Or unofficially ‘World TCR’, this is the result of a merger, or takeover, between the FIA WTCC and the TCR International Series.
Effectively Eurosport Events, the people behind WTCC, will adopt the TCR rulebook. Factory teams are out, privateers are in, many from the TCR series. The reduction of factory teams means a downgrade from ‘FIA Championship’ status to ‘FIA Cup’, but that shouldn’t matter, most importantly the racing should be excellent.
In terms of calendar housekeeping, I used the WTCC calendar and renamed it.
If you remain subscribed to my TCR International series calendar, I will now be using this for the new TCR Europe continental series. Link on the main Calendar page.
Until the other week I hadn’t been to a BTCC round since Silverstone in 2008 (where did the time go?) which ended a 6-year run of visiting at least one round per year, at various circuits including Thruxton, Donington Park and even Knockhill. I hadn’t been to Brands Hatch since 2005’s A1GP meeting. It was time to revisit both.
Isn’t it great to be trackside? Especially so when not long out of winter, having been stuck indoors for most of it, and you’ve got your nose up against the fence on a warm, cloudless spring day as cars race by at 140mph or more. Just perfect.
Perhaps it felt all the more sweeter after a 3-hour drive to the track. I was glad to find the entrance fed me directly to the spectator bank overlooking the pits so I didn’t need to spend time finding somewhere to watch, where I arrived as the BTCC was on the grid for race 1 of 3. However once the race began I quickly found I didn’t like it there as the fences (and the people) obscured the racing going on up at Paddock Hill or back at Clearways. Cars flashing past is great but I came here to see racing. It was great to get so close to the grid and it would be an ideal place to watch a race with pitstops as you can see right into pitlane – but touring car racing doesn’t have any stops so it was time to move!
I watched the rest of the race from Clearways. In 2005 I was lucky enough to be in the big hospitality building here which offered a great view. I was surprised to find it was almost as good at ground level, with the added bonus that this time I was watching a race on the Indy loop. There was some great side-by-side action here as you’d expect. Even doughnuts from Rob Collard… for which he was later penalised. An American sanctioning body would celebrate it.. a UK/European body awards a penalty. Idiots!
After lunch I went around to Paddock Hill Bend. I was surprised at how little room there is to watch – there’s an earth bank which suddenly drops away to a path. People were perched on the edge of it, I went up there and couldn’t see well over the people. Scratch that idea.
I found the absolute ideal spot was just where the tree line begins on the uphill approaching Druids. An unobstructed view of Paddock Hill Bend (as unobstructed as can be with this many people around), very fast cars very close to you just as they get off the gas and on to the brakes, and a nice view across to Graham Bill Bend to boot. Trees nearby to shelter under if the sun gets too hot or if it rains. Perfect.
I watched BTCC Race 2 and a few supports from here, and after a walk in the support paddock I came back for BTCC Race 3. This is one of my new favourite places in racing. I would consider the nearby grandstand if only to get above the heads of other people, but I don’t think I really missed anything. The only thing I lacked was a view to the left of me, or ‘downstream’ on the track, so I couldn’t see Druids corner or the 7-car shunt caused by oil on the track. Of course, you can never see everything unless you’re at an oval, and I did see Jackson run through the gravel right in front of me as he laid that oil.
The one thing I didn’t do all day was get a pass for the BTCC paddock. The support paddock was freely accessible and I saw Nicolas Hamilton signing autographs there. I did slightly miss getting up close to the BTCC cars and drIvers too, however I was too busy enjoying myself trackside!
The lunch break fell after BTCC race 1. It was then I, as expected, found racetrack food prices to be as high as ever. £8 for the burger and chips I wanted. I settled for a sausage roll for £3. I will say the food selection at most UK racetracks is immeasurably better than it was 10 years ago, commendably so because it often used to be dire, but now they all stick the word ‘premium’ or ‘quality’ on the van and jack up the price. They were selling hot Cornish pasties for a fiver. I can get a hot one 500 yards from my house for less than that and they pay all the costs of renting a shop not a trailer! The price for being a captive audience and not wanting a squashed sandwich from a hot rucksack.
