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...
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!!