Monday, 28 April 2014

BTCC 2014: Donington Weekend closes up the Competition...

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship moved to Donington Park for Rounds 4, 5 & 6 of this years season and followed on from Brands Hatch by closing up the title chase and showing what so far is a very close and competitive field...

And wow did they go hammer and tongs at this one! Better go and grab that cuppa...

Team BMR stepped up in practice on Saturday morning with Aron Smith setting the fastest time in FP1 and showing that the Passat is getting better round by round. Tordoff showed an improvement in fortune by going quicker still in FP2 in his MG after a less than spectacular weekend at Brands Hatch.

In Qualifying, the promised speed from improvements to the MG came true with Plato securing Pole Position for race one. Shedden managed to get the Honda Civic Tourer in 2nd with Tordoff qualifying a fine 3rd. Turkington secured 4th in the eBay BMW whilst Aron Smith qualified 5th in the dying minutes ahead of team-mate Menu. Andy Jordan took 7th in his Honda with 45kg on board whilst Goff, Neal and Marc Hynes completed the top 10. With Giovanardi in 11th, all 7 champions were in the top 11...

Dan Welch competed in the new built 2nd Proton, qualifying last but looking to improve during the races whilst Morgan again was fast in the WIX Racing Mercedes, however he would lose his fastest times when failing the ride height and would wind up 17th.

Race Day brought wet conditions and race one would prove to be survival of the fittest as the track began to try but not enough for slicks. From the Start Plato led away as Tordoff got ahead of Shedden. Turkington took third as he made one of his trademark getaways from the grid.

Jordan made good progress from 7th on the grid, passing Smith, Shedden and Turkington in the space of four laps, overtaking each driver at Regate each time. Menu suffered in the conditions and fell back through the field, eventually finishing 13th, not happy with the VW in the conditions at all. On the other hand though Rob Collard revelled in the conditions, starting from 13th he moved up to 4th in the end.

Rob Austin took a risk pitted for dry tyres mid race going on to set the fastest lap but would finish a lap down. His team mate Hunter Abbott faired worse in the race retiring after contact with the Insignia of Warren Scott.

Plato won the race ahead of Tordoff with Jordan in 3rd. Collard finished 4th ahead of Turkington and Shedden. Giovanardi finished 7th with Neal, Smith and Tom Ingram taking 10th.

Race two saw Tordoff take the lead ahead of Plato off the line and passing his team mate into Redgate. But the race would involve two safety car periods. The first triggered by Lea Wood who ran wide at Coppice on lap one as Unoted Autosports James Cole took out one of the corner marker boards, before Menu had a huge spin exiting the Old Hairpin in the VW. It was a tense moment as the VW came back across the track in the slide, but somehow the rest of the field managed to avoid the Swiss drivers spinning car.

With Tordoff leading from Plato and Shedden, Jordan moved past Turkington for 4th just before Collard spun off the track and digging the BMW into the gravel at the Craner Curves. Safety Car No.2 was triggered by Rob Austin as he went to pass Chris Stockton, who had Jack Clarke on his outside at Coppice. The three made contact, causing both Austin and Stockton to spin. Behind them, James Cole was on the outside of the Rotek Racing Audi S3 of Robb Holland. The two made contact, and both hit the wall hard on the outside of Hollywood.

The Toyota was written off with a twisted chassis and losing both the right hand doors whilst Hollands Audi S3 suffered front end damage. Both teams withdrew their drivers from race three. The Race began again with spins from Hynes and Depper later on but none of this would stop or distract Tordoff from taking his second career BTCC win ahead of Plato and Shedden. Jordan, Neal and Turkington came home in 4th, 5th and 6th with Mat Jackson, Smith, Newsham and Ingram completing the top ten.

Race three saw for the first time ever the whole field start on soft tyres since their introduction in 2013. This was due to the ruling that if a driver cannot use his dry tyres due to a wet race, then his soft tyres nust be used in the next dry race.

Race Three was finally dry...

Hold on this one is a cracker...

With Turkington on Pole with Neal alongside it was looking to be a exciting race. Turkington shot off the line as the rest got away with Neal in 2nd. Jordan slid wide at Redgate losing places whilst further down Aiden Moffat spun off to the infield causing Warren Scott to take avoiding action, but unable to avoid tapping off Marc Hynes. With the safety car called out, on the run to the last chicane Gio locked up and this caused him to hit Smith, in turn sending Smith into Ingram. Gio would later be penalised for this.

As the race began again on lap 4, Turkington led from Neal who was immediately passed by Plato. Jackson was 4th ahead of Tordoff, Shedden. Newsham and Morgan were next but contact between the two led to Newsham going off.