The BTCC has long had a poor reputation as a championship which not only rewards the use of the ‘chrome horn’ but encourages it. Everyone loves a bit of doorhandle to doorhandle racing, that’s a part of this type of racing and long may it continue, I’m not advocating removing it, that’s why we love touring cars. The trouble is, in this series it goes to another level. It was why I stopped attending races after 2008 and stopped watching the series altogether two years ago.
What isn’t acceptable is the continued practice of getting a nose inside and just pushing the guy on the outside, into the gravel. The worst offenders are the biggest name drivers Jason Plato and Matt Neal, who are probably popular because they act a bit ‘bad boy’ on the track, pushing their way around. Most of the rest of the grid doesn’t go in for this type of thing, which is great to see.
I really did miss watching the series so I have actually started watching the races I missed from 2010 and 2011, and I’ve been laughing at some of the post-race quotes. Someone like Onslow-Cole or Shedden would come on, standing next to someone like Matt Neal, and say right in front of him: ‘Well I could’ve easily had him off, but that’s not the way I like to race.’ Even though the guy next to him had already done it to someone else that day. Ha!
I make this point because I’d really hoped the series would’ve clamped down on it by now. They haven’t. Newcomer and polesitter Dave Newsham, underdog hero of the day, was unceremoniously dumped off track into the Paddock Hill gravel by Plato. Penalty? A £750 fine and 3 points on his racing licence. Hardly any penalty at all. I haven’t seen the most recent rounds at Donington Park this past weekend, I understand it stepped up another level with cars off left, right and centre.
Perhaps the more frustrating thing is that both Plato and Neal come across as really nice guys (even when they are complaining about the technical rules!), it isn’t as if they are utter evil bastards, they are merely taking advantage of the series not clamping down on certain actions – they do it because they get away with it. Still, it provokes discussion and ratings and the crowd at any BTCC meeting at every track I visit has always cheered the loudest when Plato wins, so he must be doing something right.
One of the hallmarks and attractions of the TOCA/BTCC package has long been the plentiful support card. This is again true this year. It was a touch weaker compared to past times, with the closure of FBMW UK a few years ago and the sad failure of FRenault UK this past winter, which is by far the bigger loss for British motorsport being the traditional feeder into British Formula 3. A disgraceful loss and I don’t understand how it was allowed to happen, I really do hope something is done to resurrect it for 2013. FRUK offered the chance for up and coming drivers to make a name for themselves in front of a big crowd on live TV, I doubt the many other FR 2.0 series in Europe offer the same.
Despite being two races down the day was still full of action, there was barely 10 or 15 minutes of dead track all day (excluding the lunch break and red flags). A collection of Renault Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup and both big and Junior variants of Ginettas kept the crowd entertained all day long. Hard to believe they let 14 and 15 year olds loose in the Juniors!
Back For Good
Despite the poor driving standards I still love the BTCC. Everything about the day was perfect and I’m sad I was away for so long. The feeling was just as it was a decade ago. There’s an intangible atmosphere at a BTCC meeting you just don’t get when you visit other series. I don’t know if it is the wheel-to-wheel racing, the near-constant track action from a collection of short, sharp races, or the fact it is our big home-grown success story with passionate fans filling the banks and stands all the way around the track. There’s something about a BTCC meeting you just can’t beat. And I didn’t even buy a paddock pass this time!
I’ll be back. See you at Silverstone? (I’m wondering if I made the right choice in booking Silverstone). I’m tempted to go to Thruxton.. but we’ll see about that. Just maybe, funds depending, I’ll go back to Brands Hatch for the race on the GP circuit later in the year.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Goodwood Revival on Sunday, courtesy of Johnnie Walker. Despite having attended five fantastic Festivals of Speed I have never been to the Revival before, so I immediately accepted!
A Unique Atmosphere
The Revival is more than just a normal race meeting for historic/classic racing cars, it has those added Goodwood touches and details we all know and love from the FoS. With spectators in period clothing and the stands selling vintage items, I thought I’d ask Mum to come along to her first ‘big’ race meeting as she’s really into that side of things, regularly attending the local vintage market and so forth.
