This year’s British Touring Car Championship grid, summarised by three-time champion Gordon Shedden: “I sat watching the grid fill up over the winter and it felt like somebody had picked up a load of names and cars, thrown them into the air and jumbled them as they landed… it seems everybody has moved about and there’s something new everywhere you look!”
This season, perhaps more than ever before, there’s a lot to look forward to ahead of the campaign blasting into life at Thruxton this weekend. The entry list has been largely turned on its head, with title contenders shifting seats, teams changing brands and even ownership, and champions coming and going.
That last point is highly pertinent when it comes to Team Dynamics – or Halfords Yuasa Racing. It’s been all-change for the former works Honda squad, which now boasts a completely new driver line-up and, for the first time in 11 years, no Matt Neal.
Honda opted to end its factory interest in the BTCC after 2020, taking an undoubtedly sizable chunk out of both the team’s resources and budget. The plan had been to expand to run three cars for 2021; for Neal, the ultra-impressive Dan Cammish and the returning Shedden – back at home in the BTCC after his move to the World Touring Car Cup was curtailed by Audi’s factory withdrawal. However, it couldn’t come to fruition. Shedden was incoming and with Honda gone the team needed a rethink over its second driver. That sadly left no room for Cammish, or Neal – who has instead opted to take up a place on the pit wall managing the crew. Dan Rowbottom has joined in the second race seat and brings substantial commercial benefits through his Cataclean backing.
But it’s not all bad news. The FK8 Honda Civic is still a mighty weapon, and three-time champion Shedden a mighty driver. And he’s fired up to be back in business.
Shedden says the off-season shake-up has made 2021 unpredictable and is raring to get going
“I’m not sure what I missed the most: being in the BTCC paddock or getting my sleeves rolled up and being squarely in the battle,” says the Scot. “When I left the BTCC at the end of 2017 I’d done 12 straight years of it, and the deal to do the World Touring Car Cup was too good to turn down. However, Audi’s withdrawal left me rather high and dry, and it came at quite late notice which made last year a bit of a void for me. But I’m so excited to be back.
“The one thing I missed more than anything was the racing, it’s just so special. You never know what’s going to happen with the reverse grids the success ballast, and it’s so close. I really missed that when I was away as things like that weren’t really part of a world championship. I know the game will have moved on a bit since I’ve been away, but it’s up to me to make sure I’m as well prepared as possible.
“Although the cars are different to what I raced before the team and its values are very much the same as before I went away. I know all the people – the mechanics, the engineers, and Dynamics will always be part of my family, so it’s a little like putting on an old pair of slippers again!
“The championship has been dominated by rear-wheel-drive cars recently. I’m here to try and help redress that balance”
“It’s been exciting watching the grid form up this winter, as everybody seems to have moved around. The championship has been dominated by rear-wheel-drive cars recently, to the point where I was the last FWD champion [in 2016], and that’s far too long ago now. I’m here to try and help redress that balance.”
And Shedden wasn’t the only marquee signing over the winter. Few would have predicted 16-time race winner Tom Ingram’s switch from the Speedworks Toyota squad to headline the Excelr8 Hyundai operation. He’ll be part of a four-car stable, including Chris Smiley, Jack Butel and 2017 British GT champion Rick Parfitt Jr.
In just its second season with the new i30N models, Ingram’s signing – along with that of his long-term race engineer Spencer Aldridge – is a real statement of intent from Excelr8 as it seeks to push its way further up the grid. Ingram is no stranger to the team, having coached its drivers in series such as the Mini Challenge during the past season, and believes the move could be the key to him putting together a successful title challenge.
“I’m hugely excited for this year because ever since I joined Excelr8 it’s felt like home,” Ingram told Motor Sport. “It was a real wrench making the choice to leave Speedworks – I’d been with them for my entire BTCC career since 2014 – but this is a great opportunity, and the infrastructure Excelr8 has built is incredible. Also having Spencer move across with me is a real bonus.
Ingram hopes a change of scenery could catapult him into a title challenge
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images
“It oddly feels like I’ve been driving the Hyundai for years. A lot of NGTC cars all feel quite alike due to them sharing the same suspension, components and ancillaries, so we’ve made a sort of hybrid between the setup we ran on the Toyota and what works on the Hyundai. Every time we run the car we find these little golden nuggets of setup that just make the Hyundai work above and beyond what we want – and that’s so rare.
“I’m really fired up for this season. The grid is massively tight, as it always is, but I reckon we’re starting from a really solid base.”
In Ingram’s place, rapid Scotsman Rory Butcher has stepped into the Toyota Corolla and will be keen to build on the three wins and five podium finishes he secured last term aboard a Motorbase Ford Focus – his best BTCC campaign yet.
And even Motorbase itself hasn’t been immune to change. Team founder David Bartrum sold up last season to a consortium led by Peter Osborne – father of MB Motorsport driver Sam. While it seems Bartrum will stay on in a management role, the deal equipped MB with a pair of new Ford Focus ST chassis – replacing its ageing FK2 Honda Civics – for race winners Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson to handle.
“We had a great 2020, and I have got a great chance again this year, this series is the toughest in the world to win!”
And there’s a new brand of car, too, with Team Hard finally ditching its venerable old Volkswagen CCs in favour of a quad of brand new Cupra Leons – with the talented Jack Goff leading the line.
And if that wraps up the new, the old also takes some beating. West Surrey Racing boasts arguably the most complete car on the grid in the form of the Team BMW UK 330i M Sport, and also arguably the best driver around in four-time champion Colin Turkington. That combination has netted 10 race wins and a title across the last two seasons, and only narrowly missed last year’s crown.
“I’m buzzing for this year,” says Turkington. “We had a great 2020, and I have got a great chance again this year – I’ve got myself in a top car with a top team, and that means I’m in the best position I can possibly be. One thing to remember though, this series is the toughest in the world to win!
“I’m preparing for a fierce season, and for sure it’s a long campaign that can break you at the end. But there will be some thriller races, and we just have to take things one step at a time.”
WSR has also prepared a brace of customer 330is for Ciceley Racing duo Tom Chilton and Adam Morgan.
We’ll also have the Vauxhalls back after a year’s intermission, with two-time champion and 97-time race winner Jason Plato at the helm alongside the impressive Dan Lloyd.
Edwards will be aiming to make an impact in BTCC when she becomes the first woman to compete in a full season for 15 years
BTC Racing is back with a three-Civic line-up for eight-time race winner Josh Cook and Jade Edwards – plus a marquee signing of its own in the form of Cammish, albeit only for Thruxton as it stands. Michael Crees’ deal to handle BTC’s third FK8 Civic fell apart shortly before the start of the year, and Cammish has been drafted in as a guest driver for the opening round. His deal to contest the Porsche Carrera Cup – signed after his enforced exit from Dynamics appeared to close the BTCC door for this year – will likely prohibit many more outings and BTC is known to be evaluating a few full-time candidates for the seat.
But a quick word on Edwards: She will become the first female driver for 15 years to embark on a full BTCC campaign this season. It’s a hugely deserved opportunity for a racer who has always had to work incredibly hard to sustain her career.