This is only lap 4 for crying out loud!! Only 14 more to go!!!

Goff slid down the order after an off at the Old Hairpin whilst further ahead Plato, Neal, Jackson, Tordoff and Shedden disputed 2nd position whilst Turkington extended his lead further. Tordoff was passed by Shedden on lap 6 as his tyres went off and Shedden began his move to towards the front with a better setup. He passed Jackson on lap 7 into 4th.

With Jordan hassling Smith for 9th, further back an exciting scrap for 10th ensued between Foster, Austin, Ingram, Menu, Collard, Gio and Wood. Menu had started 29th after his race two spin and was all elbows in the scrap. As Tordoff fell back he was passed by Jordan and Smith whilst Jordan passed Morgan on lap 11 for 6th.

Shedden then began his charge. He passed Neal on lap 12 and Plato waved him past on lap 13. Shedden had 5 laps to close the gap to Turkington at 5.3 seconds... Whilst this was on, Plato fell behind both Neal and Jackson with fading soft tyres. Jordan tried to battle with Jason, but with the title already in mind, Plato held him back until lap 16 when the Honda went past.

Now take a breath... We're almost there!!!

However Shedden had his head down and he closed Turkington down to fight for the lead on the last lap, 0.6 behind the BMW. He hassled the 2009 Champion on the last lap and they wete side by side out of Coppice. Out of Mcleans Turkington defended causing Shedden to be on the outside for the Chicane. At the Chicane, Turkington was on the inside and the two cars touched with Shedden just ahead. This caused them both to go through the gravel with Shedden ahead and taking the first ever win for an Estate Touring Car!

Behind them both came Neal, Jackson, Jordan, Plato, Collard, Foster, Menu and Morgan. Despite an appeal from WSR, the results stood and it left a very tight championship. Jordan and Plato are tied on 87 points, meaning both will carry 36kgs at Thruxton, with Shedden a point behind on 86 and Turkington a further two points behind on 84.

The super fast Thruxton Circuit is next up on Bank Holiday weekend, the scene of two podiums for Tom Onslow-Cole in the then Team HARD. VW Passat. With Aron Smith and Alain Menu showing good pace in the cars so far expect them in the mix along with the improved Honda's, MG's and BMW's. Thruxton will also be hard on tyres so expect close, very fast racing on the highly abrasive track.



WTCC 2014: Paul Ricard offers hope...

The 2nd round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship took place at Paul Ricard and offered hope to the rest of the field that Citroen are beatable this season...

As long as it rained and they were at the back of the grid...

But dont write these races off just yet...

Qualifying showed that the Citroens have a mid corner speed advantage that was more apparent at Paul Ricard with its chicanes and long fast corners than at Marrakech with its long straights and fast chicanes. Sebastian Loeb took his first ever WTCC pole position from team mate Jose Maria Lopez with Yvan Muller taking third on the grid. Tarquini beat Valente to 4th with the frenchman completing the top five. Once again Muller showed that he seems to suffer in this new Q3 format where the top five drivers run a single lap for pole position in race one.

Michelisz, Chilton, Borkovic, Morbidelli and Monteiro completed the top 10 with Munnich & Bennani in 11th and 12th respectively. The Lada's qualified 13th - 15th with Huff leading Thompson and Kozlovskiy. However the latter two lada drivers suffered suspension failures in Q1 whilst showing good pace. John Filippi beat both Engstler TC2 BMW's to take the TC2 pole position.

But things took a twist when both Loeb's and Lopez's cars were put to the back of the grid for having an issue with the safety fuel cut off valve on both cars... Handing Muller his first pole position of the year with Tarquini alongside him...

Race Day however was wet but a drying track was the situation that greeted the WTCC competitors at race time, who all chose wet weather tyres as a safety measure. From the start Tarquini and Michelisz out dragged Muller who got away slowly in brilliant starts for both Honda drivers.

Borkovic and Valente duked it out into turn one as Huffy made up places from 13th to 6th then 5th by the chicane! With the new more powerful engines and wider tyres trying to find grip, the TC1 cars were scrabbling for grip. Tarquini led on as Muller passed Michelisz on lap 2 for 2nd with Valente, Huff, Morbidelli and the Loeb and Lopez fighting for 7th and 8th...

Yes, you read that right, the Citroens were fighting each other for position... Finally!!

Loeb went inside Lopez at turns 1 and 2 as behind Huff pursued Valente in the battle for 5th. Lopez passed Monteiro on lap 2 as Loeb moved passed Morbidelli. The traction of the Citroen in the wet was mighty as Muller took the lead on lap 3 with the order looking almost normal again as the Citroens moved onwards and upwards. Loeb passed both Huffy and Valente on lap 4 for 4th although they both made him work for it.

