The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship roars into Brands Hatch, Kent, this weekend for the opening round of the 2013 season.
Fresh from confirming a record – and capacity – 32-car grid and a new television broadcasting deal with ITV
that takes live coverage up to at least 2017, the BTCC is leading a bright new era of touring car racing. Adding to the anticipation of the new campaign is the fact that there'll be four champions on the grid, with returning 2009 victor Colin Turkington joining reigning champion Gordon Shedden and multiple title winners Matt Neal and Jason Plato.
In total an incredible 13 models from 11 different marques are entered, including both Honda and MG as official Manufacturer teams, with no fewer than 26 of the unprecedented number entering with the BTCC's latest NGTC-spec machinery.
A further addition to the championship is the introduction of a new 'soft' tyre compound from Dunlop - similar to those used in F1 - which will see drivers in NGTC-spec cars having one set at their disposal over the weekend. These tyres will offer a variation in performance to the standard compound tyre and must be used in one of the three races at each event. Teams must nominate, prior to Saturday's qualifying session, which particular race they elect to use them. Drivers in the older S2000 machines will also still have plenty to play for as they contest the inaugural Jack Sears Trophy throughout the 2013 season.
Brands Hatch is steeped in motor sport tradition and has seen its fair share of BTCC history created over the years, none more recently than when Shedden claimed the 2012 title on the legendary Grand Prix circuit last October. The 2013 season kicks off on the Indy configuration of the circuit, however, and the statistics do not fair well for reigning champion Shedden, as the Scotsman has never won a BTCC race at Brands.
The master of the tight and twisty 1.2 miles of tarmac is Plato, with the double champ having won no fewer than 12 rounds there during his career. Unsurprisingly Plato is closely followed by triple champion and title rival Neal, on 10 wins, and Neal will be aiming to gun down Plato's record this weekend.
On the subject of title contenders, the return of Turkington to the BTCC created huge interest over the winter. The Irishman is reunited with West Surrey Racing – who he raced for during his 2009 championship winning campaign – but this time he'll be driving in an all-new BMW 125i M Sport under the eBay Motors banner.
Independents' Champion Andrew Jordan is another who'll be aiming for overall honours this year in his Pirtek Racing Honda Civic, and there'll be huge local interest, too, with Airwaves Racing also targeting the title. Mat Jackson leads the driver line-up for the Wrotham-based squad, with the 2008 BTCC runner-up looking to go one better this season. Other local teams gunning for glory this weekend are Dartford's Team HARD and West Thurrock outfit AmDTuning.com.
The event is always one of the region's biggest sporting events of the year, with the weekend getting underway with two practice sessions and qualifying on the Saturday. A huge crowd is then expected to brave the chilly conditions currently blanketing the nation for the hugely exciting triple-header of races on Sunday. For those that cannot make the event – ITV4 HD
will be broadcasting more than six hours of live coverage throughout the day from 10:45am.
A stellar cast will also support the BTCC over the weekend, producing no fewer than 12 further races, arguably led by the return of single-seater formula racing to the bill. The Dunlop MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain, which launched the careers of a host of top drivers including Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button, will provide three races across the weekend, as will the Michelin Ginetta GT Supercup, whilst Porsche Carrera Cup GB, Renault UK Clio Cup and Ginetta Junior Championship will all enjoy double-headers.
With advanced bookings now closed, Saturday is priced at £13 for adults and £10 for Senior Citizens on the gate. Sunday tickets are priced at adults £31 and Senior Citizens £20. Admission for accompanied children aged 12 and under is FREE all weekend. All admission includes access to Sunday morning's autograph session with the BTCC drivers in the pit lane as well as free parking. Brands Hatch will also have big screens in place for fans to keep fully abreast of all the action via ITV4's
live race day broadcast.