Teams and drivers are coming to the end of a lengthy seven-week summer break and making final preparations for the start of the second half of their season, at the Snetterton circuit in Norfolk this coming weekend (6-7 August).
Five different drivers in four different makes of car racing for four different teams have shared the wins in the season’s opening 15 races. But 2011 is much more than just another season of close racing – it’s marked the beginning of a transitional period for the championship with the introduction of cars built to the BTCC’s new Next Generation Touring Car technical regulations. This has led to at least five different configurations of car on the grid – full Super 2000-spec as seen in recent years (front and rear-wheel-drive), S2000 cars using NGTC-spec turbocharged engines plus full-blown ‘Next Gen’ machines (again front and rear-wheel-drive).
So with half the season gone and having had the past six weeks to reflect on the 2011 form guide, the timing was perfect for the championship’s official website btcc.net to put a long list of questions to BTCC Series Director Gow. This is what the no-nonsense Aussie had to say…
Q: What have been the most pleasing aspects of the season so far and why?
A: “The racing… that’s what the BTCC is all about and the on-track action this year has been great.”
Q: Best race so far this season for TV and crowds? Best drive so far this season?
A: “My memory is so poor for remembering individual races that every time I answer such a question I then realise I have forgotten about another particular or better race…so it’s probably best I don’t answer it!”
Q: Any particular team/driver combo(s) over-delivering/punching above their weight that has/have really impressed you so far in 2011 and why?
A: “I don’t think ‘over-delivering’ or ‘punching above their weight’ is necessarily the right or fair terminology… but, yes, there have been some performances that have made people sit up and take notice. However it would be unfair on the others for me to just point out some individuals.”
Q: Are you surprised at the relative lack of different winners so far this season – ‘only’ five in 15 races? Normally when we get to the mid-way point we’re on at least seven or eight.
“Not really – this year has seen a lot of teams and cars with newly developed (and developing) engines/packages, so it stands to reason that the teams with the best resources will have the best developed ‘package’ and be at the top in the first half of the season. But as the others continue to refine/develop their cars then we will likely see a few new race-winners as the season progresses. Having said that, five different race winners in the first half of a season isn’t exactly a ‘one-horse race’ is it?”
Q: How do you rate the progress of the NGTC cars so far and, based on your feedback from them, what can we expect in the second half of the season?
“Those cars are at the very start of their development programme – they had virtually zero testing before their very first event. I have nothing but complete admiration for those teams who decided to jump-in feet first with that programme – particularly as they are all first-time BTCC teams/drivers and don’t possess the same resources that established front-running BTCC teams have.
“Many ‘armchair enthusiasts’ totally underestimate what is required to develop a whole new type of front-running car in one of the toughest touring car championships in the world. If it were that easy then everyone would be doing it!
“But in the last couple of events we have seen glimpses of what they are capable of doing and no doubt they will make much more progress as they continue to develop and learn the cars. The NGTC cars are the future of the BTCC and those teams developing theirs now will be in the box-seat for the future.”
Q: We’re effectively a quarter of the way through a two-year transitional period for the technical regs with a wide variety of cars/engines/transmissions. How is all this progressing? Just how much time does TOCA spend sifting through technical data and how difficult a balancing act is it?
“Whenever there are technical differences in cars then there are always some ‘balancing acts’ to perform. And I can’t think of any year since I started managing the championship in 1992 when there hasn’t been some specification differences in some cars that required ‘tweaking’ – so nothing at all has changed in that respect.
“It is something we constantly keep an eye on and make changes when/if necessary. Sifting through raw technical data is one thing, but obviously we also have to take into consideration other factors such as race results, weather, mechanical issues, circuit configuration and suchlike.”
Q: You started touring car racing’s 2-litre formula 20 years ago in 1991 – a clichéd question but how do you feel the BTCC, right here and now in 2011, compares to any of those previous 19 years?
“The BTCC has gone through its toughest period of the last 20 years – we are all still feeling the effects of the global financial crisis – but, by any measure, is much stronger now than at any time this century. Year on year our grid numbers are up, our spectator numbers are up and our TV figures are up.
“We’ve been ‘swimming against the tide’ and, believe me, there are a great many sports – let alone other motor sports – that would dearly love to be able to produce the figures and the strong sustained growth that we have.”
Q: There’s likely never going to be the same ‘rush’ of manufacturer entries that the Nineties produced. Nor therefore the influx of paid international ‘superstars’. Don’t you wish you could have those ‘legendary’ names back or just how good/entertaining are the young homegrown talents on the grid – Shedden, Jackson, O’Neill, Jordan, Nash, Onslow-Cole, Wrathall, Austin etc – turning out to be?
“People often lose sight of the fact that it’s the BTCC that largely forged the reputations of so many of those ‘legendary’ touring car drivers… not the other way around. Drivers such as Menu, Rydell, Muller, Radisich, Thompson, Cleland, Rouse (and so, so many more I could also name) were all established as ‘touring car superstars’ almost purely as a result of their time in the BTCC. And in another ten years’ time people will be all misty-eyed remembering some of the drivers we have from today.”
Q: We’ve got the new Snetterton 300 circuit coming up. Isn’t it going to be too long for a typical BTCC lap – isn’t BTCC about lots of laps/spectators seeing the cars frequently without too long a delay? Or will you take a view on this after the event and shift the action to one of Snetterton’s shorter lay-outs for 2012?
“The 300 is effectively a ‘new’ circuit so it would be wrong not to try it out. It could be terrific for our type of racing – but we will never know without first finding out, after which we can take a view on what configuration we should use in the future.”
Q: Silverstone also has its new Wing/pit lane complex. Why couldn’t BTCC use it/the ‘South Circuit’ incorporating Abbey-Becketts-Stowe-Club etc and, given the BTCC’s profile, was this frustrating? Could this be used in 2012?
“It is simply due to the new paddock area, located behind the new building, not being able to also accommodate all our support races and associated infrastructure at this time.
“Obviously it would create major logistical (and practical) issues to have the BTCC located in the new pits/paddock and all or most of the support races and other infrastructure located quite a long distance away at the opposite end of the circuit in the existing pits/paddock area.
“However, Silverstone’s on-going development plan will I’m sure address this issue and we look forward to using the new facility and configuration when it has.”
Q: It’s 20 years since Matt Neal made his BTCC debut – it was at the British GP support race in 1991. Tens of thousands used to stay on to watch the BTCC after the GP – is there any possibility of it getting back on the GP bill?
“There are many complex matters that conspire against it happening, mainly concerning broadcasting and commercial issues… not just for the championship itself, but also for our teams and their sponsors. Perhaps in the future that may change, but at the moment I can’t see it.”
Q: Matt and Team Dynamics have been about in the BTCC as long as you! What can you say about them?
“Nothing that can be published! No, seriously, they have been fantastic participants in the BTCC and their genuine commitment to the championship has at least been equally rewarded with some great success over the years.”
Q: It’s Matt who also leads the current BTCC standings. However, who do you think might be Champion come the end of the year?
“I have absolutely no idea – although as much as I would like to think it could happen, it probably won’t be John George…”