Loeb breezed passed Michelisz on lap 6 as Lopez pursued Huffy whilst out front Muller pulled away from Tarquini. Lopez spent the next three laps working past Huff whilst further back Morbidelli was defending from Montiero whilst Chilton, Thompson, Munnich worked their way past Borkovic and Bennani both suffering with tyre wear. Morbidelli, Monteiro, Chilton and Thompson closed up during the race to battle for 8th place as the track began to dry up, however Morbidelli would fall back with tyre issues that stemmed from a late setup change that didn't work out.

Muller won the first race from Loeb and Tarquini with Lopez 4th and Huff equalling Lada's best WTCC result with 5th. Valente, Michelisz and Monteiro followed with Chilton and Thompson completing the top ten. Franz Engstler took his 3rd TC2 victory in the older S2000 BMW.

Race Two saw Bennani on Pole from Munnich with Monteiro, Morbidelli, Borkovic, Chilton, Michelisz, Valente, Tarquini and Muller in the top ten. Loeb and Lopez would start from the back again...

The start saw Montiero and Bennani rocket away in another fantastic Honda launch leaving the Munnich Motorsport Chevys of Munnich and Morbidelli behind. Chilton knocked Tarquini sideways at turn two whilst Borkovic moved past. Chilton tapped Morbidelli into a spin at the chicane whilst the rest took avoiding action. Lap finished with Monteiro leading from Bennani, Munnich, Tarquini, Borkovic, Chilton, Lopez and Muller.

Breath... And continue...

Loeb passed both Huff and Valente on lap 2 before the chicane whilst Lopez and Muller made faster progress further up the road. Michelisz had a touch with Lopez back on lap 1 and seemed to fall back with steering issues. Lopez and Muller passed Borkovic who defended off Loeb who in turn had to defend from Chilton as well. The Chevy's were fast though and proving a match for the Citroen for grip. Loeb sat in for the long haul as he pursued Borkovic and Munnich.

Tarquini passed Bennani for 2nd on lap 5  as the Citroens of Lopez and Muller closed in on the Morrocan driver as well. Monteiro meanwhile extended his lead out front. Lopez and Muller went past Bennani at Turn One on the next lap and went after the Honda's. Further back Chilton repassed Loeb to chase Borkovic as Tarquini slid at the chicane, gifting Lopez and Muller places each.

However on lap 7 Loeb clouted the tryes at Turn Two, throwing them out into the track, causing a safety car period and eliminating Monteiro's lead. The race got underway on lap 9 with Muller and Lopez fighting with Monteiro. However contact between Filippi and Engstler in TC2 brought the safety car out again. The restart on lap 12 was clean as things got underway again.

Monteiro was overtaken two laps later by both Lopez and Muller as the two Citroens moved forward to fight for the lead. Meanwhile further back Bennani fell off with tyres issues and when Borkovic was held up, Loeb pounced on the serbian driver. A lap later and Loeb passed Bennani for 5th place only to lose the place back to Bennani at turn two. Huffy touched Valente opening the door for Morbidelli to pass as the Lada fell behind the Campos Cruze.

Lopez won Race Two from Muller with Monteiro, Tarquini and Bennani completing the top five. Loeb, Borkovic, Michelisz, Morbidelli and Valente compleyed the top ten. So although both races had Citroen winners, all three drivers had to fight hard for their positions. This now meant that Lopez led the World Championship from Lopez and Muller. Tarquini and Valente are best of the rest in the points table as the series heads to Hungary.

Or should I say "Norbi-Land!"

However the success ballast comes into affect at Hungary with the Lada's, Honda's and Chevrolets all being given a weight break of 60 kilos whilst the Citroens remain the heaviest cars. Whilst this will affect setup issues, its widely ackbowledged that the Citroens have around a one second per lap advantage so Race Two should cause them problems as they move through the field. Tyre wear should also be a factor as well...

What is also evident is the excellent starts that the Honda drivers were able to make in each race and this applies to all four TC1 Civic's. Whilst the Citroen has a speed and grip advantage, the standing start advantage is in Honda's favour and will work better at tight twisty tracks like Macau, Sonoma and Moscow.

The next WTCC races are this weekend along with the BTCC races from Thruxton and the World Rallycross Premiere from Portugal. A busy weekend ahead!!



Tuesday, 15 April 2014

BTCC 2014: Brands Indy hosts Action Aplenty...

The opening weekend of the MSA Dunlop British Touring Car Championship promised action aplenty from the short Brands Hatch Indy circuit and there was no disappointment from that expectation.

The only car missing from the weekends expected 31 car grid was Dan Welch as he waited on parts to finish the new Proton Gen-2.

