GRR

2023 BTCC season preview

21st April 2023
James Charman

Hot off the heels of another down-to-the-wire title fight last year, the British Touring Car Championship returns this weekend with the season opener at Derbyshire’s Donington Park.

With a smattering of changes both to the rules and to the look and feel of the grid, it’s shaping up to be another classic BTCC season as a new champion looks to defend his crown from the chasing bunch, and some of the biggest names in the championship’s history take their leave. As the anticipation grows, Goodwood Road & Racing brings you up to speed with everything you need to know ahead of the first race this Sunday.

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What happened in the BTCC last year?

A brand-new champion was crowned the last time a field of British Touring Cars took to a racing circuit, with Tom Ingram earning the right to have his name etched on the trophy at Brands Hatch in October. Ingram was third of the four drivers in with a shot at the title going into the season finale, but an utterly dominant performance in races one and two set the Hyundai man on course for his first BTCC crown.

While Ingram took the plaudits, Jake Hill and Ash Sutton duked it out for the title of best-of-the-rest. The three-time champion Sutton came out on top by just a single point, in what was an impressive performance in his first front-wheel-drive season in five years. Hill, meanwhile, had stamped his name as a force to be reckoned with at the sharp end of a BTCC field, and had it not been for a ride height infringement in the very first race of the year, would probably have his name on the trophy instead of Ingram going into 2023.

There were no fewer than 12 winners across the 30-race season for the second year in succession, showcasing just how competitive it is in Britain’s premier tin-top series, including a win for BTCC newbie George Gamble.

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What’s new this year?

While 2022 saw one of the biggest regulation changes in the history of the championship with the introduction of a hybrid power boost system, things are somewhat more subtle in terms of changes for 2023.

One of the biggest talking points throughout last season was that the hybrid system had had very little impact on the racing when compared to the success ballast of previous years. For this year, however, the top seven cars in the championship (or on the grid based on previous race results) will have a reduced amount of hybrid power that will only be able to be deployed when they reach a higher minimum speed. In contrast, those from eighth place onwards will be able to deploy their additional power at a lower minimum speed – giving them a distinct advantage over those in the top seven – but will only be able to use it for 50% of racing laps. It will also be able to be used on the first lap after a safety car, and the minimum time required between deployment has been raised to five seconds.

Those who watch the Saturday action of the BTCC will also notice a change to their usual programming, with a new ‘Top Ten Showdown’ being implemented for rounds at Donington Park (National layout), Brands Hatch Indy, Oulton Park, Knockhill and Silverstone. Following the traditional 30-minute qualifying session, the top ten drivers will then have a further ten-minute session to settle the final grid positions.

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The option tyre will also make a return this year at the ‘unanimous request’ of the BTCC grid, whereby drivers will be forced to run the alternate compound tyre in one of the three races. At Snetterton and Croft, drivers must use three different compounds across the three races, whilst, as always, the rubber-eating Thruxton will only run the hardest compound to avoid any potential dramas.

Perhaps the most notable difference this season will be the lack of some names that have been synonymous with the BTCC over the past twenty years. Two-time champion Jason Plato bowed out at the end of 2022, having amassed 97 wins and having raced for some of the biggest teams to have ever competed in the series, including Williams Renault, Vauxhall and Seat.

Team Dynamics will also be missing from the grid for the first time since the first half of the 2003 season. Having been running Honda machinery since 2004 – and as a works team from 2010 until 2021 – the team have been hanging around at the top of BTCC results sheets for as long as many fans can remember, but the failure to secure adequate funding ahead of 2023 means Dynamics will not line up at Donington Park this weekend. As a result, three-time champion Gordon Shedden will not be present on the grid, either. Dan Rowbottom, who raced alongside Shedden for the past two years at Dynamics, remains in the championship, having moved across to NAPA Racing UK with his CataClean backing.

Finally, for the first time in over 20 years, the full Grand Prix Circuit at Donington Park will return to the BTCC calendar. Incorporating the Melbourne Loop, the circuit is perhaps most well-known for Ayrton Senna’s heroics at the 1993 European Grand Prix, and will welcome BTCC cars once again over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

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Who’s racing this season?

Three champions will line up on the BTCC grid this year, the lowest figure since the Covid-affected 2020 season, and you have to go back as far as 2012 to find a ‘normal’ year with fewer drivers in the field who’d already had their name engraved on the trophy. Tom Ingram will wear the number one for the first time, while he’ll be chased by previous winners Ash Sutton and Colin Turkington, the trio boasting eight drivers’ crowns between them.