The first surprise was arriving at the gate and seeing so many of the crowd in period dress. I had expected maybe half of the attendees would do it, and then only in a half-arsed way, but it was a good 80-90% of the crowd! Later as we walked away out to the sticks towards the far end of the circuit it was more like 60-70%, still an impressive figure. It put our minds at rest that if we came back we’d certainly give it a go and not feel silly about it… well maybe only if we stopped for coffee on the motorway.
There were also a lot more ‘acts’ either in their own performance areas or just floating around the crowds at the back of the main grandstands. Dancers, bands, singers, and the Laurel & Hardy boys I’d seen before at the FoS seemed to be following us everywhere as we bumped into them several times, I seem to remember they did that at the Festival too! That’s actually a poor angle of them, in reality they do look a lot like the originals.
This all contributed to a strange crossover in atmosphere between the ‘garden party’ of the Festival, the relaxed feel of historic/classic car racing event with old road vehicles dotted around the track, yet with the attendance levels of a major race meeting. There were easily 50,000 people there by my estimation and likely a lot more.
Sunday’s card featured seven races, and we arrived in the traffic queue as the second of those got under way. Once we made it in there was an unexplained delay in on-track action, we never found out why but everything was running late by as much as an hour. This meant was had the opportunity to explore all of the above before heading trackside, stopping for a nice organic burger – though I had a hangover and had forgotten that at the Belgian GP it was sausage which was the magic hangover cure, should’ve had that! A cup of tea worked wonders.
The Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy was under way as we walked along the track away from the final corner looking for a space. Neither of us are into motorbikes though I do watch modern MotoGP, it was interesting to compare their 1960s counterparts braking very early in wet conditions.
We got near to Lavant corner and found a good viewing spot, the cars entering our sight directly opposite and heading left-to-right, before driving in an arc to pass in front from right-to-left. The St Mary’s Trophy got under way and there was a great selection of cars of all sizes, from big Ford Galaxies to little Mini Coopers via BMWs, Alfa Romeos, Jaguars and even a Mercedes-Benz 300SE.
Because of the nature of this event I make no apologies for loading this post with big photos and videos where usually I’d have several smaller. I know many don’t like that sort of thing but these are classic cars and deserve to be shown to the world, so an exception can be made here.
The BMW (2nd in this shot) went on to a dominant win but the Galaxie (leading) and the Mini (3rd) had a race-long battle which was fantastic to watch! The Galaxie usually entered our sight ahead after using its big engine and top speed, but struggled to slow down and turn the corner in this picture, whilst the little Mini barely slowed down at all and nipped through on the inside with far better grip despite having tiny wheels – only for the Galaxie to stretch its legs again straight afterwards.
This was a great race, different types of cars with different capabilities. Touring car racing needs to get back to this and to hell with any thoughts of ‘equalisation’.
Video – St Mary’s Trophy – BMW 1800 leads Galaxie and Mini
The threatening rainclouds dispersed in time for an air display. This was no ordinary air display. This was TEN airworthy Spitfires! Okay I admit they may not all be genuinely from the war, some are rebuilds, but that’s fine if that’s what it takes to keep Spitfires flying. As luck would have it they took off right in front of us!
Then it was the GT race and these were impressive beasts, noisy, tails sliding out on the damp track, fantastic. Yet they are worth tens of millions in some instances!
Video – RAC TT Celebration
Kenny Brack (Indy 500 winner) in the Shelby American Daytona Coupe leading Martin Brundle (Le Mans winner, ex F1 driver) in the Ferrari 250 GTO owned by Nick Mason. This isn’t a great quality video but I hope it shows the cars well enough. Brack got the tail of his car wiggling under power much more than the others did theirs.
This was a good one as well, maybe not so much in the wheel-to-wheel but just the spectacle of it. Despite being slower than last week’s sportscar race at Silverstone these seemed much more impressive. We headed back towards the final corner to watch the end there and as we did so the black clouds drifted over and sure enough, the rain came down very hard.