Qualifying for race one was a frantic affair as the cars carried no ballast and Andy Jordan put his Pirtek Honda on Pole Position from Jason Plato, Colin Turkington, Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden in the top five, with impressive performances from the new Honda Civic Tourer. Tom Ingram, Aron Smith, Alain Menu, Mat Jackson and Rob Collard completed the top ten.

The 7th returning champion, Fabrizio Giovanardi suffered in Qualifying, trying to find a good quali setup and only finished 18th...

In race one, Jordan led away and almost lost the lead into Paddock Hill Bend in a lurid slide but held it and held off Plato for the lead. Menu was tapped into a spin before Druids and at the end of lap one Neal forced his way past Turkington for 3rd. Ingram lost places at the start to Smith, Jackson, Collard and Austin.

On lap 3, Smith would tap Jackson into Clearways sending the Ford Focus wide through the gravel trap. Meanwhile Turkington began attacking Neal for 3rd whilst Shedden closed in on the fighting pair. Shedden would pass Turkington on Lap 13 causing slight damage to the BMW as he passed which would affect Turkington later on.

Whilst Plato hounded Jordan, further down the field on lap 15 United Autosports James Cole and Pirteks Martin Depper made contact at Druids with Cole suffering a damaged rear suspension from the contact. A lap later Jack Goff would get his Insignia past the impressive Mercedes A-Class of Adam Norgan who showed good speed all weekend.

Turkington fell back to try and defend from Austin, Smith, Collard and Ingram. Austin got past on lap 17 as the BMW driver suffered with damage. Collard and Smith would go on to pass Turkington at the end. Ahead Neal and Shedden fought for 3rd place and highest Estate car on the podium with fair racing between both.

Race One finished with Jordan, Plato and Neal on the podium with Shedden and Austin 4th and 5th. Collard , Smith, Turkington, Ingram and Tordoff finished the top ten. Foster, Goff and Morgan scored points in 11th, 12th and 13th whilst Giovanardi and Jackson fell back after suffering setup issues with Gio having to deal with a slow puncture. Both finished 14th and 15th respectively.

Race Two saw Jordan lead from the start with 45 kilos max ballast whilst Plato didnt get off the line causing the cars behind to take avoiding action. Collard and Neal made contact but both survived into Druids. Chris Stockton slid into the gravel causing the safety car to come out. Plato got going again as at the restart Jordan led from Shedden, Neal, Foster, Collard, Turkington, Morgan, Ingram, Giovanardi and Smith.

Warren Scott and Jack Goff made good positions as the safety car came out and later on it was determined that they had passed Mat Jackson under the safety car. Further forward the BMW's began fighting for position as Shedden attacked Jordan for the lead. On lap 9 Turkington passed Collard for 5th place and went after team mate Nick Foster.

Shedden continued harrying Jordan showing good pace in the Tourer as Turkington moved up to 4th on lap 10 but the 2009 Champion wasnt done yet. On lap 18 he passed Neal for 3rd showing the improved pace of the NGTC BMW. A lap later Marc Hynes and Martin Depper made contact with Depper in the barrier causing a 2nd safety car. At the restart Jordan scampered of as Turkington set after Shedden.

Race Two finished with Jordan winning from Shedden and Turkington with Neal and Foster completing the top 5. Collard, Smith, Morgan, Ingram and Giovanardi were 6th to 10th whilst Goff, Tordoff and Scott took 11th to 13th. Plato recovered to 14th whilst Jackson took the last point in 15th.

Race Three saw Collard on Pole from Foster, Neal, Turkington, Shedden and Jordan with Smith, Morgan, Ingram and Giovanardi in tenth. However Smith, Goff and Scott were all served grid drop positions for overtaking Jackson under the safety car. The race began with Foster jumping the lights and starting again whilst Gio almost hitting the tyres on the way to Druids. Depper hit the wall further round whilst Geddie slid off. Turkington passed Foster for 2nd as Neal, Shedden and Morgan completed the top six. Plato was up to 7th as Jackson and Tordoff passed Jordan on the soft tyre for 10th.

And thats just on Lap One!!!

Ok ... And breath...

Turkington carried on his march to the front of the field as he spent the next few laps hassling Collard for the lead as The BMW's continued to dominate the race from the front. Turkington took the lead on lap 7 as Foster and Aiden Moffat received a drive through penalty for being out of position. Alain Menu in Race Three was a man possessed as he made his way through the field. Austin and Newsham were also on charges through the field after Race Two dramas.

Alain Menu and Tom Ingram made contact as Ingram was spun round into the barrier causing another safety car period. At the restart Turkington led from Collard, Neal, Shedden, Morgan, Tordoff, Plato, Jackson, Jordan and Menu now up to 10th... But Alain wasnt finished there. With him running the standard Dunlop race tyre, the others ahead were easy pickings for him.

