News and views on motorsports

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Touring Car Overload

This weekend features a total of no less than 4 touring car championship rounds. This being the two major ones the WTCC and BTCC and also the German Touring Cars and Swedish Touring Car Championship. Fastest Lap was right. Sometimes there's just too many racing championships to watch.

So far this season I've managed to catch the WTCC, BTCC and the Australian V8 Supercars. Out of the lot I have to say that the BTCC takes the cake as the best one so far. This weekend is round 3 of the championship in Thruxton. Since Alan Gow retook the reigns at the head of the BTCC, the championship has been transformed from a nearly dead post Supertouring championship into one that goes a long way to recapturing the glory days of 1990s.

If the first round at Brands was good, the next round at Rockingham two weeks ago was even better. Rather like the Indianapolis Formula 1 circuit, its raced partly on the oval and partly in the infield section. But it really is a lesson on how it ought to be done. For the action was extremely fast and furious. Bad luck to Matt Neal because I felt that he could have won again two weeks ago but for the hooligan antics of Tom Chilton (in the ever disgusting Vauxhall) which got Matt all over the place before slamming into the back of Colin Turkington.

Chilton, who looks like a member of a boy band should perhaps actually be in a bloody boyband and leave racing to adults. Look, I understand that in touring cars a little tap and a bit of argy bargy is perfectly acceptable but eejit takes it a bit too far and does it a little too often. He damned nearly t-boned Darren Turner's SEAT in the third race. But perhaps I'm just being biased because Chilton is a Vauxhall driver and I hate that stupid rep-mobile.

But then again, Chilton's teammate Fabrizio Giovanardi exudes class as well as pace. His tactics against Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden both in the Halfords Civics is an example of masterful defending, frustrating last year's champion Neal into a mistake that let Shedden through.

The BMWs look good in the BTCC despite being of 2006 vintage. Colin Turkington and teammate Onslow Cole certainly proving quite fast but the guy I am most impressed with is Mat Jackson in the Jackson Motorsport ex-Andy Priaulx BMW 320si. He's certainly got some speed in the car even if he is a little erratic at times. He reminds me a bit of Pedro de la Rosa and like the Spaniard, he tries really hard and is fun to watch. Matt Neal in fact thinks he is a contender.

Realistically though, this year definitely will be a battle between the Vauxhalls and SEATs for the drivers and team titles. But the beauty of the BTCC is that there are many dark horses. Matt Neal has shown pace in a brand spanking new, untried and certainly untested car. Mat Jackson if he can pull his socks up can certainly challenge the manufacturers as could Colin Turkington and Onslow Cole in the WSR prepared Team RAC BMWs. Its going to be a bloody good season no doubt.

The BTCC is definitely back, which is more than I can say for the WTCC. As I write this, I've just finished watching race 1 of Round 2 at Zandvoort on the telly. And like the Curitiba race, I'm left a little cold. Sure, the Chevrolets have provided a nice surprise this weekend and its great to see cars other than BMWs on the front row but the racing leaves a lot to be desired. The cars are bumper to bumper of course but perhaps its the world championship or perhaps they're all works teams but hardly anyone tries anything. Its early days yet in the championship so it all could improve. I hope it does, I have confirmed tickets to the season finale at Macau!

There are perhaps a number of reasons why the BTCC trumps the WTCC. First and foremost, the sheer number of privateers. All but two teams are private teams. And one thing about these guys, is that they try extremely hard. And privateer teammates seem to have no reservations about battling their teammates for position including all the attendant argy bargy. By contrast teammates in the WTCC try awfully hard not to tangle. There are exceptions of course but in general WTCC teams and drivers are a little shy. Well, this year at least.

Secondly, circuits. I love British racing circuits. Converting a whole bunch of ex World War 2 airbases to racing circuits was always a brilliant idea for those circuits end up being extremely quick. Then of course there's Brands which is a natural bowl and wonderful parkland tracks like Oulton Park. Somehow, the nature of British racing circuits always manages to produce some excellent racing. Surprisingly even the new Rockingham oval manages to produce the goods.

Third is the television coverage. Now, a lot of people complain about ITV's grand prix telecasts but if you compare Eurosport's coverage of the WTCC and ITV4's coverage of the BTCC, I'm sure you'll agree that the BTCC coverage is miles better with a lot more depth. And I much prefer the informal nature of the press interviews with the drivers. Ted Kravitz and Louis Goodman, like in Formula 1, go around the pits although in the BTCC the camera does follow them. In the box, 1992 BTCC champion Tim Harvey and Ben Edwards provide the commentary. And when they talk to the drivers, their questions are far more interesting. Compare that to a WTCC press conference. The lady who asks the questions sounds like she knows bugger all about racing and is merely following a script.

