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Five Way Fight

There's not a lot to separate the five biggest teams in this year's BTCC. Honda, Motorbase, West Surrey Racing, Triple Eight and Team BMR/Subaru must all have high hopes of winning multiple races in 2016 and the BTCC's resurgence under NGTC regulations made mandantory in 2014 continues with a vengeance. The five biggest teams in the series represent almost half of this season's bumper 32 car grid (14 to be exact), and the car/driver combinations capable of winning races doesn't just stop there. Outside of the BTCC's "big five" we've got Adam Morgan in the WIX Mercedes, Rob Austin and Tom Ingram in the Handy and Speedworks Toyota's (you can catch my last post about Speedworks Motorsport here) and Jeff Smith and Martin Depper in the Eurotech Honda's who could spring big surprises on race day. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Adam Morgan finished inside the championship's top ten for the third consecutive season.

With the level of competition the highest it’s been for over a decade, at least four cars from the BTCC’s five biggest teams will be destined to finish outside the championship’s top ten, and whilst all may be competitive at some point in the season I can’t imagine every driver in that elite group will win a race.  I’ve been looking forward to heading down to Brands Hatch for months now and below you can find my analysis of what we can expect from the BTCC’s five most favoured teams in 2016.

Will Team BMR struggle early on? Honda vs Subaru is certainly a mouthwatering prospect.

Team BMR didn’t participate in the Media Day test so it’s difficult for anyone apart from team insiders to know where exactly the Subaru’s stand in terms of pace. As it says above, the prospect of an all Japanese Honda vs Subaru duke out at the head of the BTCC is a mouthwatering one but with the whole of the BTCC field covered by such a close margin BMR will need to be on top of the Levorg (Subaru) right from the word go. Jason Plato says he’s never been as excited over a technical package, which should serve as an omen to the rest of the field that BMR at least, expect the Subaru to be at the head of the field. Jason Plato’s BTCC pedigree is second to none, and there aren’t many other drivers out there you’d choose to spearhead your maiden foray into the BTCC with. The return to rear wheel drive for Colin Turkington will be a welcome bonus for the two time champion who stays alongside Plato for a second season. Turkington performed admirably in his first season back in front wheel drive machinery last year but he’ll be vastly more confident of beating his experienced teammate in rear wheel drive machinery.

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Will the Subaru’s speed do it’s good looks justice? Image thanks to http://www.autocar.co.uk

On paper, the Subaru and experienced partnership of Plato and Turkington certainly looks among the strongest in the field. Throw in capable support from Warren Scott and James Cole, and the ingredients are there for BMR to have a real chance at the 2016 title, but they can’t afford to take too many rounds to get up to speed.

Subaru’s biggest competition in 2016 may come from their own country in the form of the reborn Team Halfords/Honda. Team Dynamics/Honda have ran at the head of the BTCC for the last decade and reunion with title sponsor Halfords, whom which they enjoyed  back to back championships in 2005/2006 has been welcomed by all in the BTCC paddock. Sponsorship aside, the three Team Dynamics run Honda Civics finished 1st (Neal), 16th (Shedden) and 23rd (Neate) on Media Day however I think we can expect at least two of the three to regularly feature in the top ten. Although he hasn’t had a full season since 2012, Andy Neate’s previous BTCC experience (99 starts) will be invaluable if Honda are to stem the tide from the chasing pack. Team Dynamics are a top outfit and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them on the money right away on Saturday afternoon. Shedden and Neal now have five BTCC championships between them, and Neal will equal Andy Rouse on 4 BTCC titles if he lifts the 2016 crown.

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I think the rest of the field will be getting an awful lot of this view over the course of the next 30 races. Image thanks to http://www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk

The Chasing Pack 

2016 represents Triple Eight/MG’s best chance to return to the top of the BTCC for a good number of years thanks to the levelling of the playing field through stock parts, however that only increases the importance of having the best engineering team around. Triple Eight are no strangers to success having dominated the BTCC for much of the 2000’s and there can be no doubt that Josh Cook and Ashley Sutton (you can find out more about them here) will be expected to win races in 2016. MG extended their works partnership with Triple Eight until at least the end of 2018 and after a lean 2015 the pressure will be on for both cars to finish high up the order. Potential-wise, Cook and Sutton are amongst the most promising young pairing on the grid and Cook’s great rookie performances last year, alongside Sutton’s experience of winning the Clio Championship are going to do the pair the world of good.

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This is Triple Eight’s best chance to return to the top step of the podium on a regular basis. Image thanks to http://www.btcc.net

Clio’s are traditionally a great training ground for the main game BTCC and Sutton and Cook finished 2nd and 5th in the Media Day test, a sign of things to come perhaps? I think MG will be stronger than last season, but just how much stronger remains to be seen.

Some of Triple Eight’s strongest competition will come in the form of WSR, who team boss Dick Bennetts believes could be in line for big things in 2016. The arrival of Jack Goff, in place of WEC bound Andy Priaulx ensures a quality replacement in the IHG Rewards Club BMW and the continued stability of the successful Collard/Tordoff partnership in the JCT600 branded cars will be important the 2014 drivers champions (with Turkington). Collard won the first race of the 2015 season at Brands Hatch last year, before Andy Priaulx scored a strong 2nd place in race two and a good start to their campaign could see WSR go all the way to the finish. WSR have arguably got the strongest driver lineup spread over three cars and all three BMW’s finished inside the championship’s top ten last year, and all won races.

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Sam Tordoff will be strong once again in the Gardx BMW.

I’m expecting WSR to have another very strong season. They perhaps didn’t make as much progress over the 2014/2015 winter as they would have liked, which left them vulnerable on high speed, expansive circuits however the strong engineering background at the squad will ensure they are among the best placed to take advantage of the new regulations. Throw in a proven championship winning chassis, and three experienced race winning drivers then WSR have as good a chance as any of challenging for the BTCC crown. Tordoff, Collard and Goff finished the Media Day test in 10th, 12th and 18th.

For me however, the favourites for the 2016 drivers title are Motorbase. On their return to the championship last season the Ford Focus was the class of the field and in Mat Jackson and Andrew Jordan they have two of the most capable driver pairings around. Jordan will be out with a point to prove after a winless 2015, (although to still finish 5th in the championship is a remarkable feat of champion-esque consistency) and Mat Jackson in my opinion, is the best BTCC driver not to have won a championship in a long while.

The Ford Ecoboost engine was a class above the rest in the second half of 2015 and the car was strong at all tracks in the second half of the championship. Had Jackson started the season at Brands Hatch in April he would have been without a doubt, there or thereabouts in the championship and the addition of 2013 champ Jordan makes for a formidable pairing. The Focus’s weren’t the fastest on Media Day, however both have enjoyed an extensive preseason programme and Andrew Jordan’s lack of concern about their pace last week should only serve to worry their rivals.

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Be afraid, be very afraid. Motorbase will be many people’s favourites in 2016. Image thanks to www,.touringcartimes.com

Perhaps the only thing which we know for certain this weekend, is that we’re in for a treat. The size, quality and competitiveness of the field is almost certainly the best we have seen for a good decade or so and it’s extremely difficult to pick a clear standout team or driver before round one. Below you can find my mini “prediction” but in a preseason as uncertain as any, the final pecking order is anyone’s guess! I’d love to see who your picks are for the upcoming season so please do feel free to get involved either by commenting here or over on twitter @hairpin_corner . See you at Brands!

My predicted team pecking order at Brands

  1. Motorbase
  2. Team Halfords/Honda
  3. WSR/BMW
  4. Team BMR/Subaru
  5. Triple Eight/MG

Cover Image thanks to BTCC

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