Plato passed Tordoff on lap 17 for 6th place and then passed Morgan for 5th on the following lap in the unballasted MG. Menu passed Tordoff on lap 19 as Sam suffered with the soft tyre further in with Jordan and Goff passing him. Plato moved passed Shedden on lap 20 and continued charging forwards. Shedden fell back to Jackson, Smith and Goff.

On lap 26, Plato pursued Neal past Rob Collard with Neal staying in second. Menu moved past Jackson and Shedden to take 5th on the final lap as further down Warren Scott recieved contact from Hunter Abbott in the 2nd RAR Audi.

Who said Alain Menu would be slow and couldnt keep up with the current crop of BTCC Drivers???

Race Three finished with Victory for Colin Turkington followed by Neal, Plato, Collard and Menu completing the top five. Shedden, Jackson, Goff, Newsham and Morgan completed the top ten whilst the final scoring positions went to Austin, Tordoff, Jordan, Cole and Abbott both scoring their first BTCC points.

As far as the championship was concerned, Jordan led by 2 points from Matt Neal with Turkington a further point behind. Shedden, Plato, Collard, Morgan and Tordoff completed the top eight championship positions.

There are many other stories to tell this season with the likes of Robb Holland, Chris Stockton, Jack Clarke and Simon Belcher all finishing in the races whilst Ollie Jackson soldiered through all three races gathering valuable data to improve the Proton. Meanwhile returning champions such as Menu and Gio proved they can mix it with the best of the current BTCC without fear.

Next up is the fast and flowing Donington Park National Circuit on Easter Sunday which is a circuit ideally suited to Touring Car racing and should give a better idea as to who is fast and favourite in the series.



WTCC 2014: Marrakech Carnage and Controlled Racing...

Well we saw the opening weekend of the FIA World Touring Car Championship at Marrakech and have been left with several points to consider in the run up to Round 2 at Paul Ricard this weekend...

First of all, during Practice, Qualifying and both Races its obvious of how much an advantage that Citroen have. Muller, Loeb and Lopez were all tenths and hundreths apart in each session with all three capable of winning races. In fact its highly possible the title fight will be between these three...

Secondly the pace of the Honda seems lacking in top speed like it did last year and that could hurt later on in the season at tracks like Spa and Suzuka. However the Civic's best ability has always been the chassis and handling so things should be more even over the next few rounds.

Finally, the RML Chevrolets have pace...and good pace at that. During race one Chilton was able to close on the Citroens in the latter part...although the Citroens suddenly upped the pace by 2 seconds when they realised he was closing. But with Borkovic qualifying 5th in race one and Hugo Valente taking 3rd in race two, the Cruze shows good pace with more to come once ROAL, Campos and Munnich get a grip on the car.

In practice however, several cars hit the Marrakech walls and soon the field was down on numbers. Petr Fulin hit the walls in practice, ruling him out of the TC2 fight. Tarquini however went wide at turn 3 and slid into the tyres...however things got worse when Gianni Morbidelli slid on oil and hit the Honda square on. This wrecked the chassis and ruled out Tarquini from the weekend...

You can be certain Gabriele will come out all guns blazing in Paul Ricard...

After all three qualifying session were run, Jose Maria Lopez had taken Pole Position from Sebastian Loeb. Muller cut the chicane on his run and had his time deleted. With Borkovic being released too early for his Q3 run and relegated to 5th, this elevated Tom Chilton to P3 on the race one grid. Munnich, Monteiro, Michelisz, Bennani and Coronel rounded out the top ten, giving Coronel the race two pole.

More on that later...

The Lada's suffered in Qualifying with Huff losing out to start 13th whilst Thompson started in 11th. Kozlovskiy would qualify 13th.

In Race One, the start saw Munnich creeping on the line, earning himself a drive through penalty. Muller jumped ahead of Chilton to take third as Lopez led Loeb away in grid order.

And thats how the top four finished. No racing each other, no moves for position, all three kept station whilst Chilton tried his best to keep up. When Lopez slowed the pace, Chilton caught all three... Only to see the three Citroens suddenly find 2 seconds a lap.

Behind these four, Borkovic fought with Monteiro for 5th, eventually passing the Honda driver after a helpful tap at the hairpin. This put Borkovic back into the top five whilst allowing Michelisz and Bennani to close with Valente not much further back. Bennani and Valente would pass Michelisz on lap 13 as Michelisz slowed.

Huff would retire from the race with Turbo issues, whilst Coronel would retire after hitting the tyres at a chicane and knocking loose his front end and suffering a gear lever. Munnich also retired from the race.

