There can be no denying the competitive spirit which all successful racing drivers possess, and to simply write off the now traditional season ending Race of Champions as an end of season party would be a mistake. Aptly put by Jason Plato after his and Andy Priaulx’s Nations Cup victory against Vettel and Hulkenberg of Germany last night, yes there is lots of fun, but when the helmets come on it’s serious business.
Three times beaten finalists, Team England finally claimed the Nations Cup crown in a tense final heat between Triple European and World Touring Car Champion Priaulx and Force India F1 driver and 2015 LeMans winner Hulkenberg, after the latter had knocked out record BTCC race winner Plato in heat two. F1 is commonly regarded as the pinnacle of Motorsport (and rightly so) but last nights antics at Stratford’s Olympic Stadium showed that although not as highly regarded as many global Touring Car series by some, the BTCC should remain right up there with the very best of Motorsport.
With the exception of V8 Supercars, there isn’t many Touring Car Series’ (either national or global) which provide such competitive, tightly packed and full contact racing as the BTCC, and Friday’s action served as a strong reminder that many of Motorsports greatest starts and talents would no doubt find British Touring Cars a challenge. Arguably F1 and to some extent the DTM do require a more technical and precise approach, but for pure race craft and intuition the BTCC is streaks ahead. Not often in F1 after 16 laps do you find cars having to attack and defend at the same time, all whilst getting bumped and pushed from all angles but herein lies the beauty of Touring Cars, drivers are free to do all the above things without fear of car damage, reprimand and team orders, and so they develop a unique set of abilities which single seater racing drivers struggle to pick up later in their career.
We can find good examples of this when looking at the DTM. With the exception of Mika Hakkinen, very few successful F1 drivers have made a strong transition into Touring Car racing. Coulthard, Glock, Ralf Schumacher and McNish are all examples of successful single seater racing drivers who have struggled with the transition into full contact, tightly packed Touring Cars. Whether it be they are nearing the end of the careers and simply don’t have the pace, or they’ve forgotten some of the highly tuned race craft they no doubt had when they left Karting all those years ago, it seems a worrying trend that drivers in top to mid level single seaters struggle with their returns to tin top racing.
Of course this argument could go both ways but is you remember, Paul di Resta was no slouch at Force India between 2011 and 2013 when he “stepped up” from DTM to F1, and it’s hard to imagine Pascal Wehrlein struggling to match his teammate for pace should he get a chance at Manor next year….
And this brings us full circle to the start of today’s article. Last night’s ROC showed that although devoid of the coverage F1 and to some extent DTM receives around Europe and the World, the BTCC isn’t merely a stepping stone in a driver’s quest to race in other Motorsport series, but a fine example of everything good about British Motorsport and indeed global Touring Car racing. Many people look back fondly at Super Touring Era of the BTCC (myself included) but maybe it’s time we started looking right into the present and appreciate what a quality Championship British Touring Cars really is.
I look forward to another night of ROC action in London this evening when I’m sure we’ll see Priaulx, JM Lopez and indeed Plato right back up there among the F1 greats.