The BTCC's new breed

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Rule changes have helped bolster the grid for this year’s British Touring Car Championship, with a welcome return for Audi

Fender-to-fender racing, crashes, spills and thrills. It can only be the British Touring Car Championship. It’s back, and the 2011 season will kick off at Brands Hatch on April 2-3. But this year things are changing. The new season heralds the introduction of the New Generation Touring Car (NGTC ) rules in an effort to reduce costs. Cut costs they will, and more importantly they have piqued the interest of teams outside the championship with the variety of entrants blossoming. Round one at Brands Hatch should be a stormer.

Go to Paddock Hill Bend in April and you’ll see not only the usual pack of Fords, Vauxhalls, Hondas, Chevrolets, BMWs and SEAT s, but a few Toyota Avensis and two Audi A4s.

The new NGTCs will share standard electronics, brakes, gearboxes and suspension and will house turbocharged 2-litre engines that produce 300bhp-plus. This year they will be kept in line with the old Super 2000 cars to allow teams time to convert their machines, but already many people have seen the obvious financial benefits of running under the new rules.

World Touring Car driver James Thompson tested a prototype of the NGTC Toyota Avensis last year and was only a second a lap off the S2000 cars’ times. This may sound like a lot in a tin-top series, but bear in mind that it was very much a prototype and the car has undergone some comprehensive aero development since then. Will the NGTC cars be able to keep up? It may be a case of pegging them back.

Today’s BTCC may not be packed with works entries like it was in the early ’90s, but would you rather see three manufacturers and a paltry grid of 15 cars, or plenty of privateer teams with cars varying from Ford Focuses to Audi A4s? Exactly. The new variation can only add more flavour to the already-exciting racing.

So far five privateer teams have committed to the NGTC regulations in the shape of Dynojet and Speedworks, which will both use Toyota Avensis, Eurotech which is running a Vauxhall Vectra for ex-Renault Clio Cup UK racer Jeff Smith and Andrew Jordan, Special Tuning UK which will run up to four NGTC SEAT Leons, and Rob Austin Racing which has opted for NGTC Audi A4s. Audi hasn’t been seen on the BTCC grid since 1998 when Yvan Muller and John Bintcliffe raced A4s, so there will no doubt be plenty of Audi banners and flags adorning the banks of Brands to welcome back the German marque.

BTCC fan favourites Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden had been confirmed at the Honda Racing Team for another season. Last year the Civic drivers managed to wrap up both the team and manufacturer titles and finished in second and third places respectively in the drivers’ championship, so expect to see them running up front in 2011.

Although the 2010 British Touring Car Champion Jason Plato and other main protagonists Tom Onslow-Cole and Tom Chilton hadn’t been confirmed at their prospective teams as Motor Sport went to press, it was only a matter of time. Plato, who was only confirmed at RML very close to the start of last season, had an absolutely fantastic year, clinching his second championship in the final round at Brands Hatch. Don’t expect the 2001 and 2010 British Touring Car Champion to wait another nine years for his third.

With new cars, new drivers and the leading front-runners from 2010 ready to race at Brands Hatch on April 2-3, the 2011 BTCC season looks set to be a cracker.

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