drivers about the issue of boost adjustment and this is an issue that has caused issues and arguments since it was introduced back in 2011. Matt Neal was visibly unhappy with the boost situation on the Honda and it was evident watching him chase Jack Goff in the Insignia that he wouldn't pass the Vauxhall on the straight. However whilst this year it is based on the individual driver performance and not the car, that still makes it difficult for a title fighting driver to come back through the field with cars that run at the back end on higher boost.

But that also provides cracking racing for we, the fans. So the outcome is that Boost Adjustment is here to stay and that it will cause many an argument. What I ask is that the boost adjustments are published so that we the fans know who has had a boot drop and who has had a boost increase...

I live in hope, but know better...

So the series moves to its annual visit to Knockhill in Scotland and this is a track that throws up all manner of issues for the cars and drivers and on such a short fast circuit anything can happen as we witnessed last year with the clash between Jason Plato and Aron Smith...

I, for one, am looking forward to it...and hope that you have also enjoyed this blogpost.

Apparently theres also the Belgian Grand Prix on during the same day... Thats going to make TV viewing fun at home!!!

All the best!!


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

BTCC 20 Years Ago: When BMW rules the Roost...The 1993 BTCC Season.

Rewind the clock on the 2013 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship and you will find yourself watching the 1993 Autotrader RAC British Touring Car Championship...

And how different things were back then...

So I felt it was only natural to write a blogpost about the 1993 season of the BTCC on its 20th Anniversary.

By the way, you may want to go and put the kettle on now...This one may take a while to read....

The 1993 season was the championships 4th year of the FIA Class 2 regulations where all cars entered had 2 litre Normally Aspirated engines and were 4 door Saloon Production based versions of the road cars available to Joe Public.

Now, with the 1992 season propelling the BTCC into the World Motor sport spotlight and giving it the same legendary status as Formula 1, 1993 marked the beginning of Car Manufacturers and Works Touring Car Teams wanting to take part in the series.

With BMW GB withdrawing from the series, Prodrive concentrating on its WRC Subaru programme and Vic Lee Motor sport being liquidated, it looked like there would be no BMW presence in the series. However with rules disagreements in the DTM upsetting BMW, they sent their crack Schnitzer Team to the UK with Joachim Winkelhock and Steve Soper on driving duties.

Of the rest of the BTCC regulars, Vauxhall fielded John Cleland & Jeff Allam, Toyota fielded Will Hoy & ex F1 driver Julian Bailey. Nissan had Keith O'dor, Tiff Needell & Touring Car legend Win Percy whilst Peugeot had Robb Gravett, Eugene O'Brien & Ian Flux. Mazda ran Patrick Watts in the new Xedos 6.

Ford would return mid-season with the new Mondeo V6 piloted by Andy Rouse and New Zealander Paul Radisich. The cars would appear at Pembrey in Wales for the 2nd half of the season. Renault would join the series with the 19 model and its driver lineup would be 1992 Champion Tim Harvey & Swiss driver Alain Menu.

A cracking line up...

For the Privateers that were taking part in the series, TOCA decided to setup the TOCA Cup for Privateers, offering a prize to the best Privateer drivers taking part. Toyota fielded a junior team for James Kaye and Bobby Verdon-Roe whilst the Ecurie Ecosse team fielded Vauxhall's for David Leslie and Harry Nuttall. Team Dynamics ran BMW's for Matt Neal, Alex Portman and Ray Bellm. Ian Khan would run a Vauxhall Cavalier as would Chris Goodwin later during the season. Ian Cantwell would run the 1992 Mazda 323F whilst Ian Ashley would run another Vauxhall Cavalier and David Pinkney would race a BMW 318is Coupe.

Now something else that is different to the current layout of the BTCC is the race format. In 1992, the series introduced its double header race format where there were 2 races on the Sunday. This was something that was to be expanded on in 1993, but not every race weekend was a double header, only Brands Hatch Indy, Knockhill and Donington Park GP Circuit would have this setup. The final results of race one would be used as the starting grid for race two in the double header meetings with only 10 minutes between races. Otherwise there was one race per meeting.

What I will also make clear now is that in 1993 the top ten drivers scored points in the BTCC races, however to keep things simple and hopefully a bit more interesting, I will only say of the top five unless any of the championship contenders fell outside the top five for any reason.

