BMW racer Martyn Bell has announced he will make his Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship debut in 2006. Bell will be teaming up with his long term friend and mentor, ex BTCC racer Geoff Steel for his 2006 campaign. Bell will race as an independent in the BMW E46 in which Dirk Muller finished runner-up in last season's World Touring Car series.

Bell, from Lincolnshire, says he his management team have concluded a deal with the official BMW team, Schnitzer - which won the BTCC title in 1993 with Joachim Winkelhock - and will take delivery of the car at the end of January.

"I've always wanted to race in the BTCC and the time is right to go for it," said 41 year old Bell. "Like a lot of people racing in other series, my manager and I attended the forum that Alan Gow held for independent teams last September and it was obvious the BTCC was the way forward for us. It's affordable and it's Britain's - in fact probably Europe's - premier series and with Geoff onboard I feel confident we can give a good account of ourselves.

"We recently flew to Salzburg in Austria and met the Schnitzer team. The team boss Charly Lamm was fantastic to deal with and I even got a seat fitting there and then. The attention to detail on the car and the build quality are amazing. Schnitzer has also agreed to give us technical advice during the season, the team and I were so made up we went and celebrated in a Bavarian pub!"

Bell's E46 will be run by Lincs-based team Geoff Steel Racing - Steel himself competed as an independent in the BTCC in '93. The car was this year raced in the WTCC by Dirk Muller who won three times and finished runner-up in the WTCC to fellow BMW driver Andy Priaulx.

Bell is infamous in UK racing circles for his exploits in the club level BMW series in which he is a proven race-winner and champion. "I've had 120 consecutive starts in BMWs down the years and even been nicknamed 'Mr BMW' by a few commentators," added Bell, "but this is the first time we've had a really strong starting point and the support my team and Geoff have put together is fantastic. We are really on song and can't wait to get out there."

Martyn Bell started his racing career in Motor Cross but after a string of injuries had to quit the sport in 1995, only to return to racing in 1996 in a self built BMW. He went on to take four titles in the series before deciding to go all out for the BTCC.

"Our goals for 2006 are simple, qualify well and get of the line cleanly, if we can do that then the rest should follow."