The British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is to undergo major changes in time for the 2011 campaign, it has been revealed, with the introduction of larger, turbocharged cars aimed at cutting costs in half, attracting new competitors and further improving the spectacle of the popular tin-top series.
Like every other sphere of motorsport, the BTCC has suffered from the impact of the global credit crunch, with both of its leading two manufacturers in recent years – SEAT and Vauxhall – departing the fray. The former suddenly and unexpectedly pulled the plug at the end of last year, whilst the latter surprised paddock observers in subsequently announcing that the 2009 season will be its last in an official capacity.
Though relatively healthy by standards across the board, the current grid numbers – 21 at Oulton Park at the weekend – are lower than at the same stage twelve months ago, and with the economic downturn continuing to make its presence felt and the necessity to attract fresh interest ever-growing, drastic steps have been taken.
According to the all-new, 'Next Generation Touring Car' (NGTC) technical regulations published today (Tuesday) and due to come into force in two years' time, car and engine budgets will likely be halved by dint of more durable two-litre turbocharged engines and the standardising of major components such as sub-frames, gearboxes, suspension and brakes. Furthermore, the NGTC regulations will be based around larger, 'family-sized' front wheel-drive machinery.
Notably, the NGTC engines will make use of a high number of standard-production internal components and will be fitted with a controlled-specification turbo, wastegate, intercooler and ECU (Electronic Control Unit) to reduce both development costs and opportunities for technical infringements.
Teams not wishing to undertake their own engine development programme will have the option of using a TOCA-developed, unbranded NGTC engine that will be equal in performance. It is anticipated that engines should last an entire season without rebuild, thus greatly further reducing costs. The regulations will move the BTCC away from the Super 2000-specification cars used in recent years – based on those in the FIA World Touring Car Championship – and have been voted through unanimously by teams.
Current S2000 machines will still be able to compete on an equal basis with their 'Next-Gen' rivals for outright honours, with both types of cars having their performance equalised until 2013, when those adhering to NGTC-specification will be given more engine power. Series director Alan Gow admitted that he hoped other championships around the world may follow the BTCC's pioneering lead on the matter.
“The broad concept for our 'Next-Gen' cars,” the Australian explained, “was that they should be larger than some current ones, be more exciting, faster, safer and also much cheaper to build, buy and maintain as well as provide a more level playing field, meaning even better, closer racing...if better and closer racing is possible for the BTCC!
“These new cars tick all those boxes and more. Of course the best driver and team will still achieve the greatest success in our championship, but – as these new regulations will be much more restrictive on major expenditure – a team's greater bank balance will not necessarily equate to greater success. In my view, that is exactly how it should be.