Back in 2004, the FIA took the step to promote the successful European Touring Car Championship to become the World Touring Car Championship from 2005 onwards.
However the decision was taken to still run a European Touring Car Cup alongside the WTCC. This would allow Independent teams to take part from European countries whose National Touring Car series used Super 2000, Super 1600 and Single Make Trophy regulations and race against each other.
Just to add for those of you familiar with the ETCC, there was also a catergory called Super Production but this was phased out for the 2012 season.
Now below are the rules for competing in the ETCC:
The cars that are eligible are those complying with the FIA Super 2000, Super 2000 Diesel, Super Production and Super 1600 technical regulations.
The Drivers must either have competed in a minimum of 50% of their own National Championships; been designated by their ASN (National Sporting Authority) and who have not taken part in the FIA WTCC with a Manufacturer’s team or belong to a country in which there is no national Championship and been designated by their ASN.
In 2012 the Single Make Trophy was introduced for cars such as SEAT León Supercopa.
From the 2013 season Diesel engines and the Super Production regulations were outlawed and thus only petrol engined Super 2000, SEAT León Supercopa and Super 1600 cars are allowed.
Ok so pretty simple rules to understand for entry. Now here is the bit that is niggling me and is something I feel should be addressed...
Since 2005, the FIA European Touring Car Cup has been won 3 times by British Touring Car Drivers. Ryan Sharp won the Cup in 2006 in a GR Asia run SEAT Leon and former Double BTCC Champion James Thompson won back to back ETC Cups in 2009 and 2010, driving for the Danish Touring Car team Hartmann Honda Racing in both years.
However since then British Touring Car talent has been somewhat missing from the Cup. From 2005 - 2009 the ETCC was a one venue/two race event. Qualifying decided the starting grid for race one. The grid for race two was decided by reversing the top eight finishers from race one. From ninth place down, the drivers start where they finished in race one.
In 2010, the Cup became a three event series with two races taking part at Braga in Portugal, Salzburgring in Austria and at Francaciorta in Italy. In 2011 it returned to a one venue/two race format at the Salzburgring.
In 2012, the FIA decided that the ETCC should act as a stepping stone to the WTCC. So it became a 5 event Cup with 10 races in total held in Europe. Three of those events were held on the same weekends as WTCC with 2 further standalone events in Europe.
So you have a European Touring Car Cup that races alongside an FIA sanctioned World Championship for 3 meetings out of 5 and you get European exposure for your sponsors...
So why dont we have a British team holding up honours in the ETCC?
The last time a BTCC Team took part was in 2009 when Bamboo Engineering ran a two car team of Chevrolet Lacetti's for BTCC regular Harry Vaulkhard and guest driver Duarte Felix Da Costa. Since then no British team has taken part. Harry almost won the ETCC that year too. He was in contention until sliding off in slippery conditions under pressure from James Thompson.
Now the first obstacle is the regulations. Any team taking part in the BTCC has already spent budget on either building or buying 1 or 2 NGTC cars as well as negotiating contracts with drivers. With the ETCC using S2000 cars, that means that your team would need to have experience of both NGTC and S2000 machinery and have been successful in both types of cars.
The next obstacle is budget. A normal 2 car BTCC team for one season can cost upwards of £350,000. A typical 2 car ETCC team can cost upwards of £500,00. So already your looking at needing upwards of £900,000 to go racing. So thats a lot of sponsor hunting. Not only that but if you are running two NGTC cars in the BTCC, then you need drivers with experience and available to race in the ETCC...otherwise you'll need another two drivers to employ, pushing the driver total to four.
Next is competition. Not only are you racing in a Multi-Class Cup with three different types of cars racing together on the same track, but you are also racing against the best that Europe and Scandinavia have to offer in the form on Independent Touring Car teams and drivers. To be at this level means your team has raced against the best in your own domestic championship and has made the step up to take on the best from Italy, Germany, Latvia, Russia, Sweden, Portugal and many other countries in Europe and Scandinavia with competitive touring car championships.
No mean feat...
Finally, coverage. The BTCC is broadcast on ITV4 HD. A free to air HD channel available to anyone with Digital TV. The ETCC is broadcast on Eurosport, Europes biggest sporting broadcasting channel, however its only available in the UK if you have a Virgin or Sky box. So if your team competes, not all your fans will see it.
However the plus side is the exposure. Any sponsors you have will be seen on the European Arena where there is a bigger fan following of the ETCC. Many fans from Europe flock to the events as they are often on WTCC weekends as well, so another plus side is that the drivers and team gain notice from the WTCC Paddock, offering potential options to compete on the World Stage later on in the teams and drivers career.
Theres also the fact that you and your team would be competing in an FIA sanctioned championship. Thats nothing to be sniffed at. Taking part in an FIA European or World Championship takes budget, drive and determination as you take on Europe's best. A box to be ticked on any score sheet in motorsport...
So there are arguments for and against for this particular topic. However, I remind you that British teams do well in WTCC. RML, Bamboo and Special Tuning Racing have shown that they are among the best in the World Championship with RML winning outright drivers and manufacturers titles whilst Bamboo and STR are always in the hunt for Independents wins and the Independent Title.
Now I know that a few people will point out that recently this year Nicholas Hamilton took part in two rounds of the ETCC in the SEAT Leon Supercopa class. For me, that is a high achievement in Nicholas' short Touring Car career. After spending two years in the UK Renault Clio Cup, a spectacularly close championship that is on the BTCC support bill, Nicholas made the step up and I hope that he can return back to try and hone his skills against the best.
Whilst Lewis may dominate the F1 headlines with his performances for Mercedes, the fact that Nicholas, who suffers with Cerebral Palsy, has achieved the goal of beginning a racing career should not be overlooked.
Other UK based Touring Car fans also enjoy ETCC as well as I do so while the fan base maybe smaller here than in Europe, we would still love to see the Brits have a crack at the Cup again. Teams like Motorbase, West Surrey Racing and Pirtek Racing are the best BTCC Independent teams that could easily take on the ETCC and give the competition a run for its money in the top class.
In fact each time WSR entered a BMW 320si/320TC in the WTCC for regular pilot Colin Turkington, he was often one of the fastest Independent drivers out there and often harried the works WTCC teams too!!
Come guys!! Give it a go and show them how Britain does it best!!