By Andy Stobart

This weekend sees the start to the 2004 British Touring Car Championship at the fabulous sweeping Hampshire circuit of Thruxton.

Back at the helm of the series is Australian Alan Gow who rejoined Britain's premier tin-top series last season. Gow has strong views on where he wants the series to go, as found out recently.

At the media day for the series at Donington Park, an entry list of some twenty-four cars was released. Whilst the list contained many familiar names, there have been a few changes since then, most notably the decision of MG not to compete in the Manufacturers' championship, leaving the West Surrey Racing squad to uphold the marques honours in the Independents Cup.

"We've released this year's entry list and it's the strongest entry list we've had for ten years. We've got 24 cars entered at the moment, there'll be a couple of changes before Thruxton, we might loose one or two out of that and increase one or two so we should start with 24 cars for Thruxton, and that's the largest we've had for ten years so that's a good start," said Gow at Donington.

Anyone looking through the entry list will certainly see a good quantity of cars entered for the series this season, but what about the quality of the entrees?

"What I don't want to see in the future is there was a huge gap between the haves and the have nots. In the old days, if you go back to the 90s, you had guys spending several million pounds a year on their championship and then you had guys spending a few grand out the back, running it from a transit van," explains Gow.

The Australian was previously at the helm of the series through the 1990s, taking the popularity of the championship to hitherto unseen heights. "We had a huge gulf between the front and the rear of the grid," he explains about the previous situation. "We haven't got that anymore so we've got a good spread of performance throughout the field and that is what provides good racing."

And any good racing that takes place this weekend will be live on terrestrial television in the UK on ITV1 as well as every race being shown live on the satellite channel, MotorsTV.

In the UK however, the sport that gets the greatest amount of attention is football. Can Gow ever see the touring cars rivalling that part of the British sporting makeup?

"It'll never get to the heights of football but TV is vital for this championship and it's vital for every motorsport championship. Strong TV provides strong audiences and strong interest in the series so, yes, it's a vital deal for us, but every sport in the world is dependant on TV for its mainstream coverage and we're no different to anyone else," he says.

One country where tin top motorsport is massive is Gow's home, Australia. Whilst in the BTCC a brawl between the Frenchman who went on to win the championship and another highly popular touring car stalwart barely made the mainstream popular press, in the V8 Supercars, Holden's Mark Skaife's shouting and gesturing towards Russell Ingall's Ford - and the Ford driver's actions in the car - were in the antipodean newspapers and dominated the motorsport press for quite literally the entire off-season.

Does the man from down under see anything that can be learnt from the land of the tinnies?

"I don't think there's much I can learn from that because what a lot of people don't realise is that I started that series back before I came to this country, if you look back on the records, I was the chairman and the vice chairman of the company that operates V8 Supercars so I know how to go about that," he explains.

"But it's a cultural difference, it's the same between how the fans react and how they market NASCAR in the US to what they do over here, it's a cultural difference, it's not transferable, they have a different outlook to how they go about their motorsport and how the UK public do, it's just a cultural difference so it's not directly transferable, no."

So, being back in control of the series he's built up so much in the past, where does Gow want to go now?

"The objectives are quite clear - to keep on growing the championship and the profile of the championship, and we've started that already this year. This year has a far greater profile than it had last year for instance with the TV and everything else and the new manufacturers and new cars coming in, and we've got to keep on doing that, so if this year provides a great championship - and I'm sure it will - good racing, good television coverage, good media coverage, then it's every reason for the championship to grow in the future."