HENLEY-in-Arden speedster Mat Jackson is back on track this weekend as the British Touring Car Championship makes its welcome return with the first meeting of a ten-round 2016 season at Brands Hatch in Kent, writes Andy Parsons.
As usual there have been plenty of comings and goings regarding drivers, teams and cars during the close season, but at the recent Media Day season launch organisers TOCA were pleased to announce a capacity 32-car grid for the 2016 campaign.
Jackson makes his return to the championship for a full season of racing in the Motorbase-run, DUO-backed Ford Focus although, with James Cole having departed to team BMR, Jackson now finds himself with a new team-mate in the form of Sutton Coldfield-born 2013 champion Andrew Jordan.
Both drivers have an enormous amount of BTCC experience and, if the car carries on in 2016 from where it left off at the end of the 2015 season, then both drivers could be in with a shout of championship glory.
Also worth watching out for is the new Pirtek livery on the number 77 Focus. The metallic blue finish looked simply stunning on launch day.
One of the biggest changes has been made by last season’s Independent team champions BMR Racing who announced during the winter they have switched from the all-conquering VW Passat CCs to the all-new Subaru Levorg, bringing an iconic name to the BTCC.
They also announced former champions Jason Plato and Colin Turkington have been retained from last season and joining them is Cole, who completed half a season of racing last year in the Motorbase-run Ford Focus. It will be a four-car attack from BMR as team owner Warren Scott will pilot the final Levorg.
Another name synonymous with the BTCC is Halfords and just prior to the season launch Team Dynamics announced they have secured the iconic brand as joint team sponsors alongside long-running partners Yuasa Batteries.
The team have once again secured the services of 2015 Champion Gordon ‘Flash’ Shedden and multi-BTCC champion Matt Neal and have also increased to a three-car team with Andy Neate joining the Dynamics squad as their third driver.
Eurotech Racing also return with the same driver pairing from last year although Team owner Jeff Smith has been busy over the winter and has secured Civic Type Rs for both himself and Kings Norton’s Martin Depper.
Smith had secured a third licence and car, but a deal could not be done to find a driver in time for the start of the season so these plans have been put on hold.
As well as the regulars there are also have some new faces entering the BTCC. Last season’s Clio Cup winner Ash Sutton will be racing a Triple Eight-prepared MG 6. Team Hard will be running two rookies in Chris Smiley and Michael Epps along with Jake Hill, who has secured funding for a full season this year and all the drivers will be behind the wheel of a Toyota Avensis.
Matt Simpson will also make his debut in a Speedworks-prepared Honda Civic Type R, meaning there will be no less than six Civics on the grid this year.
There will also be a familiar face on the grid too as Kelvin Fletcher – better known as Andy from Emmerdale – makes his BTCC bow having moved up from the Porsche Carrera GB he raced last year.