It was clear from the first meeting of the season at Silverstone that the Schnitzer BMW drivers were going to be fighting for the title this year. Soper led Winkelhock to a crushing 1-2 finish, Soper overtaking his team mate during the race. Cleland, Hoy and Allam rounded out the top five for this race.

However something strange happened at the next BTCC round which was the support race for the 1993 European Grand Prix...

In fact, something amazing happened on that day...and it wasn't just Senna's first lap during the Grand Prix itself...

With the conditions being appalling for the BTCC race, this worked in the favour of the Renault Drivers of Harvey and Menu. With both Renault 19's on Michelin Wet tyres, this proved to be decisive as the weather got worse during the race. Harvey and Menu took a 1-2 finish for Renault in only its 2nd meeting, however this was down to the Michelin advantage and the French manufacturer would return to fighting for the bottom half of the top ten positions as the season moved on. Soper managed to drag his BMW home in 3rd followed by Cleland in the Vauxhall and Keith O'Dor in the Nissan Primera took 5th.

Round 3 took place at Snetterton with more bizarre actions taking place. Patrick Watts put the Mazda Xedos 6 on pole position with Winkelhock joining him on the front row. However for the first start, whilst Watts, Winkelhock, Soper, Leslie, Cleland and Bailey made the start from the first 3 rows, but carnage ensued afterwards with cars hitting each other on the narrow start/finish straight. On the run to the second corner, Watts slid in front of Soper and went off into a field, ending his day. So the cars were reset for a second start but with Allam, O'dor, Neal, Bellm and Watts missing. Winkelhock led from the start, however later in the race he missed a gear and this allowed Soper to come through to take the lead. Bailey, Leslie and Hoy fought behind Soper for 2nd with the end result being Soper taking his 2nd win of the year from Bailey, Leslie, Hoy and Winkelhock.

Round 4 took place at Donington Park on the National circuit and it was also the venue of Winkelhock's 1st BTCC Pole. Allam would start alongside him in the Vauxhall and these two driver would finish in the same positions as they started in. Behind them would be Soper who chased down Allam during the race but wouldn't pass him, Watts in 4th and Bailey in 5th.

Oulton Park was the venue for round 5 of the season and Cleland took pole in the Vauxhall for the first time of the season. Winkelhock was alongside him on the front row. Before the race started, 1990 Champion Robb Gravett pulled off his Peugeot 405 with a broken driveshaft and Bailey retired with a misfiring engine. At the start Winkelhock led from Soper, Cleland, Hoy and Allam.

Now Cleland seemed to have some sort of good luck charm on raceday. Hoy went off on the first lap trying to pass the Scotsman. Cleland later passed Soper for 2nd and the BMW Driver would retire with a steering rack failure later on whilst trying to take the position back at Cascades. Winkelhock would take his 2nd win in a row from Cleland, Allam, O'dor in the Nissan and Eugene O'Brien in the 2nd Peugeot. The Renaults had a bad day with Harvey suffering Gearbox problems and Menu going of at the hairpin. With Winkelhock taking the win, he would also take the championship lead from Soper.

Rounds 6 and 7 were held on the Brands Hatch Indy Circuit with the seasons first Double Header meeting. David Leslie took his first Pole Position of the year from Hoy and the fight for the lead would be between Hoy, Leslie and Winkelhock. Hoy went off at Clearways losing places but rejoining whilst Winklelhock later bullied Leslie off the track and went on to win from O'dor, Hoy, Soper and touring car legend Win Percy in the 2nd Nissan. Clelnad went off at Druids and this would leave him starting 18th in race 2. For Race 2 Winkelhock was on Pole from O'dor, but it was a BMW 1-2 from the green light. However Winkelhock would go off at Clearways as well, leaving Soper to take the lead and fend off Hoy and O'dor for the rest of the race. O'dor passed Hoy for 2nd and Hoy went off again at Clearways to finish 14th. The top five would finish Soper from O'dor, Allam, Percy and Cleland taking 5th from starting 18th.

What was obvious was that Nissan, Toyota and Vauxhall were proving to be the closest competition to the Schnitzer BMW's but that would change as the championship moved to Round 8, taking place at the Welsh circuit of Pembrey. It was here that Andy Rouse and Ford made their return to the BTCC with the new Mondeo V6. Rouse also brought with him team-mate Paul Radisich from New Zealand. Whilst both Mondeo's would have a quiet debut with Rouse retiring and Radisich finishing 8th, it was situation normal at the front with Leslie taking his 2nd Pole Position of the year but with Winkelhock driving through to take the win from Hoy, Soper, Bailey and O'dor.