So Race One finished as Lopez, Loeb and Muller, from Chilton and Borkovic. Monteiro, Bennani, Valente, Michelisz and Thompson rounded out the top ten, with Engstler winning the TC2 Class.

Race two saw some drama compared to race one. Thompson was declared unfit after issues in the Lada whilst Huff was retired. However on the start grid, Kozlovskiy parked in the wrong spot and this saw a quick reshuffling of the cars. At the start though, things exploded.

Coronel got a good start, however Bennani was better away. Tom came across on Bennani and suddenly Coronel was pushed into one wall and then speared across the track to the other. Muller caught the rear of Coronel's Chevrolet, causing damage to the Citroen.

As the field parked to have the track cleared, emotions were high with Coronel believing Bennani was pushing whilst Bennani was adamant Coronel was pushing him towards the wall. Bennani was in tears as he exchanged words with Coronel, the two men being good friends in the paddock. However the damage to the Cruze meant Coronel would miss the two French WTCC Rounds.

At the restart, Bennani led from Monteiro, Loeb, Munnich and Valente. Loeb passed Monteiro straight away. Lopez and Chilton moved past Borkovic whilst at the end of lap 6 Loeb passed Bennani for the lead as the Moroccan driver recieved a drive through penalty for contact with Coronel. Bennani would later be excluded for being underweight, compounding a bad day.

Loeb led from Lopez whilst Valente passed Monteiro to take 3rd as Tiago suffered with brake issues. Borkovic retired on lap 8 causing a 2nd safety car period. Once racing resumed, again the Citroens held station with Valente behind. Bennani started 8th behind the Safety Car but fought his way up to 5th, having an exciting fight with Chilton.

On the road, Loeb won from Lopez and Valente with Chilton beating Bennani by 0.026 seconds at the line before the later  exclusion. Kozlovskiy held of Morbidelli for 6th whilst The TC2 entries of Engstler, Di Sabatino and Filippi finished in the top ten. Monteiro fell to 11th with car issues.

So the WTCC Circus moves to Paul Ricard for Easter Weekend with Citroen already the dominant force and happily willing to enforce team orders from halfway in the race to ensure maximum points scored. Muller is 30 points adrift already and will not be happy with playing team orders so happy. He likes to race for wins and race fair with his team mates so expect to see him out all guns blazing as well as Tarquini wanting points in the Honda.

To consider as well, Paul Ricard is fast and flowing with twisty sections, so expect to see the Honda's and Chevrolets close up to Citroen. Lada will catch up but again Paul Ricard could be another test weekend as they get to grips with the new Granta. With Tarquini and Honda looking to make up ground, the next two WTCC could be a bit more exciting...

If Citroen lets their boys race...

Cheers and Happy Easter!!


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship...

This weekend sees the start of the 2014 FIA World Touring Car Championship in Marrakech, with the championship introducing a new set of rules and regulations and seeing a change in the looks of the new TC1 Touring Cars that will take part.

The cars will look more racy and aggressive this season with improved aerodynamics, more powerful engines and are lighter as well, allowing for plenty of development taking place and lots of close competition expected.

In the TC1 class, there are 17 entries from Citroen, Honda, LADA and RML-Chevrolet and heres a brief list of who is where in what...

Newcomers Citroen are running the C-Elysee with four time WTCC Champion Yvan Muller, nine time WRC Sebastien Loeb and Argentine TC2000 star Jose Maria Lopez for the full season with a fourth entry appearing at the Asian WTCC rounds in the hands of Ma Qing Hua. With over 100,000 kms of testing done in a six month period, Citroen are expected to lead the pack even though they are targetting only race wins...

Expect Muller to fight hard for supremacy against Loeb and Lopez...

Next up is Honda with four full time entries in TC1. Running an all new Civic to the new regulations, they kept on board Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Montiero to maintain consistency and keep the good working relationship that began last year. However with the car not having run until January, they will be playing catchup. But to close that gap, they have setup a test team using a fifth Honda Civic chassis.

The other two Honda Civics are being used by Hungarian outfit Zengo Motorsport with Norbert Michelisz at the wheel whilst Italian outfit Scuderia ProTeam are changing from being a BMW Customer Team to a Honda Customer team, meaning the team runs a brand new car for the first time since 2006. Moroccan driver Mehdi Bennani remains with the team.

LADA expand to a three car operation this season, using an updated version of the Granta Sport used last season. 2012 Champion Rob Huff joins regular drivers James Thompson and Mikael Kozilovskiy which should add more talent to the development of the car. However the team missed the pre season test at Valencia and have done most of their testing at their base in Magny-Cours so they will be on the back foot at the seasons start...

