BTC Racing’s rise up the BTCC pecking order has been a steady one, but over the 2019/2020 BTCC winter break has come a series of announcements which could pave the way for the team to become regular series frontrunners.
After the joining the BTCC in 2006 running a pair of S2000s Lexus IS200s for Darren Dowling and Chris Stockton, little did we know that 14 seasons later the team would be heading into the new season with arguably one of the strongest driver lineups on the grid.
After that 2006 debut which came in the final two rounds of the season, the team returned the following year, claiming their first BTCC points courtesy of Stockton at Brands Hatch Indy. The rest of 2007 passed without any great success and the team switched to ex-Motorbase SEAT Toledos for 2008 before disappearing from the grid altogether ahead of the 2009 season.
Following time away from the BTCC, BTC Racing returned to the series in 2014 with an RML-built but never raced Chevrolet Cruze for Chris Stockton. BTC Racing’s return to the BTCC was a tough one, and at the end of the 2014 season the team’s TBL was purchased by Power Maxed Racing and again they left the series.
Two failed attempts at becoming established in the BTCC would have meant curtains for many operations, but at the end of 2016, the team announced the purchase of two TBLs and Chevrolet Cruzes from Power Maxed Racing, and with it came a return to the grid as a fully-fledged two-car operation for the 2017 season.
With Dave Newsham and Chris Smiley behind the wheel, the 2017-spec BTC Racing was an immediate improvement on incarnations which had preceded it, and Newsham finished 14th in the overall standings and scored a 3rd place finish at Silverstone near the end of the campaign. More success was to follow in 2018 as the team switched to the ex-Team Dynamics Honda Civic Type R FK2, and Daniel Lloyd took the team’s long-awaited first victory at Croft in June. The improved form was again evident just a few rounds later as Lloyd’s teammate Smiley took his first BTCC race win in race three at Rockingham, and became the final BTCC race winner at the doomed Northamptonshire circuit in the process.
After returning in 2017, the team had enjoyed two seasons of tangible progress, and a switch to the new-shape Civic Type R FK8 for 2019 was set to pave the way for even more success, and BTC Racing’s best season yet in the series.
Josh Cook’s signing from Power Maxed Racing ahead of the 2019 season proved to be a masterstroke as he took three race victories, single-handedly out-winning the factory Honda team on his way to 4th place in the overall championship and 2nd in the independent driver’s standings. For the first time since joining the BTCC in 2006, BTC Racing were title contenders and with Cook, were in contention for the BTCC driver’s title right up until the final round of the season. After seasons of struggle in the midpack, 2019 marked BTC Racing’s arrival at the top table in the BTCC and heading into 2020 the question would be how could the team continue their evident and steep upward trajectory.
Resigning Josh Cook was the first piece of that puzzle, and that consistency will prove invaluable for both team and driver. With a year of experience in the FK8 Civic under his belt, 2020 will mark the first time Cook will line up in the same car for two consecutive seasons. Six years of full-time BTCC competition has seen Cook develop into one of the better drivers on the grid, and coming off a career-best season where he more than doubled his overall win tally the Somerset driver will be confident of not only finishing as the top Honda Civic driver but the pick of the field come the end of the campaign. Barring 2017, where he switched from Maximum Motorsport to Triple Eight midseason, Cook has improved on his previous campaign in every single year, and after coming within a few laps of securing the independent’s title in 2019 he will be a formidable force on the grid this coming year.
If signing Cook was the first piece of the puzzle, then bringing on Chilton, a seasoned touring car driver with 14 BTCC race wins and 52 podiums to his name means that in Cook and Chilton alone BTC Racing present one of the strongest driver lineups on the grid. After much success in the BTCC throughout the 2000s, Chilton’s touring car career took him to the World Touring Car Championship in 2012. He ended his WTCC career with a 3rd place overall and independent’s title in 2017 in a Citroën C-Elysée, the same year as he completed an almost full season for Power Maxed Racing in the BTCC. Chilton switched to Motorbase for 2018, finishing 3rd in the title race after a sensational end to the year. However, 2019 wasn’t so kind to the Reigate-based driver as Motorbase’s form dipped and Chilton ended the season in 10th. His one race victory came at Croft.
Whilst he won just once last year, Chilton and BTC Racing represent a fantastic match for one another. By signing Chilton, BTC Racing have ensured that Cook will have a teammate who will push him all the way, and a driver with Chilton’s vast experience will prove invaluable as the team attempt to make that final, and most difficult leap from regular race winners to title contenders. In return, Chilton will receive a car which was regularly among the fastest on the grid in 2019 and a rapidly improving teammate in Cook who now knows what it takes to take part in a BTCC title fight.
Cook and Chilton represent a strong pairing alone, but throw in Michael Crees in a third Honda Civic and BTC Racing’s driver lineup changes from formidable, to formidably exciting. Whilst a rookie last year, Crees’ rise through the motorsport ranks has happened at lightning speed and the 2018 Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion will be looking to absorb as much as he can from his two teammates.
In many ways, it’s an ideal situation for Crees. The bulk of the expectation ahead of the 2020 season will be on Cook and Chilton, and that will be understandably so given their many years of BTCC experience. Crees will be given time to learn and develop and feel his way into the FK8 Civic and he’ll know that when it finally clicks, he’ll have a car capable of points, podiums and wins. A year spent at Team HARD learning his trade will have provided Crees with an overload of information and thoughts, and 2020 will be about steady progress and consistency and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him on the podium at least once in 2020.
Whilst not a factory-supported team, BTC Racing scored more race victories than the factory Honda team in 2019, a statistic testament to their work and the rapid progress they have made with the new-shape Civic. All signs point to more improvement in 2020 and at the very least a maintenance of the status quo from last year. Both Cook and Chilton will be confident that they will be able to sustain a title change, and Crees will be confident of rapid improvement and silverware before the year is out.
I have a feeling BTC Racing’s fast rise up the BTCC grid isn’t over yet, but the biggest leap is the one they have yet to do.