This led to the next round of the BTCC which was Round 9 at Silverstone for the BTCC Support race of the British Grand Prix. Yes, up until 2004 the BTCC had a race on the support bill of the Grand Prix, something else that is different 20 years on and no longer takes place.

O'dor took Pole Position in the Nissan with Hoy again on the front row. At the start Hoy took the lead from O'dor, Bailey, a fast starting Soper, Radisich in the Mondeo, Leslie and Watts in pusuit. Several laps later and Bailey would pass O'dor for 2nd. He would then attack Hoy for the lead at the complex and I mean literally attack Hoy as he speared into the side of his team-mate and rolled him over with both Toyota's out on the spot. O'dor continued on into the lead with Soper, Radisich and Winkelhock following, the German driver having started 11th on the grid. Win Percy would make good progress through the field to make sure that Nissan scored a 1-2 finsih at the end. Soper would hit the barrier at Abbey, retiring out on the spot. This left the top five finishing order as O'dor, Percy, Radisich, Winkelhock and Leslie 5th.

Rounds 10 and 11 took place at the Scottish Knockhill circuit with the BTCC returning to take its 2nd visit to the track after it was introduced in 1992. This was also the 2nd weekend of the double header races. For race one Ex Grand Prix Driver Julian Bailey took his first BTCC Pole position from the Mazda of Patrick Watts. However race one demanded two starts. TOCA Privateer Ian Khan hit Win Percy just before the John R. Weir chicane, stranding the Nissan on the spot. The 2nd race start saw Watts lead but not before Bailey passed him and then Cleland passing Bailey in a race long tight battle for the lead. Cleland would go on to win from Bailey, Winkelhock, Watts and Radisich, the young New Zealander making good strides in the new Mondeo.

Soper was not a happy man after an incident with Radisich in race one left him down the order and out of the points in 12th. Race 2 saw Cleland on Pole, but Bailey again would fight with him for the lead and the Toyota man took his first win of the season and what would turn out to be Toyota's only win of the 1993 season. Cleland came 2nd from Hoys, Watts and Radisich. Winkelhock never made the start of race two due to a broken clutch and Soper only managed to finish 8th, the Englishman now on a mission to try and catch his Germnan team mate in the overall title chase.

Round 12 took place at Oulton Park, but this second visit was also the secne of the Oulton Park Gold Cup meeting with the winner's name being added to a very prestigious list. As before in the BTCC's last visit to Cheshire, BMW were to the front again with Winkelhock on pole from Cleland in the Vauxhall. Winkelhock would go into a lead that he would never lose from Soper who passed Cleland at the first turn. However it was the Renault 19 of Alain Menu that proved to be the talking point of the race. Renault had been improving the car all year and it finally showed at Oulton with Menu starting 8th and making his way to finish 4th. Winkelhock would win the race from Soper, giving Schnitzer BMW another 1-2 finish from Cleland, Menu and Bailey, who took another top five finish in the Toyota.

Round 13 was back at Brands Hatch for the series 2nd visit to the Indy circuit with David Lelsie again putting the Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier on Pole Position. He would do this 4 times during the 1993 season and often would be faster than the works Vauxhalls of John Cleland and Jeff Allam. Now if you take Ecurie Ecosse and exchnage for the name the team is better known by, RML, this would make things clear and it would be RML who would go on to run the works Vauxhall team in 1995 to give Cleland his 2nd BTCC Title that year.

Leslie however would have another run in with Winkelhock at Druids hairpin and would only go on to finish 13th, whilst Winkelhock would finish 20th. Radisich duly took the lead and would be pursued all through the race by Gravett in the Peugeot 405 and Soper. The BMW man would make a last lasp lunge for 2nd however the stewards would reverse the positions, stating that Soper's move was too aggreasive into Clearways. Radisich would take his first BTCC in but also the 200th win for Ford in Touring Car Racing, followed home by Gravett, Soper, Hoy in 4th and O'dor in 5th, both showing good form at Brands Hatch again.