But, expect some giant killing performances from the little Granta...

Finally, RML have built six Chevrolet Cruze's to be operated by Customer teams. With RML looking to make a return to the series in 2015 as a Works Outfit, they are supplying a service to the three teams running the TC1 Cruze.

First up is Campos Racing, who took over the SUNRED operation that ran the Customer SEAT operation for the past several years has bought two TC1 Cruzes for drivers Hugo Valente and WTCC Newcomer Dusan Borkovic. Frenchman Valente showed good speed last year whilst Borkovic was a strong driver in the ETCC whilst driving a Normally Aspirated Chevrolet Cruze. Campos is an experienced operation and Valente was quick again in the pre season Valencia Test.

Next up is ROAL Motorsport, another team that was a BMW Customer outfit. They have kept on Dutch star Tom Coronel and this will be the 3rd year of their association together. Joining the team is Tom Chilton, who brings backing from Capsicum along with a second Cruze that he owns. Chilton was the 2nd driver confirmed to purchase a Cruze from RML over the winter after Valente. Whilst Chilton has experience of the 2013 Cruze and working with RML, Coronel brings the experience of ROAL who are a fast capable team.

Expect these two to be the biggest threats to the Works Teams on the grid...

Finally, in a last minute deal, Munnich Motorsport return to the series after making their debut last year with three SEAT Leon's taking two wins through Rob Huff. Originally ordered by Bamboo Engineering, the two cars were purchased by Rene Munnich's outfit when Bamboo confirmed that they couldnt raise the budget to race on WTCC this season. However, even more impressive is the signing of Former F1 driver and four times Superstars V8 Champion Gianni Morbidelli to the team.

Morbidelli was spotted last year in the WTCC Paddock at Shanghai where rumours began of him looking for a move into WTCC. Well thats become true and in my opinion, once he's up to speed with the Cruze, Morbidelli could be a regular podium visitor and a real threat to the potential Citroen lock out expected.

There is also the TC2T class for older S2000 cars that were eligible from 2011 to 2013. There are 5 cars entered in this class, called The Yokohama Trophy.

Franz Engstler returns with his Engstler Motorsport outfit, running two BMW 320TC's for himself and former Bamboo driver Pasquale Di Sabatino. Campos Racing have signed John Fillippi and 2013 FIA European Touring Car Champion Petr Fulin to drive two SEAT Leon WTCC's with coaching from Pepe Oriola. For the Asian WTCC rounds, Oriola will be joined at Campos by younger brother Jordi Oriola. Finally Nika Racing return to the Trophy with a 2013 Honda Civic WTCC for Japanese driver Yukinori Taniguchi. The Nika Racing entry is pexcted to join later in the season.

Two other important changes are to the racing format and Qualifying. Both races will be 60kms long in durations whilst the rolling start has been scrapped to have standing starts in both races. With no Rear Wheel Drive cars in operation, this allows for a fair and equal start to both races.

Qualifying is now split into three parts:

Q1: All competitors will take part in Q1 looking to set a time quick enough to get into the top 12. Anyone in 13th place going down to last will start in that position for both races.

Q2: The top 12 set times quick enough to try to get into the top 5 for the Q3 Pole shootout. Anyone qualifying 11th and 12th will start in those positions for both races. The Top 10 in Q2 is reversed to produce the top 10 grid for race 2... Therefore 10th gets race 2 pole, 9th starts 2nd in race etc.

Q3: The top 5 Drivers from Q2 each go out and perform a single fast lap to determine the top 5 places for the race 1 grid. The Top 5 drivers also score points so its 5 points for Pole, 4 for 2nd place, 3 for 3rd place, 2 for 4th place and 1 point for 5th.

So we have in prospect a spectacular season ahead, which in my opinion must acheive two objectives:

1. It must show that the spectacle of the WTCC isnt hurt or diminshed in anyway with the new regulations in effect, providing the same exciting racing we have come to enjoy.


2. It must serve to entice more manufacturers into the series and allow for more cars to be available to allow the likes of Michel Nykjaer, Pepe Oriola and other well established WTCC stars a chance to return to further enhance that spectacle.

We'll know soon enough.



Thursday, 3 April 2014

Whats The Attraction???... The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship

Earlier this year I wrote an article about why the 2014 FIA World Rallycross Championship has attracted such a large entry of drivers and teams and why there is so much interest in a series that was promoted to World Championship status last September.

My second article regards a series that is more home grown but has attracted just as much interest from former drivers, formers champions and new driver/teams as well as added interest from the fans...

The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship.

This year has seen a bumper entry list of 31 drivers and cars to the series now that every car conforms to the Next Generation Touring Car regulations announced in 2010 and introduced in 2011. These new regulations allow spec parts to be supplied by TOCA and allow teams to build cars that remain close in performance and maintain the close door to door racing the BTCC has been known for since 1958.

