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MOTOR SPORT columnist, see page 368) winsprayed the victory champagne, which was ning the FIA Touring Car Challenge -,,,,,•401eament to the equitability of the regula Monza against allcomers. Because of this tions the weight handicap on the rear

the Mondeo will start the season as wheel drive cars and the 8500 rpm limit. favourite, but the BTCC waits for no car and However, expect the gap between the Rouse has been busy updating his mount. 'es' and 'have nots' to increase this year, Its mid-season arrival in 1993, and the last and to be surprised if the wins are shared

ourbetween more than half of the teams.

Which ones? In this respect it's easier to state which you believe won't win, and see what you have left.

Mazda and Peugeot would appear to be the least likely to top the podium; not because their cars (the V6 Xedos and 405 MiI6) lack potential, but because of their lack of budget. In David Leslie and Patrick Watts respectively, these teams have new recruits capable of winning races, but with the likes of new arrivals Alfa Romeo and Volvo upping the financial stakes, these two small outfits are in danger of being swamped.

Nissan is next. This Japanese giant has earmarked touring car racing for its almost undivided attention, and in the form of Belgian Eric van de Poele the lanspeed BTCC team has a major driving talent on its hand. And yet . . Rumours are currently circulating that Nissan GB and Nissan Europe are at loggerheads as to how many cars, which sponsor • pele's shirt number, John Major's London address, Bo Derek's

arousal rating, . grgetr bottles . . . the ntfrnber of manufacturers contesting this year's Auto Trader British' Touring Car Championship! The latter hA shown no sign of faltering from its exponential course, and this season wjll benefit from unaralleled werks tegm support. Foun?years ago it was a one-Sierra show, now it's a multi-chassis, multi-hued, multi-million pound extravaganza, Consequently, the heat in the pits has risen to an uncomfortable level; big reputations and wage packets are on the line, and the championship has gained a Darwinian feel. Its Establishment is under threat, and those who don't perform this season

drivers and engineers will be forced to look for alternative employment as the Formula One stragglers circle overhead. Touring car racing must appear to be atasty morsel for Fl drivers who have passed their sell-by date. A lucrative pension scheme?

This is not to say that the Establishment isn't good at its job. Touring car racing is a highly specialised field, as Nigel Mansell discovered at Donington last year. Andy Rouse is still the benchmark in tin-top preparation, and is likely to remain so whoever arrives on the BTCC scene. His Ford Mondeo finished t season as the fastest two-litre touri car in the world, quiet New Zealander aul Radisich (who begins an alternativ areer this month, as a

minute switch fromicear to front-w24e1 drive meant that he was unable to incorporate all the go-faster features he had planned for it; thus, the new car is a lower, lighter, faster evolution. Rouse reckons lap times will tumble by a full second this year, half of which will be gleaned from the ferocious Dunlop/Michelin/Yokohama tyre war and the rest from chassis improvements. And the man who is still not totally convinced by the uneasy marriage between front-wheel drive and motor racing admits that he's amazed how fast these cars are now travelling.

Ford will win races, but it will not dominate the season. What is amazing about this championship is that the boffins go away during the winter to tinker and fettle, only to produce 10 different makes of car that all lap within a second of each other. So. who will do the winning?

BTCC predictions are akin to putting your head in a killer whale's mouth, moments after you've finished a hearty meal at (tarry Ramsden's, but here goes ... Last year, six of the eight manuf

and which drivers will contest the BTCC, while it also looks likely that its efforts will be dissipated by other, smaller programmes throughout Europe as was the case last year. This is not the. ideal preparation for such a closely-fought series.

I can feel the whale's teeth nipping the nape of my neck as I write this: BMW will not win a race this season! That stuck in the gullet. As long as there has been touring car racing, BMW has been at the front. But even with the excellent Team Schnitzer at the tiller once more, and the undoubted driving excellence of reigning champion lo Winkelhock, Steve Soper and Roberto Ravaglia. I believe the extra 100 kilogrammes levied on the 3-series to be too great to overcome on this occasion.

Volvo is my biggest worry the team most likely to explode my Five Winner Theory. The Swedish manufacturer has stunned the motor racing world by confirming that Ian Lammers and Rickard Rydell will drive estate versions of its 850 range. If it wasn't for the fact that the ultra-successful TWR is running the team, they'd be laughed off the track. I firmly believe that the five-cylinder device will be up at the sharp end towards the end of the season, but a win may be more than a year away. No wins for BMW and TWR there'

couple of myths exploded.

The winners? Ford, as explained, Alfa Romeo, Renault, Vauxhall and Toyota. Of these,. the Italian giant is expected to be Boreham's toughest opponent. The sheer size of its operation has already amazed some of its rivals, with a dozen or so trucks attending test sessions. And on these occasions it has been its number one, Gabriele Tarquini, who has been setting the pace with the twin-spark 155. In a surprisingly matter-of-fact, nonLatin way, this affable Italian reckons three to four wins is a realistic aim. I think he's right.

The following prediction is based on gut feeling more than any other the new Renault Laguna will be a pacesetter. This team struggled with the recalcitrant 19 1 6v last year, but its new challenger has all the right credentials a slippery shape and Mondeolike wheelbase and track. And in Swiss driver Alain Menu the team has a talent that has yet to be fully recognised.

All three of the above will win on Michelins, which leaves Vauxhall and Toyota as Dunlop and Yokohama's best hopes for success respectively.

After outpacing the works Cavaliers with his smaller-budget Ecurie Ecosse versions in '93, Ray Mallock has taken over the works contract for this season. His was reckoned to be the best chassis last season, and although the Cavalier is a little long in the tooth this will be its fifth season it and John Cleland (the Muhammed Ali of touring cars) will win races, despite the late arrival of the '94 specification model.

The Toyota Carina was always reckoned to have the strongest engine in the '93 field, but its lack of suspension travel caused Will Hoy and Julian Bailey a few anxious moments over the bumps last year as it tried to go in several directions at once. Both drivers are far happier with the latest car, and although this team has a surprisingly small budget, it's my tip to be the fifth winner.

Who will be the champion come September? Exactly.