On the other end of the spectrum, three drivers will make their first appearance on a BTCC grid, including former FIA World Endurance Championship driver Andrew Watson, who moves across to touring cars after a decade of GT experience. A podium finisher in the WEC, Watson swaps Aston Martins and McLarens for a Vauxhall Astra this year with Power Maxed Racing.

Joining Watson at Power Maxed Racing will be another BTCC debutante, with Mikey Doble – a double champion across Ginetta GT5 Challenge and BMW Compact Cup in 2022 – also competing in the Vauxhall Astra. Finally, Ronan Pearson is promoted to a BTCC drive by Excelr8 Motorsport, having spent the past three years competing in Mini Challenge.

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2023 BTCC Teams and Drivers

28th February 2023

The three rookies are joined by seven other competitors eligible for the Jack Sears Trophy, which is for drivers yet to record an overall podium finish or Jack Sears Trophy championship at the start of the season. Nick Halstead will also compete for Jack Sears honours, as he re-joins the series for his first full season, having subbed for Rick Parfitt Jr. at Croft in 2021.

Other drivers aiming to take Jack Sears Trophy honours will be Sam Osborne, Will Powell, Dexter Patterson, Jade Edwards, Jack Butel and Nicolas Hamilton.

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Who are the pre-season favourites?

It’s hard to look past the title contenders from 2022 when starting to look ahead to the new season. Tom Ingram will, of course, be brimming with confidence as he replaces his traditional number 80 with the number one astride his Hyundai i30, especially heading into Donington Park where he took a win and a second in last season’s opener to leave the Derbyshire circuit with a seven-point lead. Ingram also topped the timesheets at the only official pre-season test at Brands Hatch, laying down a marker for the chasing pack before the racing had even begun.

However, it would be a brave man to count out Ash Sutton, a three-time champion who has had a full season to acclimatise to the NAPA Racing UK Ford Focus and has proven time after time that he can squeeze the very best out of a subpar car, and the Motorbase-run Focus is anything but subpar. Although any motorsport fan will know that testing times should not be taken as gospel by any stretch of the imagination, NAPA Racing UK took three of the top five positions at the Brands Hatch test, with Sutton less than a tenth behind the chart-topping Ingram. The two Dans, Rowbottom and Cammish, ended the test day in third and fifth respectively, proving that the Fords may well be the pick of the bunch in 2023.

Jake Hill has also proven himself as a real front-runner in recent years, and with the expertise of Dick Bennetts and West Surrey Racing behind MB Motorsport for the second consecutive year, Hill will be hoping to make amends for a title he so narrowly missed out on in 2022. It would also be remiss not to mention Colin Turkington, who, even after a less-than-stellar campaign last year, remains one of the greatest drivers to ever grace a BTCC grid, and still could take a fifth title to step clear of Andy Rouse’s 37-year record as the most successful driver in the championship’s history.

The trouble with mentioning pre-season favourites in the BTCC, though, is that you could mention a third of the grid, such is the competitive nature of the series. Although those above are almost shoo-ins for a title charge, don’t be surprised to see the likes of Josh Cook, Dan Cammish or Rory Butcher throwing their hat into the ring come October’s season finale.

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Four‑time BTCC champ Colin Turkington says the goal is to win in 2023

19th April 2023

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When does the season start?

The season starts this weekend (22nd-23rd April) at Donington Park, with the first race taking place at 11:30 on Sunday morning.

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2023 BTCC Calendar announced

24th September 2023

Where can I watch?

As has been the case for many years, the BTCC will be broadcast live and free-to-air on ITV and ITV4 across the year, while also being simulcast on the BTCC page of the ITV website. Highlights will also be available to watch via the ITV Hub as well as being shown on both ITV and ITV4 in the days following each event.

The live coverage provided by ITV4 will continue to include the popular BTCC support package, which will look slightly different to previous years due to the departure of Ginetta, having moved to the British GT schedule for 2023. This year’s support network will include F4 British Championship, Mini Challenge (JCW or Trophy) and Porsches (Carrera Cup GB or Sprint Challenge GB) as standard, while Legends Cars Championship, Radical Cup UK, Caterham Sevens and the Mini 7 Racing Club will appear as guest series across the year.

For American fans of the championship, highlights will be carried by MotorTrend, with all shows being available on demand until the end of the year via the MotorTrend+ platform.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

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