This has also attracted new teams to the series including United Autosports, Handy Motorsports and Aiden Moffat Racing, allowing them to purchase or build their own NGTC cars to compete in the 2014 season and further add to the entry and quality of the 2014 grid.

However, it also attracted some big names and star quality in Touring Car Circles to return to the series. Team BMR attracted the interest of 1997 & 2000 Former BTCC Champion Alain Menu after signing his race engineer Geoff Kingston. Airwaves Racing attracted the interest of 2007 & 2008 Former BTCC Champion Fabrizio Giovanardi, looking to secure his third BTCC title.

So why is there so much interest this year? Well apart from the competition, all of the on track action and the amazing level of access to the teams and drivers at each event, something else has helped raise the profile of the series...

Social Media.

In the buildup to this years season, the teams and drivers have embraced and used Social Media to their benefit to announce where and with who they are driving.

Team BMR/Restart Chrome Edition kicked off with a video teaser at 2pm on YouTube before a short video released at 8pm announced the lineup of Aron Smith, Alain Menu and Warren Scott joining Jack Goff at the squad. 2009 Champion followed that up with a YouTube video confirming his return with WSR/eBay Motors.

However YouTube has been used by other teams for other reasons this year. Ciceley/WIX Racing and Power Maxed Racing unveiled their NGTC Machines being wrapped in their new liveries as well, showing the delicate process used to get the cats looking so colourful and exciting before they go racing.

Airwaves Racing used a different approach regarding their announcement by using another fan favourite with the BTCC Crowd: Tin Top Tuesday hosted by Alan Hyde, where the team were delivered pizza by BTCC Double Champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.

Another original way of announcing a driver lineup was on Twitter & Facebook where AmD Boss Shaun Hollamby announced the team would use an NGTC Ford Focus with their driver due to be announced 4 days later... However due to huge fan demand and an enormous amount of guessing, Shaun revealed the driver, Dave Newsham, on the next day.

So allied with its expanding prescence on Social Media and an excellent TV Package utilising ITV4 in HD and having the whole raceday on Sunday televised with Qualifying shown online on Saturdays and with repeat programmes during the week and at weekends, the coverage rivals that offered on Sky for Formula One and Eurosport for the World Touring Car Championship. So its benefitting from maximum exposure online and to the fans.

Add to this that during the off season and winter testing, many returning drivers want to race in the BTCC this year. With rising costs in the WTCC for the new TC1 Regulation car being more expensive, drivers are looking elsewhere. James Nash, Alex MacDowall and Darryl O'Young have turned to Sportscar racing whilst Charles Ng is racing a drift championship car this year.

However Alain Menu returned as he recognised that the BTCC is on the "up and up" and the place to be racing in touring cars. Fabrizio Giovanardi's view is simple: he has unfinished business in the BTCC, wanting to add a third championship title to the two he has already from 2007 and 2008. Colin Turkington is looking for a 2nd title whilst Andrew Jordan is looking to be the first driver to win back to back titles since Giovanardi. With Neal and Shedden in new cars and Plato in the ever fast MG, already the excitement is pumping!!!

But the spectacle could be added to...

In my honest opinion, something that could be changed is the online Qualifying coverage. There are often issues on site at the tracks or with ITV servers that interrupts it. I believe that a 1 hour Qualifying show on a Saturday, televised on ITV4HD would work. Although BBC, Sky, BT Sport and Eurospprt have live action sports showing, a Live TV show for BTCC Qualifying would work. In this day in age, if we dont watch a programme live, its recorded for later viewing and this offers uninterrupted coverage, apart from a few expected ad breaks, to those that cant watch Quali online (like me) because of none or poorinternet access/bandwidth.

But regardless of this, the series has managed to pull in more limelight than the regulation changes in Formula One and WTCC this year, more limelight than the new FIA World Rallycross Championship (but not by much) and more than the return of Paul Di Riesta to the DTM Mercedes lineup...

Hang on!!! Three of those championships are FIA sanctioned World Championships!!!

So, with three races already run and the next three due to take place on the same weekend as the Chinese Grand Prix and the FIA World Endurance Championship opening 6 Hours of Silverstone, The BTCC is holding its own and by admission of its own 31 drivers this year, is back to being the Worlds Best Touring Car Championship again.

Now to add to that, dont forget that the FIA World Touring Car Championship starts this weekend in Marrakech with the series new TC1 Regulations providing new cars taking part this year, its worth giving a go to see how new entrant Citroen stacks up against Honda, Lada and The RML built Chevrolets.

All the best!!