Saturday 6 June 2015

2015 British Touring Car Championship

Round #4 - Oulton Park
Today I took a trip to see the practice and qualifying sessions for the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) at Oulton Park. Oulton is my local circuit and I've fond childhood memories of watching the BTCC here. I remember when Audi first entered with their silver four wheel drive A4 driven by Frank Biela, the controversy over Alfa Romeo's aero package used on their 155 cars driven by Gabriele Tarquini and Giampiero Simoni, and John Cleland's famous "the man's an animal" rant.

I think what makes the BTCC so special are the intense rivalrys, the close racing, familiar everyday marques, and the historic circuits. These features all combine to make the BTCC probably the most popular race series in the UK. This season the main rivalry is once again between Jason Plato and Matt Neal, with Colin Turkington the defending champion.

The meeting today included support from the Clio Cup, MSA Formula, Porsche Carrera Cup, Ginetta Juniors, and Ginetta GT4. It was quite a packed track schedule and great value for just £14 on the gate. The busy timetable also meant there was little waiting around between track sessions.

Today's transport was a 2005 E46 BMW M3, which made the trip effortless thanks to its 3.2 litre 6 cylinder engine producing around 340 Bhp. As we arrived we could hear the MSA Formula cars practice session was just getting underway. Taking the Lodge corner entrance we parked up and I grabbed a few quick shots.
Thankfully we'd gotten lucky with the weather, a little windy but plenty of sunshine. After watching the remainder of the Formula cars practice session from Dear Leap, I crossed over the circuit and headed into the paddock. Here you're warned about entering a working paddock, which basically means watch out for cars moving around and try not to get in the way of the mechanics. I spotted one of the Ginetta GT4 cars with a cool looking Amigos livery, it works well with the bronze wheels. I bumped into the Michelin Man looking as happy as ever, and also snapped a few of the Ginettas, Carreras, and MSA Formula cars.
As I reached the end of the paddock, the BTCC cars were starting their first practice session. I made my way round to the inside of Old Hall Corner to watch as the cars sped down the Avenue straight before braking into Cascades. The BTCC cars are highly tuned versions of cars you likely see everyday. There are Honda Civics, Volkswagen CC, Ford Focus, BMW 125i, Mercedes A-Class, Audi S3, Audi A4, Proton Gen-2, Chevrolet Cruze, and Toyota Avensis. All cars use a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine built to a standard spec (NGTC) and tuned to around 300 Bhp, AP Racing brakes and clutch, Xtrac 6-speed sequential gearbox, and Cosworth ECU. They make a lot of noise with plenty of exhaust pops, though not quite as dramatic as the British GT spec cars.
After watching practice, I headed back to the paddock and stopped at Chequers cafe for something to eat. The food there is usually good and it always seems to be busy. I refueled with coffee and a breakfast baguette then went off back to the paddock. The Porsche Cup cars were being assembled ready for their session and having exhaust noise checks done before taking to the track.

I was hoping to get up close to the BTCC cars but sadly they were all hiding in their pit garages behind screens. The only exception was the Proton Gen-2 which was showing off the NGTC engine. I also spotted ITV's Louise Goodman doing some driver interviews from the pitlane.
Later on after watching some more Porsche action and munching fresh donuts, came the main event for the day - the BTCC qualifying session. Here the drivers were at full attack, using what they'd learned from the previous practice sessions, and trying to find space on the track to set their fastest time. It looked as though rain would come half way through the session as the sky darkened but the winds were just enough to keep it at bay. In the end it was Jason Plato who secured pole, with Matt Neal alongside so it should be an interesting first corner in the race tomorrow!