The track quickly became treacherous with standing water everywhere and spray being kicked up. In the modern era they’d probably have sent out the Safety Car in such heavy rain. In this case with the race already scheduled to be shortened from 1hr down to 45min, they waved the chequered flag a further 5 minutes early. At a race for historics, particularly one which is delayed, there is no sense in continuing to risk these collectable and highly valued cars.
Another cup of tea sought, we moved location to watch the Tribute to Juan Manuel Fangio and then the short race for 1960s 1.5-litre Grand Prix cars.
The Fangio tribute featured a wide selection of his race cars from his career, in a parade behind a pace car, spanning his early days right through to his succesful Maseratis, Mercedes and so forth. Even his Indy 500 car was there, even though he’d failed to qualify for that race! It was good to see a famous name or two out there in the cars.
We were stood between the last corner ‘proper’ and the makeshift chicane on the main straight. The 60s GP cars took it very gingerly on the wet track, I don’t blame them because if I were in a priceless 50-year old Lotus, Cooper or BRM I’d probably do the same. Still pretty fantastic to see the cars in action even if they were slow.
Andy Middlehurst took a dominant win by half a minute but the group behind were very close throughout. Paul, Lord Drayson – yes he whose 2010 LMP1 Le Mans car adorns the top of this very blog – finished a creditable 2nd. Ben Collins was also guesting and he was passing cars.. until he slid into the gravel.
We were running out of hours so decided to skip the final race of the day (1950s sportscar world championship) to explore the rest of the Revival.
We spent a little while looking around the stalls. Many were the usual sort of thing you find at race meetings or at the Festival of Speed: model cars, books, £30 t-shirts, £300 Steve McQueen ‘Le Mans‘ leather jackets, etc., etc. The rest of the stands were an odd mix of vintage fashions and automotive art.
Surprise of the day? Seeing Sir Stirling Moss signing at one of the book stands surrounded by a crowd! A part of me regrets not getting the book. I like Moss a lot but I didn’t really want that particular book, but I could’ve had a book signed by Stirling Moss.. Irritatingly this was the moment my camera died and I realised the charged batteries I’d brought hadn’t actually been charged.
We ventured through the tunnel to the paddock. Unlike the Festival this paddock was roped off except to badge holders, but they did provide viewing areas around the whole perimeter of it so that was something. It was great to be there though and it looked like the podium finishers for many of the day’s races went out for another celebratory lap, as they came into parc ferme as were stood nearby. I borrowed Mum’s camera to get some up-close shots of those although I’ve not seen how they turned out.
And we (eventually) found the drivers’ club too, but no drivers, it was 5 or 6pm though and most of the racing action had stopped, little potential for seeing famous names. The good thing is that now I know the lay of the land, a future visit can be planned to ‘bump into’ certain drivers as they happen to be walking from place to place.
Oh and we checked out the Earls Court Motor Show as well, some fantastic supercars from the 1960s to today, from E-Type, GTO, Daytona to XJ220, McLarenF1 and Alfa 8C Competizione.
Sadly there wasn’t time to sample some Johnnie Walker (we got lost looking for the right bar.. and I had something of a hangover already!). They didn’t have the big tower from the Festival with the different drinks so I didn’t feel I was missing out so much. I don’t drink a lot of spririts but I’ve started exploring them in recent months so I think I may well buy a bottle as a ‘thank you’.
EDIT – I’ve been contacted by the man from JW who corrected me and said they did indeed serve a variety of drinks, and the bar featured an original Rob Walker car as well. I must say, after VivaF1 sampled some at the FoS and gave a thumbs up I would’ve quite liked to have tried it myself, it was just a shame we ran out of time. Apologies to them for jumping the gun!
Motor Sport magazine has released a podcast with Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Jackie Stewart, Martin Brundle, Gerhard Berger, Eddie Cheever, Arturo Merzario, Nick Mason, Tom Kristensen, Emmanuele Pirro, Andy Priaulx, and Rauno Aaltonen. I’ve not listened yet but with a line-up like that it can’t be anything other than brilliant.