IT’S NOT without controversy that the BTCC circus heads north to Croft this weekend.
Much of the disquiet stems from a slightly tepid fourth round at Oulton Park in Cheshire. It’s fair to say that the decision to use the full ‘International’ circuit for the first time in almost twenty years backfired: the longer layout resulted in fewer overtaking opportunities and three largely processional races.
On top of that, eyebrows were raised at the dominance of the BMWs and Audis. With the rear-wheel-drive machinery more efficient at putting power down at the start, teams running front-wheel-drive cars — the majority of the field — have been complaining they’re being disadvantaged.
In some ways, it’s a similar problem to that which F1 is facing at the moment. In order for any form of motorsport to flourish it needs to remain relevant; the only way manufacturers can justify vast expenditure on developing new technologies for the track is if the lessons learnt can be translated to production models. Disc brakes, dual overhead camshaft engines, even the humble rear-view mirror — all technologies we take for granted in our road cars that were originally developed for racing.
The issue F1 faces is that consumers are demanding quieter, more fuel-efficient, more eco-friendly vehicles. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always mesh well with the race fan’s expectations of 200mph speed machines, which is why there has been so much debate over the sound of the engines this year (it’s also worth pointing out that people buying Mercedes road cars are probably more interested in fuel economy than those buying Ferraris — which provides one explanation why Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has been one of the more outspoken critics of the 2014 regulations).
Likewise, the future of production saloons is squarely in the front-wheel-drive court. The big problem is that if RWD is seen to be a competitive advantage on the BTCC grid, teams will begin to migrate to RWD equipment, with the series running the risk of losing the support of manufacturers such as MG and Honda.
In an attempt to rein in the lightning starts, all the RWD cars — essentially the BMWs of Colin Turkington, Rob Collard and Nick Foster, and the Audis of Rob Austin and Hunter Abbott — will be required to run a longer first gear this weekend. It’s a solution that’s surgically targeted at slowing the initial getaway — other options, such as adding extra ballast, would affect the cars throughout the lap. For their part, the RWD teams argue that their fast starts are only clawing back the advantage their front-wheel-drive counterparts have elsewhere on the circuit and through qualifying.
Drivetrain issues aside, it’s hard to see championship leader Colin Turkington being anything other than the man to beat this weekend. The Northern Irishman always goes well at Croft, having only failed to make the podium in one of his nine previous visits to the North Yorkshire circuit. But keep an eye on Speedworks rookie Tom Ingram, too; fresh from a record points haul at Oulton, the twenty-year-old won three out of three here in the Ginetta Supercup last year and made the podium in all three races the year before.
With a sprinkling — though probably not a deluge — of rain in the forecast for both qualifying and race day though, anything is possible.
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