The North West is set for its biggest car racing event of the year when the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship visits the beautiful Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire this coming weekend (8/9 June).
One of the largest crowds of the season is expected as the BTCC stars thunder back into action after the opening three rounds of the season. A festival atmosphere is always felt at the picturesque venue as hordes of fans attend from Chester, Manchester, Liverpool, Lancaster, North Wales and even further afield.
Furthermore the UK’s premier motor sports series could boast its biggest grid of the season so far with 28 of the country’s finest touring cars and drivers taking to the track.
Season so far: Honda shows its hand
The Honda Civic model has won six of the last seven BTCC races with Honda Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden winning three and two races each respectively. Three-time champion Neal leads the standings overall while reigning champ Shedden is still playing catch up in fourth after a difficult opening round at Brands Hatch.
Arguably the most impressive Honda driver, however, has been Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan – two pole positions, one race win and five podiums in total see the 24-year-old lining up in second position overall and with every chance of winning again this weekend.
A man who is no stranger to winning races at Oulton Park, and indeed BTCC titles, is MG’s Jason Plato. The experienced double champion is right in the thick of this year’s battle after podiums at Donington Park and Thruxton last time out backed up his two victories at the Brands Hatch season opener. Plato is also the most successful current driver at the Cheshire circuit having taken seven of his 76 BTCC wins there, so he’ll be expecting to run at the sharp end again this weekend.
Plato’s MG KX Momentum team-mate Sam Tordoff has also impressed in his maiden full season of BTCC racing having taken a podium on his debut for the team. He’s currently fifth in the standings and being touted by some as a possible future champion.
Other standout performers have included Pirtek Racing’s Jeff Smith who finished inside the top five in each of the three races at Thruxton, Donington Park race winner and former champion Colin Turkington, and Tom Onslow-Cole who hauled his newly built VW Passat to two highly impressive podiums last time out.
Joint sixth placed driver and local man Adam Morgan has also been blazing a trail so far this season after scoring more points in the opening two rounds than he did in the whole of 2012.
Talking point: Biggest grid of the season so far?
This weekend could see further endorsement of the BTCC’s Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) rules – introduced to encourage even closer racing at a lower cost – as Buckinghamshire driver Andy Neate hopes to be on the grid at Oulton in his newly built Chevrolet Cruze. If the car is ready in time it will make Chevrolet the tenth different marque to be represented in NGTC spec on the BTCC grid alongside Audi, BMW, Ford, Honda, MG, Proton, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.
Neate drove for MG KX Momentum last season before deciding to launch his own team for the 2013 campaign. The experienced driver has contested 93 BTCC races after making his debut back in 2005 and he’ll be adding to that tally this weekend if the expected build and development of his new machine is completed.
His Team Club 44 squad has been working round the clock preparing the Chevrolet in what is set to be the tenth NGTC model on the grid, bringing the total number of cars up to 28 for the round in Cheshire – the largest field in the BTCC so far this season.
Local Heroes: Toyota teams racing at ‘home’
Incredibly all three of the BTCC’s independent Toyota teams regard Oulton Park as their home track.
Ciceley Racing and Dynojet – both based in Preston – will be taking their respective Toyota Avensis machines to Oulton with two local drivers behind the wheel. Adam Morgan (Clitheroe) and Frank Wrathall (Preston) are regarded as two of the hottest young talents in the BTCC field, both having enjoyed recent success. Wrathall won the last round of the 2012 season at Brands Hatch and narrowly missed out on pole position at Donington Park earlier in this campaign, whilst Morgan has been a revelation so far in 2013. The Ciceley Racing driver finished inside the top seven in the opening six races of this year, scoring more points in those two rounds than he did in the entire 2012 season.
The third team running the Avensis is Northwich-based Speedworks Motorsport. The squad is targeting a maiden podium with its drivers Ollie Jackson and BTCC race-winner Dave Newsham as they compete in front of hundreds of guests, sponsors and fans this weekend.
A young Liverpudlian will also be enjoying his home race as Drivecool-backed James Cole will contest the event in his Vauxhall Insignia. The former-Formula Ford champion switched to tin top racing this year after a successful single-seater career, with the Oulton Park event marking only his fourth in his BTCC career so far.
Timetable and Tickets
Three BTCC races will take place on Sunday, with the entire race day being broadcast live and in high definition on ITV4 from 11:30.
In addition to the headlining BTCC, there’ll be a further 11 races on the support bill. Iconic sportscar manufacturer Porsche is on the bill with its hugely successful Carerra Cup GB, whilst Ginetta provides its own Le Mans style racing with its GT Supercup and Junior Championship. Single-seater fans can watch the series that helped to make Ayrton Senna and Jenson Button famous in the shape of the Dunlop MSA Formula Ford Championship of Great Britain. The Renault UK Clio Cup – often seen as a stepping-stone to the BTCC – will complete the bumper bill of British racing.
Advance bookings are available until midday Thursday 6 June. Advance adult weekend tickets are just £32 or £26 for Sunday only. Children 13 and under go free if accompanied by a paying adult. All admission includes access to Sunday’s lunchtime autograph session with the BTCC drivers in the pit lane as well as free parking. See www.oultonpark.co.uk for full details.