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BTCC ruling impact

Tim Harvey
24 Jun 2009

Our BTCC insider explains why new rules are bad news for BMW fans

The powers-that-be at BTCC headquarters seem to have wasted no time in taking my advice in last month’s column and announcing radical cost-cutting rules for 2011 and beyond. Sadly, I didn’t get my wish for powerful, noisy, rear-drive monsters, but the new regulations have been well thought out. Knowing BTCC boss Alan Gow’s track record of good judgement (or is it good luck?) they will no doubt prove to be an enormous success too.

In a nutshell, Next Generation Touring Cars (NGTCs) will be front-wheel-drive-only, 300bhp turbocharged 2-litre family saloons with a standard width, a minimum length and many common parts – and that could include the engines.

The current Super 2000-spec engines used in BTCC are hugely expensive and, given that they only produce 285bhp, relatively unreliable too. NGTC rules will change that by giving teams the option of buying or leasing unbranded engines from TOCA or developing their own units fitted with a number of controlled parts (thus leaving the door open for manufacturers to return to the series using their own engines). As well as being massively cheaper, the new engines will be very moderately stressed – they’re expected to last a whole season between rebuilds – so they should be more reliable too.

Away from the engine, the use of common parts will lead to further savings as teams will no longer have to buy a number of expensive spares and transport them to each event.

The new cars will be introduced in 2011 with equivalent performance to the S2000 cars until 2013, when NGTCs will become the only cars eligible. I have no doubt that the objective of cost-effective, competitive and therefore exciting racing will be met. However, I do have a couple of concerns. Firstly, despite the promises, equalisation of the new cars with the existing ones will be hard to achieve. The new cars will have more power and bigger wheels and tyres, so they will have to be slowed down with ballast. It is also unlikely that TOCA would want the older cars to win, so the advantage will probably lie with the new cars. Therefore owners of current cars can realistically only hope for one more year of competitive racing before their machinery falls off the pace and becomes worth very little on the used racing car market. This is of particular concern to the teams using BMWs, as their cars become not only uncompetitive but, being rear-wheel drive, ineligible from 2013.

And herein lies my biggest fear. By outlawing BMWs we will lose a prestige brand that has a long history of involvement in the BTCC. Whilst BMW has not had a factory presence since 1996, the year of Jo Winkelhock and Roberto Ravaglia, its cars have returned to the series in recent years in the hands of highly competitive independent teams, bringing prestige, variety and power oversteer – all good things in my book. Some of the best BTCC moments have come about from the likes of Messrs Soper, Weaver, Winkelhock, Harvey (ahem!), Palmer, Menu, Turkington and Collard racing BMWs against front-wheel-drive cars. How many 3-series purchases must these battles have influenced? By going to a front-wheel-drive-only format we will be reverting to ‘shopping car’ racing. Great entertainment, yes, but you can get that at the Friday night banger races at Arena Essex!

I welcome the new initiative for the cost-saving reasons, but I do fear we could end up with a grid full of Chevrolets, Kias and Hyundais, and who has ever dreamt of owning one of those?

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