The World of Touring Car racing faces an interesting choice of regulations from 2015 thanks to some recent changes and news over the past few weeks...
So I've decided to compare the two different types of Touring Car regulations on offer, known as the TCR International series and the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship's NGTC regulations, now known as FIA TCN-1...
Earlier this year Marcello Lotti, who ran the FIA World Touring Car Championship for 9 years, announced he was setting up a new International Touring Car championship that would take place in 2015 with a flagship International series, using a model that is based on the successful GT3 form of motorsport that would be transferred to Touring Car racing along with elements and ideas that he used in the WTCC as well.
He named originally named this the "TC3 International Series" however recently that changed to the "TCR International Series" for reasons that I will explain later.
Now with his experience of building up the WTCC from a successful three year stint running it as the FIA European Touring Car Championship between 2002 & 2004, to it becoming the FIA World Touring Car Championship and running until the end of 2013, Lotti knows what works and also has his race format already set out as well as the technical regulations for the series.
Now so far the TCR regulations have proven a popular option for different markets to choose to run in either 2015 or in 2016. Domestic TCR Series or Promotional Classes have been announced in Portugal, Italy, the USA and the BeNeLux region along with the already confirmed International Series and the Asian series as well.
So TCR looks quite healthy so far. There are benefits to having different series around the world running to the same regulations that remind me of the old SuperTouring Days. With cars being built to the TCR regulations, it will open up a market for these cars to be sold on as different and new teams around the world look to either build cars or buy cars to compete in TCR.
Already I can feel a tinge of excitement as I recall the height of the SuperTouring Days when the FIA ran three consecutive World Cup events between 1993 and 1995 with almost 40+ drivers from around the world competing in near equal tintop machines. This is something that could end up happening if TCR takes off in the manner it promises to, but the idea of a TCR World Cup is wild speculation at the moment.
I can even feel a tear in the eye...
There is another form of Touring Car racing already in use that could rival TCR and also has the backing of the FIA:
The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship's "Next Generation Touring Car" regulations...
At the recent December meeting of the FIA World MotorSport Council, the decision was taken by the FIA to endorse and support the use of two types of Touring Car Regulations for other countries to adopt and use in an attempt to reduce costs for teams and drivers to take part in and for organisers to run those series. The FIA chose the NGTC regulations from the BTCC and decided to rename them as "FIA TCN-1" or Touring Car National - 1. The second set of regulations to be endorsed and promoted are the more Production based Argentine Touring Car Championship regulations or now known as FIA TCN-2 for domestic championships looking for a cheaper alternative.
The FIA also reclassified the structure of its Touring Car hierarchy to clear up any confusion about what tintops are eligible where. The FIA WTCC uses TC1 regulation cars exclusively from 2015. The European Touring Car Cup will use TC2T ( 1.6 litre Turbocharged S2000 cars) and also TC2 (2 Litre Normally Aspirated S2000 cars) alongside the other classes. Now with the FIA endorsing the new TC3 concept, a name change was needed to avoid confusion that the TC3 series could be part of the hierarchy. So the name was changed to TCR.
So the FIA Touring Car Comission now has its progression system in place, something that Alan Gow and Jonathan Ashman have wanted for a long time as heads of the FIA Touring Car Commission, allowing drivers and teams in national TCN-1 or TCN-2 national championships to compete with a common set of regulations and have a clear view of progression up the ladder to the ETCC and later the WTCC. This is something that has been missing in Touring Cars for many years since the demise of SuperTouring and the change from Super 2000 to TC1 in the WTCC whilst Single seaters and Rallying have had a clear progression in place for a long time.
Now effectively there are two lots of regulations that are on offer for the different countries/markets to use. The benefits of NGTC are something I've written about before, but in a nutshell, you have one company producing spec parts for the car such as Gearbox, Rollcage, ECU, Aero and other parts whilst a spec engine is also on sale to competitors who cant build their own power units. This then allows one supplier for spares etc and help keeps the cost down. The teams are responsible for choosing the shell and model of the car they wish to race and building the shell.
The BTCC has seen the benefits of this since Series Boss Alan Gow's introduction of the NGTC regulations back in 2011 when just five full NGTC cars were raced whereas as this year a full 31 car grid of full NGTC cars competed as most rounds. Again in a recall back to the SuperTouring days, if different countries adopt these regulations, it opens up a market for ex BTCC cars to be sold on whilst new cars are built by suppliers to teams wishing to enter the new domestic FIA TCN-1 championships.
Now currently there are no new FIA TCN-1 championships announced, but give this some time. The FIA only just gave this the green light so it could be that over the next 12 months we could see new championships appearing in Europe or Scandinavia. History has shown for example that the Swedish Touring Car scene has often followed the BTCC in its regulations and it spent between 2011 and 2013 deciding if NGTC was the way to go, causing a split in the tintop scene and the creation of the TTA series that has gone on to become the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship, using the TTA regulations.
As far as race formats go, both the TCR and NGTC sporting regulations offer variety. TCR has announced a format of 2 60km races in duration whilst the BTCC holds 3 races on raceday of around 40 minutes in duration. However there is nothing to say that other markets will enforce these and only time will tell if they do.
As far as the cars and equipment being used, there are similarities. Both regulations support 2 litre Turbocharged Petrol engines, whilst TCR also offers the chance for 2 litre Turbo-Diesels to be used as well. Aerodynamic packages are provided by the organisers, keeping the advantage to a minimum whilst only the bodyshell of the model being used would be different. Both series offer spec parts or specify production parts only to be used and both series have a balance of performance system in place using weight to penalise a winning car and allow a close form of exciting racing where no one model of car dominates.
So, as you can see, there isn't much to choose from in the differences between TCR and FIA TCN-1, apart from the fact that the TCN-1 regulations have been in use since 2011 and quite successfully too. What Touring Car racing has needed to do for some time is to reduce costs and bring back the teams and drivers to the tintop arena. TCN-1 has succeeded in doing this in the UK whilst TCR looks just as promising with its wide European prescence for 2015 and 2016.
Theres one final point I want to make as I know my readers in the UK will ask this question:
Can TCR work in the UK?
My answer to this is No. The BTCC has re-established itself as one of Europes strongest series again, thanks to the success of the NGTC/FIA TCN-1 regulations. Thats also the reason as to why there is no UK round of the FIA World Touring Car Championship or the FIA European Touring Car Cup. Such a strong domestic series can often deter a World/European championship event from needing to take place, often because there is less popularity or knowledge for an FIA event than there is for the BTCC. Another reason as to why there is no UK round in the WTCC is because the manufacturers who compete have no interest in the UK car market and for them racing Touring Cars that win means they need to race where the car markets offer the best sales and thats a trend thats been in force for many years now. As for TCR, it just can't compete right now and it wouldn't survive against the BTCC.
But thats why the FIA chose the NGTC regs to promote as one of two sets of dedicated tintop regulations to be adopted from now on. If it works, don't fix it... Promote it so it can work just as well elsewhere and become more popular and even stronger.
Either way my final thought on the debate of TCR or TCN-1 is this. Pretty soon almost every country that holds a Touring Car Championship (Except Australia's V8 Supercars and Germany's DTM) will be exclusively running either a TCR Series, FIA TCN-1 or TCN-2 Championship and with so many Championships running in common, that can only be good for Touring Cars for the future. As to the most popular set of regulations... Well we'll find that out over the next few years.
Thank you for reading.