Round 14 took place at Thruxton and was the scene for Leslie's 4th Pole Position of the year. Radisich joined the Scotsman on the front row, again showing that the Mondeo was no slouch for straightline speed. Winkelhock had a torrid time at Thruxton on his first visit to the Circuit and would start 14th whilst Soper would start 4th. Radisich led off the line but by the complex, Leslie was back ahead of both the Ford Mondeo Men. The Peugeots showed good speed again with Gravett and O'Brien chasing Soper for most of the race for 4th position. They would both pass the BMW to drop Soper to 6th at the Finish. Leslie stayed in front to take the win from the Ford's of Radisich and Rouse with Gravett 4th and O'Brien taking 5th. Winkelhock would finish 14th and out of the points, allowing Soper to gain on him in the Title chase.

The final double header weekend of the BTCC would take place on the Donington Park Grand Prix Circuit but in very damp conditions. Rounds 15 and 16 would present Winkelhock with a chance to win the title if he outscored Soper majorly, but Schnitzer had made it clear that their drivers were to fight to the finish with no team orders in play. Pole Position went to Radisich. He would hold the lead through the first few turns as the conditions got wetter and wetter. Radisich led from Menu, Leslie, Cleland and Rouse. Soper would make contact with Hoy and end up pitting with a puncture, whilst the Renaults showed thier wet weather pace yet again. Menu and Harvey would make thier way through the field to take a 2-3 finish for the French Manufacturer with Leslie 4th and Winkelhock 5th. Cleland would retire from the race as would Soper.

Race two showed more hectic action with Menu and Radisich contesting the lead of the race. However several laps in, after a lurid moment for Radisich coming out of the Old Hairpin, Menu made his move and would take the lead he would never lose. Radisich gave chase however apart from a last lap lunge at the Swiss driver, we wouldnt get past. Menu would go on to take Renault's first BTCC win of the season and the first of many to come. Rounding out the top five were Winkelhock, Rouse and Soper with the BMW men making strides back through the field on the drying track to score good points and assure BMW of the BTCC Manufacturers Title for 1993.

Radisich would admit later that he felt his lunge on Menu at the Melbourne Loop was unfair and let Menu re-take the lead...

Well, you wouldn't see that happening in todays BTCC now, would you?

Come on...Be honest...

Silverstone was the venue for Round 17 of the 1993 BTCC season and also the scene of the Final round of the year, taking place on the National Circuit.

Whats that??? "Only 17 rounds!!!" I hear you say? Well it does go to show how much things have changed in 20 years. Nowadays you have 3 BTCC races in one day...

The situation for the title was simple. Soper needed to outscore Winkelhock and also needed Winkelhock top score badly or not at all. It was a lot to ask for and an almost impossible task, but Soper went all out for the best pionts possible on race day. Pole Position was taken by Radisich, again showing that the Mondeo was good on power circuits, with Will Hoy beside him on the front row. the race would need two starts with the first one being red flagged after a big accident taking place just before the complex involving Gravets Peugeot. After the damage he suffered both of his front wheels were pointing in opposite directions leaving him stranded on the track.

At the re-start, Hoy led off the line from Radisich only for the Ford Driver to re-pass the Toyota driver. Behind them were Rouse, Leslie, Soper in 5th and Bailey in 6th. Winkelhock had made a good getaway and was in 9th poistion but that was all he needed to win the title. Alas the BMW's were no match for the Mondeo's and Toyota's during the race. Leslie, Rouse and Hoy would dispute 2nd place as Radisich disappeared off into the lead and the distance. Radisich would go on to take the win from Rouse, giving Ford its only 1-2 finish of the season from Hoy, Leslie and Soper.

But it wasn't enough. Winkelhock finished in 8th position and this was enough to secure him the 1993 BTCC Title. Soper would finish second behind him in the title race, 13 points adrift by the end of the season. Due to his race wins at Silverstone, Donington and Brands Hatch, Radisich took 3rd place in the drivers Title, beating Vauxhall driver John Cleland into 4th. By Clelansd's standards it was a poor season and he as hoping for better things in 1994. Julian Bailey finished 5th in the Drivers Title, capping off a good season that involved a win at Knockhill in his first season of Touring Car racing. O'dor, Hoy, Leslie, Allam and Menu would complete the top ten over final drivers points table.

Behind the Overall drivers title was the TOCA Cup for Privateers and this was a closely fought affair between Matt Neal, Ian Khan, Ian Ashley and Alex Portman through the season. Others drivers would make appearances too in the form of Chris Goodwin driving a Cavalier and Ray Bellm driving a 3rd Team Dynamics Entry. Dave Pinkney would take part in a BMW 318is also. Neal would win the Title at the Silverstone Finale by 2 points from Khan although he would finsh behind the Vauxhall Cavalier driver in the race. Neal won the title driving the 1992 BTCC winning BMW 318is Coupe that was driven by Tim Harvey, whilst Khan and Ahskley were using the 1992 Ex-Works Cavaliers. Portman took 4th on the TOCA Cup in the 2nd Team Dynamics BMW. But as always the racing was as close and exciting for the Privateers as it was for the works drivers.

