Five predictions for the 2021 BTCC season

05th May 2021
James Charman

After one of the more dramatic silly seasons in recent memory, the British Touring Car Championship returns this weekend at Thruxton, with fans itching for door-to-door racing that has made the championship so popular over the years.

Such is the nature of a BTCC weekend, let alone a season, it is incredibly difficult to predict what might come to fruition at the end of October in the setting Kentish sun at the natural amphitheatre of Brands Hatch, but let’s give it a go anyway…


Championship to go down to the wire… Again

It’s not so much a prediction these days as a given, but if there’s not at least two drivers going head-to-head for the title at Brands Hatch’s season finale, then it’ll be one of the biggest shocks of the year. As to who will be competing for overall honours, that’s harder to predict.

Recent form suggests that you’d have to say Colin Turkington and Ash Sutton will be heading into the final rounds with a shot at the title. Arguably two of the best drivers the sport has ever seen, to see the two of them compete door-to-door in rear-wheel-drive machinery was one of the highlights of 2020, and here’s hoping there’s more of the same in 2021.

Elsewhere, Tom Ingram has proven himself as a real one to be reckoned with in recent years with the Speedworks squad, but whether his new team, Excelr8, will provide the machinery to consistently challenge at the front remains to be seen. You also can’t discount the returning Gordon Shedden, while Rory Butcher will be hoping to extract as much pace as possible out of his Toyota to show off his true potential. Finally, Josh Cook should have found himself in a championship-contending position in 2020, but some awful luck worked against him, so he’ll be after redemption in 2021.

Who’s racing in the BTCC? Read our list of BTCC 2021 drivers and teams here.


Shedden to be on the pace from day one

One of the biggest headlines of the pre-season test held at the Media Launch day was just how quickly Gordon Shedden was back on song in the Honda Civic Type R. With Honda stepping away from the sport, the Halfords Racing team no longer has the manufacturer backing and saw a complete shakeup of the team line-up. Out went Dan Cammish and Matt Neal, and in steps Dan Rowbottom and Gordon Shedden, both returning from time away from the series. Cammish can only put luck, or a lack thereof, as the reason he didn’t win a championship with the Honda team, and Neal hangs up his helmet after three decades in the sport.

There were some queries in the depths of social media as to whether the team had made the right choice in going with Rowbottom in place of Cammish, but the rather significant CataClean sponsorship on the Civics this year goes quite a way to explaining the decisions made by Team Dynamics. That being said, however, Rowbottom wasn’t far off his new triple-champion team-mate, setting the tenth fastest time at the pre-season test. All eyes, though, are clear to be on Shedden as the season progresses and to see if he can back up his pace to become only the second ever four-time champion. After a somewhat lacklustre foray into WTCR, Shedden will be keen to pick up right where he left off and head straight to the top of the time sheets come the weekend.


Jason Plato to return to the top step

After a commercially-enforced year out in 2020, Jason Plato returns to the British championship in 2021 with a score to settle. His last race in a touring car, the 2019 finale, ended with the two-time champion scoring his 97th career victory and ending a 791-day drought. Plato will be keen to start his 2021 campaign how he ended his 2019 and get straight back on song in the Power Maxed Racing Vauxhall Astra. Early signs suggest that Plato fans could be in for a treat this year following a successful pre-season test at Silverstone, finishing fifth overall after a full day’s testing.
With pace like that, Plato will almost certainly have his eyes on becoming the first driver to achieve a century of race wins. Sitting firmly at the top of the all-time records, Plato sits just two wins away from that elusive 100. Despite the greater number of races in modern seasons compared to other eras of the championship’s history, the chances of Plato being usurped at the top of the table is highly unlikely. Following Matt Neal’s decision to step back from the driving seat, Plato’s closest active challenger is his former teammate Colin Turkington, who now competes with the Team BMW squad. Currently with 56 wins to his name, it will take an unprecedented season of dominance from the BMW driver to even come close to Plato’s record in the next couple of years.

When is the next BTCC race? Read the 2021 BTCC calendar here.


Toyota to challenge BMW’s grip on Constructors' Honours

The Constructors’ Championship over the last few seasons has been predominantly fought between BMW and Honda, with the German marque taking the plaudits for the past five years. While Honda may have stepped away from the championship, that doesn’t mean it’s now all plain sailing for the Bavarians, with Toyota stepping up its challenge in 2021 to a two-car effort, hitting the track in the striking official Toyota works livery.

The Speedworks Motorsport-run Toyota squad may have lost its star driver Tom Ingram to the Excelr8 camp, but has filled the void with the hugely impressive Rory Butcher following his fifth-place finish in 2020, and Sam Smelt, who returns to the series after his debut in the AmD Tuning Audi S3 in 2018. While the pace wasn’t quite where Toyota would have hoped in pre-season testing, 17th and 23rd for Butcher and Smelt respectively, both drivers are still learning the nuances of their new challengers, and it’d be a surprise to most if Butcher isn’t at least fighting for the podium this weekend at Thruxton. Whether the pair will be able to mount a strong enough charge early in the season to put any real pressure on BMW’s vice-like grip on the crown remains to be seen, but expect some great battles as the season progresses.
Ford have also joined the list of Constructors ahead of 2021, with the MB Motorsport pair of Jake Hill and Ollie Jackson racing with Wera’s Sam Osborne and Andy Neate no longer eligible to contend for Independents’ honours.


Team HARD to score second career victory

Team HARD have been filling up the BTCC grid for almost a decade now, starting when team boss Tony Gilham entered an S2000 Honda Civic into the 2012 campaign. The team have accrued a huge list of drivers over the years, but has sadly never quite managed to make an impact on the upper half of the grid, save for Jack Goff’s 2019 success thanks to a gamble on wet tyres ahead of the third race at Silverstone.

The new Cupra Leon appears to have given a new lease of life to Goff, having set the second fastest time at the pre-season test, and topping the timesheets for the morning session. While his team-mates Glynn Geddie, Aron Taylor-Smith and Nicolas Hamilton were back towards the lower portions of the pack, the pace of Goff couldn’t be ignored, and could potentially stake a claim to be the dark horse heading into the 2021 season.

Team HARD has also joined forces for 2021 with the Laser Tools Racing squad, who took Ash Sutton to the overall championship last year in the Infiniti Q50, with a third Q50 now being provided for Carl Boardley. While not officially entered as Team HARD, the involvement is certainly there, and when you’ve got someone as quick as Sutton in your stable, it’d be a brave man to bet against the team being involved in at least one victory in 2021.

Overall, and as is so often the case, the BTCC has once again got all of the ingredients for another barnstorming year, with many stories still to be discovered across the season. It all kicks off this weekend at Thruxton, with full live coverage, including support races, on ITV4 from 10:50.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • BTCC

  • BTCC 2021

  • Jason Plato

  • Gordon Shedden

  • Rory Butcher

  • Colin Turkington

  • Tom Ingram

  • Ash Sutton

  • Tom Oliphant

  • Stephen Jelley

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