BMW return as a BTCC manufacturer

by Michael Thorogood on 27th February 2017

BMW is back in the BTCC, and with a strong team to boot

A decade since West Surrey Racing first contested the British Touring Car Championship with BMW, the Sunbury-based team has announced that it will compete in the 2017 championship with full manufacturer backing from BMW UK. It marks the return of BMW to the series as a manufacturer team after a 21-year absence, bringing with it its iconic retro colours.

Competing under the TEAM BMW banner this season and with two champions in its line-up, team principal Dick Bennetts is confident they can deliver success with the new 125i M Sport.

“TEAM BMW has heavyweight success behind it, increased financial and technical investment from BMW UK, the skills, consistency and superb track record of West Surrey Racing, and a driving trio that collectively represents the most powerful line-up in this year’s series.

“Working together successfully as motor sport partners for 10 years is the equivalent of a lifelong marriage. It is a tribute to BMW’s product and commitment, and we are delighted to once again represent the marque as they return with increased commitment as a manufacturer in the BTCC.”

West Surrey Racing will begin its 2017 campaign with arguably the strongest driver/car line-up on the grid. Colin Turkington returns to the team with whom he won the 2009 and 2014 titles, lining up alongside team stalwart Rob Collard and 2013 champion Andrew Jordan.

Jordan will be making the switch to rear-wheel drive after nine seasons in front-wheel drive machinery and is excited to join a team with the calibre of WSR.

“It’s been a dream so far,” he says in the plush surroundings of BMW Park Lane. “Better than I could have hoped for or could have imagined. The engineering level that West Surrey works to is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Dick Bennetts was a huge part of the deal being done with his engineering expertise, but also the way they work commercially.

“Me and my Dad had a meeting with Dick and as we drove out of the car park we said ‘that’s where we have to be. Whatever we’ve got to do to make the deal work, we’ve got to do it’. To me joining the team was a no-brainer.

“For the championship, I think it’s fantastic. BMW hasn’t been in it at this level for 21 years, so it’s huge for the BTCC and it’s huge for West Surrey."

Jordan, who will continue to run his familiar Pirtek livery this year, feels the consistency of rear-wheel drive machinery in recent seasons makes it a favorable option for 2017.

“Was there a weak rear-wheel drive circuit last year? Thruxton, maybe, but not really. That’s been the big turning point in the last couple of years. Rear-wheel drive is quick everywhere and that’s the key, to win the championship you’ve got to make sure you score at every event and score well. That’s what they were doing consistently last year."

Jordan is equally confident about lining up alongside two of the championship’s strongest rear-wheel drive protagonists and feels he will soon experience the benefits.

“I’m never going to shy away from having a strong team-mate. Colin’s known as being the fastest rear-wheel drive driver in the championship and so he’s going to be ever so strong and Rob’s ever the racer and a very strong competitor. It’s great, they’ll spur me on, and it’s great data to work from.”

Colin Turkington feels Jordan will have no problem making the transition to rear-wheel drive. “The BMW is such a complete package, giving you the confidence to do what you want to do with it straight away. I had a similar experience a few years back, switching from several seasons in rear-wheel drive machinery to front-wheel drive. A driver of his calibre will not find it challenging at all.”

This season will be a homecoming for the Northern Irishman – Turkington has spent nine of his 12 BTCC seasons with the WSR-BMW team but in 2016 partnered Jason Plato at Subaru.

“I still have the keys to the front door,” he jokes. “Having that familiarity and confidence in the team can really give you that extra margin.

“It’s a dream for any driver to carry the iconic colours of BMW. BMW has such a great heritage so it’s a huge honour. The experience of West Surrey, the driver line-up and the developments throughout the winter mean we definitely have the right ingredients to challenge from the off."

The team begins testing in Spain this week, dodging the British weather, ahead of the season starter at Brands Hatch in early April. The focus, according to Bennetts, will be on getting to grips with Dunlop’s wider new tyre that will change the handling of this year’s car.

The return of BMW’s iconic colours, not seen on the BTCC grid on a manufacturer entry since 1996, will bolster an already strong field. With manufacturer entries from Subaru, MG, Honda and the returning Vauxhall and now BMW, the BTCC could be returning to its once heady days.

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