After the season's end, the TOCA Shoot Out took place at Donington Park. This was an idea that began in 1992 where BTCC drivers and guests were invited to take part in this one off race that raised money for charity. The Idea was simple. The drivers went through qualifying and after wards the grid would be reversed for the race with the fastest man starting at the back and the slowest driver starting on Pole Position. Then as the race went on the last placed driver on each lap would be black flagged until there were only 5 laps left, leaving a dash for the line and the victory. David Leslie won in his Ecurie Ecosse Vauxhall Cavalier from Paul Radisich in the Ford Mondeo and Steve Soper in the BMW 318i whilst Guest drivers who took part were Nigel Mansell, Dererk Warwick, Chris Rea and Klaus Zwaart to name a few. The race is still remembered for the massive accident that Mansell had under the bridge just after the Old Hairpin...

Another event that took part during the end of the 1993 Touring Car season was the first edition of the FIA Touring Car Challenge which took place at Monza. Again, it was a simple idea. The FIA invited all the countries that ran Class 2 FIA Touring Car regulations to take part in two races to see who was the best drivers but also award hounours for the country with the most points scored in both races. Over 40 of the worlds best Touring Car drivers descended on the Italian Autodrome and the two races were spectacles to behold with such great Touring Car talents and so many manufacturers fighting it out for points, positions and wins. Paul Radisich took both race wins in the Mondeo to be crowned FIA World Drivers Champion whilst Italy won the Nations Cup, scoring more points than Germany. It was an event that would take place agin in 1994 in the UK at Donington Park and again in 1995 at Paul Ricard in France.

So the 1993 Autotrader RAC British Touring Car Championship showcased all the good points about what makes the BTCC so great. There was close exciting racing, with plenty of wheel to wheel stuff, plenty of panel bashing, mirrors flying off and bumpers being knocked loose. With highly talented drivers fighting it out for the title and race wins, Work Manufacturers sending their best teams to take part in what was fast becoming recognised as the "Best Touring Car Championship" in the world at that time.

It makes me proud to say that I am a fan of Touring Car Racing and of the BTCC.

Besides, it makes that other series look boring at times... what's it's name?

Oh yes. Formula One...

Anyway, whilst it's taken me a while to research this and get this one written up, we've had the awesome BTCC Meeting take place at Snetterton and we've also had the WTCC meeting take place in Argentina. I'd better get a move on!

Take care and Enjoy the good weather.



Wednesday, 7 August 2013

WTCC: 2014 Citroen Driver lineup confirmed...

Citroen has confirmed today that 3 times FIA World Touring Car Champion Yvan Muller will partner Sebastian Loeb for thr 2014 and 2015 WTCC seasons.

Yesterday Citroen released a teaser video online that showed Muller testing the Citroen C-Elysee at the Paul Ricard track just before the two Argentinian WTCC races.

This lineup shows how serious Citroen is about winning the WTCC Titles in the next 2 seasons. Allied with the new regulations coming into effect next year, I'm expecting the french marque to hit the ground running and give both Honda and Lada.

Citroen have said they will run a 3 car operation next year and there are rumours that former F1 driver Robert Kubica could take part in a limited programme of WTCC rounds next year.

Citroen confirmed during this year Porto WTCC Event that they were looking to sign either of the top 3 drivers from last years championship title fight: Rob Huff, Yvan Muller and Alain Menu. Of those three drivers, Menu and Muller have tested now for Citroen.

What this also means is that Honda and Lada will need to make sure they are prepared for 2014. Citroen have won many FIA World Rally Championship titles and will pour their resources into winning their first FIA WTCC Titles. With the expertise Muller brings and the talent of Loeb, whilst this puts Citroen in a strong position, this also opens up the driver market.

Drivers such as Huff, Menu, Oriola, Nykjaer, Coronel... hell even Rickard Rydell are out there, all with recent WTCC experience and all fast drivers capable of taking wins in good cars or testing cars and making them winners.

The buildup to the 2014 World Touring Car Championship is gathering pace...