BTCC 2019 is finally here, and once again the Brands Hatch Indy circuit plays host to the first three races of the 2019 season. The Kent circuit is a brilliant amphitheatre and venue for touring car racing and the sight of the full grid of cars dropping down into Paddock Hill Bend on the opening lap of the race is always one of my favourite moments of the season. With new cars, teams and drivers lining up on the grid, the opening round of the season is always action-packed, exciting and often throws up more questions than answers. I’ve given my thoughts on some of the biggest pre-race talking points in my Brands Hatch Indy weekend preview.
New Cars For Last Season’s Top Two
The two title protagonists from last season line up in new cars for 2019. Defending champion Colin Turkington switches from the BMW 1 series to the BMW 3 series whilst his closest challenger in 2018 Tom Ingram switches from an independently-backed Toyota Avensis to a factory-backed Toyota Corolla GT. Both drivers will feel the pressure to perform, and both will be keen to hit the ground running with their new cars.
Ingram has made the season opener at Brands Hatch Indy a fruitful round in recent seasons, winning a race in each of the last three years to underline the pace he has at the circuit. The Toyota Avensis was well-tuned to the rollercoaster nature of the track, but the Corolla will bring a whole new challenge and different setup requirements. Ingram will be strong no doubt, but it’ll be a tough task to win with the Corolla on its very first BTCC weekend.
Turkington, unlike Ingram, hasn’t enjoyed race-winning success at Brands Hatch Indy in recent years but does have two 2nd places in 2017 and 2018 to show for his efforts. Turkington finished 7th in the Media Day test two weeks ago, just one place behind Ingram so the early signs are there that there will be pace in the car from the outset. Turkington has one key advantage over Ingram this weekend at Brands Hatch, and indeed for the whole of the 2019 season. With two other teammates to share the setup work in practice with, it’ll make finding the right setup for the BMW 3 series at circuits easier. However, Ingram has proved himself to be one of the BTCC’s top drivers in recent years and he won’t let Turkington have it all his own way in his quest for a fourth BTCC title.
Team Dynamics To Continue Where They Left Off?
Team Dynamics left Brands Hatch GP at the end of 2018 with two race victories on the final day of the season. With a year of development work on the FK8 Civic under their belts, both Neal and Cammish will be looking at 2019 as the season they can bring the BTCC drivers and manufacturers titles back to Honda and both are real threats for victory this weekend.
The team didn’t have the best of weekends at the season opener last year with Cammish’s 8th place in race one their best result, despite showing great pace in qualifying. I have a feeling that this year will be different and as one of the most experienced and successful outfits on the grid, Team Dynamics knows what it takes to win races and titles. Going into the weekend they are my pre-race favourites and if one of Neal or Cammish can qualifying at the front of the grid I think they’ll be hard to beat.
The Independent Challenge
It shows something about the success of independent teams in the BTCC when three of the top five cars at the pre-season test were operated by Independently-backed race teams. Sam Tordoff topped the timesheets with Tom Chilton in 2nd and Rory Butcher in 5th as all three drivers announced themselves as potential front runners for 2019.
Tordoff and Butcher look strong in the ex-Eurotech FK2 Civics, and they will be campaigning in a car which won the first race of the season last year in the hands of Jack Goff. After the pain of 2018 when Tordoff lost handfuls of points and podiums through mechanical failures, the 2016 BTCC runner -up will be keen to kick 2019 off on the right foot by following up his strong testing form with pole in qualifying on Saturday. Do that, and it would be a huge statement of intent to the grid from Tordoff, and with plenty of race-winning experience under his belt, he could be a real thorn in the side of the manufacturer-backed teams this weekend.
Chilton will also no doubt be a feature inside the top ten this weekend and will be keen to maintain his strong end of 2018 form which saw him finish 3rd in the title fight. The Motorbase Focus is fast, and Chilton is one of the best all-round racers on the grid with a wealth of experience in British and world touring cars. 5th in race one was his best result at Brands Hatch Indy last year, but he’ll be looking to beat that this time around.
Pressure On At Power Maxed Racing?
Jason Plato and Rob Collard will line up on the grid as the most experienced driver lineup in the field. Plato’s return to a front wheel drive car after three seasons in the rear wheel drive Subaru gives us the chance to see Plato back doing what he does best, fighting at the front of the field in a car he feels comfortable and confident in. 20th in the pre-season test leaves the team with plenty to think about ahead of qualifying, but the Vauxhall Astra won race two last year at Brands Hatch Indy in the hands of Senna Proctor. A good qualifying session will be critical for Plato if he is to have a successful weekend such is the strength and level of competition in the midfield of the BTCC. Fail to qualify well and he could spend Sunday battling for points, but pull off a top ten in qualifying and he could set himself up for a welcome return to the top step of the podium in race three.
Rob Collard will also be keen to put a difficult 2018 season behind him as he returns to the BTCC grid. Absent from the series after his accident at Snetterton last year, Collard’s return to PMR marks a switch to front wheel drive from the rear wheel drive BMW, and that will no doubt take some getting used to. As always with Collard, his race pace is second to none and you wouldn’t bet against him against anyone on his day. However, with qualifying so important in the BTCC, Saturday afternoons will be an area Collard will have no doubt marked out for improvement as more often than not, qualifying has lead to a difficult Sunday. Like Plato, Saturday will be critical for a strong weekend.
I think the BMWs will be strong out the box and I wouldn’t discount Turkington or Jordan for races or a podium finish. Ingram might take longer to get there as a one-car team with a new car but I’m sure he’ll be up near the top five. Ash Sutton will be one to watch in the Subaru as they look to have a strong start to the year, and I think Tordoff and Butcher could be in for a big weekend. But my pre-race favourites are Team Dynamics and I think Neal and Cammish will be the pair to beat on race day.
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below.
Don’t forget to download the full 34-page BTCC 2019 Season Preview where I’ve assessed the fortunes and hopes of every team and driver on the grid. Click the button below to download for free!