Matters of moment
Last month, we previewed Alfa Romeo’s impending arrival in the British Touring Car Championship. This month, it’s Volvo’s turn. The pair of them bring the total number of manufacturers involved in the BTCC to 10.
A few years ago, commitment of this sort would have been unthinkable. Now, the question we find ourselves asking, is: “Is it sustainable in the long-term?”
People were wondering the same thing at the beginning of last season, when there were eight factory teams. One year on, all eight are still there. Six of them, indeed, actually won races, and the other two obtained decent results in the form of pole positions or podium finishes. Given the BTCC’s huge profile nowadays (increased coverage in the specialist press, growing interest from the nationals, expanding TV horizons and the use of seasonal review videos as in-flight entertainment on long-haul trips spring to mind), all eight could be said to have had a reasonable PR return for their not inconsiderable investment.
As the strength and depth of the competition increases, so does the need to test, to develop and to hire the very best drivers.
Hence the cost of taking part spirals ever upwards. Former Grand Prix drivers don’t come cheap. Nor, for that matter, do the established saloon racers whose names are now better known to most UK households than those of F1 midfield runners.
Perhaps, at some point in the next six months, the bubble will burst. If manufacturer X is no longer able to keep pace with manufacturer Y, then it will become more and more difficult to justify the expense, and X will slope off in search of an alternative marketing tool.
Such a scenario is, perhaps, inevitable. Time will tell. Not that we’d want to see it happen, but such is the BTCC’s current strength that it could afford to lose a couple of manufacturers without any adverse affect on its health.
A far greater threat is posed by murmurings about the possible resurrection of a full-blown European Touring Car Championship.
Without wishing to sound negative, that is something motor racing simply doesn’t need at the moment. The creation of one pan-European series would necessarily weaken the national championships in Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Spain.
And that, quite simply, would be inane.
The FIA Touring Car Cup, introduced last year, is an ideal compromise, a one-off, high-profile event whose prestige can only grow.
For the moment, touring car racing has the balance about right.
We implore the FIA to keep it that way. S A