BTCC FAQ - Beginner's guide
The section below will answer some of the questions you may have about the British Touring Car Championship.What is the BTCC?
The British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is the premier 'saloon' car racing series in the UK. The first season of the BTCC was in 1958, and at this point the championship was considerably different to that which can be seen today. From '58 right through until 1991, the championship consisted of numerous classes, separating the entrants based on the type of car that they were driving.
1991 marked the beginning of what became known as the 'Super-Touring Era'. The class system was abandoned and a 'simplified' set of rules was adopted, which meant that spectators could relate more closely to many of the cars on the track. The cars used were limited to 2.0 litre engines, and were based primarliy on every day road-going models. This 'fast and furious' style of racing produced many thrills and spills and had a very large following at the peak of its 10 year life-span. However, towards the end, technologies advanced and fewer manufacturers were prepared to put up the multi-million pound budgets required to complete a season. 2000 was the last season of 'Super-Touring', as the series organisers realised something had to be done to reverse the trend of spiralling costs.
It was announced during the 2000 season that Alan Gow and his team would stand down at the end of the year, and control of the series would be taken over by Richard West and British Motorsport Promoters. A radical new format for the series was unveiled, and 2001 was proclaimed as a 'building year'.
The new regulations were intended to limit the amount of development that was possible with the cars, and considerably reduce the budgets required to run the cars. 2 litre engines remained, but they were limited to 270bhp, and could only be modified to improve reliability. Another major cost-cutting factor came in the area of aerodynamics. The cars could not have expensive aero-packs, but wings and bodywork modifications should only be for cosmetic effect. Suspension should be based on the road-going versions, but as with the engines, strengthened for reliability. Numerous 'standard' parts were introduced for all competitors, including a six-speed sequential gearbox to be used in all cars.
It was expected that an average budget, to design, develop and build a two-car team would be approximately £1.5 million, as opposed to £6-10 million for the 2000 season.
The current regulations are based substantially on those from 2001, with, as ever, minor tweaks. The cars that can be seen on the track are very similar to those found on the road, and the limited development work allowed on the cars, combined with the fact that no team will have a significant 'head-start' this year, means that close, exciting, and controversial racing is guaranteed throughout the year.
Alan Gow returned to the helm of the BTCC midway through the 2003 season, and has continued to rebuild the profile of the series. One of the first impacts of his return was the announcement that the BTCC would accommodate European (ETCC, now known as the WTCC due to it's World Championship status) specification cars from 2004 onwards, opening the door to the BTCC for a large number of manufacturers. Although this initially only attracted SEAT as a manufacturer team, it opened the door for teams to develop S2000 specification cars. It has subsequently led to a number of marques returning to the BTCC in the hands of independents, with cars purchased from manufacturers competing in the WTCC.
The profile of the BTCC has also risen steadily in the past few years, following a slump after it's world fame in the 1990s. This began with Motors TV covering the series and all it's support races live on it's digital satellite channel across the UK and Europe in 2003. ITV1 increased it's coverage in 2004 to include live coverage of several BTCC meetings, with the series getting live terrestrial TV presence for the first time since 2000 and the final year of 'Super-Touring'. In 2008, ITV4 took over the 'all-day' BTCC and support race coverage. Additionally, a deal was signed with Dennis Publishing, owner of the Auto Express, Evo and Maxim titles, which has also increased the presence of the BTCC in the printed media, bringing the series to a more mainstream motoring audience. As well as putting attendance numbers up again, all this media interest and the raise in profile has helped encourage the arrival of well-known sponsors' names into the championship, with the manufacturer brands of Vauxhall and SEAT being joined by such famous companies like Halfords and RAC.
The quantity and quality of entries has improved dramatically since those uncertain early days of the new era in 2001, with many young drivers coming through the ranks to take the place of the old guard who had either retired or moved onto pastures new with the demise of 'Super-Touring'. In some cases even the young drivers themselves haved moved on to bigger things, with the BTCC to thank for putting them in the spotlight. Add a mix of enthusiastic independent drivers who have worked their way up the ranks the hard way and the presence of a superstar in world touring cars in Fabrizio Giovanardi and the BTCC clearly has plenty to offer.