Added to the nature of the circuits, ITV4s camera positions also seem to convey a better sense of speed and puts one in the thick of the action. Whereas Eurosport's cameras make the WTCC cars look like garden lawn mowers, that is to say, they look unbelievably slow and from a telly viewers perspective, a yawn fest.

Apart from these touring car championships, I've also managed to catch highlights of the Swedish Touring Car Championship. I know what you're thinking. Sweden???!! Yes, but consider this, where else can you see BMW battling Mercedes and Audi in the same place. In addition to the big three Germans, there's Opels and of course, the local Volvo. Honda is represented and so is Alfa Romeo. The WTCC can only wish for variety of this sort.

However, I don't undestand a word of the commentary for naturally its in Swedish. Secondly, I have no idea who the drivers are and having just watched my first ever STCC I can't yet form any opinions on who's good and who's not. Third, I think the STCC has got it wrong by running a single race with a compulsory pitstop. They run to the same S2000 specifications as the WTCC and BTCC unlike these championships that feature 2 or 3 short sprint races, the STCC decides to be a bit different. From watching the first race, I think its not a good idea for it results in a spread field with little close racing action. As I said before, only Formula 1 can get away with things like that. But the Sturup racing circuit reminds me of one of those quaint Japanese racing circuits always featured in Best Motoring videos. Narrow and short they may be but perfectly suited for touring cars. I look forward to seeing the next round highlights nevertheless.

Finally, I've also attempted to follow the Australian V8 Supercar Development Series. I've heard so much about this that I actually want to like it. But it suffers two problems.

Firstly, there's no variety. There are only two makes of cars. It might as well be a one make championship. No matter how good the racing might be, I always feel there's just something missing.

Secondly, like the STCC, I have no idea who these guys are apart from James Courtney and Paul Radisich and only because these guys have raced in Europe. Craig Lowdnes? Who he?

But rather like Britain, Australia has some nice, fast circuits like Eastern Creek, Oran Park and Adelaide, so I will continue to follow this championship this season and look at developments.

This year's going to be a bumper year as far as watching racing. Eurosport is finally available on Astro, which is a relief since Astro Supersport and ESPN Star Sports are so bloody golf obsessed (fcuk Golf!!). But already I'm feeling a little overwhelmed trying to watch all these championships. GP2 is on my list and I haven't even started watching the Super GT yet. I don't think I'm going to bother with the FIA GT and Le Mans unless it happens to come on the telly when I switch it on. But I'm glad to see that the BTCC has returned in a big way. If grand prix racing goes pear shape, looks like the alternative is looking good, as it did in the 90s to Bernie E's chagrin.

6 comments:

Scott said...

Regarding the mystery identities of the V8 Supercar drivers, quite a few of the guys have raced overseas.

Off the top of my head:

Max Wilson - WPS Racing. Raced in CART, and tested Williams, Jaguar (for Michelin) and Minardi Formula 1 cars.

Steven Richards - FPR - test driver for BTCC Nissan Primera squad in late 1990s.

Jason Bright - Britek - Raced Indy Lights in 2000 and made a one-off CART appearence at Surfers Paradise. Has also raced Aston Martin sportscars.

Mark Skaife - HRT - made some sporadic appearences in F3000 in the early 1990s.

Craig Lowndes - 888 - JPMs team-mate in F3000 in 1997, but struggled.

Don't forget Marcos Ambrose from the V8s is now in NASCAR, and CART/GrandAm/IRL/A1GP racer Ryan Briscoe made his V8 Supercar debut last year too.

Qwerty said...

Pardon my ignorance. Well its all good then.

patrick said...

The WTCC is practically a 2 make series as well really - loads of BMWs and SEATs and just a trio of Chevys/Daewoos to break the monotony.

It seems odd that there are more S2000 cars in the BTCC than in the WTCC. Why don't Vauxhall or Honda try out their S2000 spec cars in the WTCC - they look as quick as the BMWs and the SEATs in the British series

Qwerty said...

Sources tell me that Honda is taking a sabbatical this year before returning next year with the Accord. And apparently Toyota will make a full works assault in the WTCC next season.

Quklis said...

This maybe old post, but still I can post a comment. I live in Finland and here it is impossible to see Swedish Touring Car Championship.. I'd love Finland would have one like that too, our series just seems so amateur racing (though there's big variety of cars, Honda Civics, Seat Toledo, VW Golf, BMW 320is, Honda Integra and even Skoda Octavia, but still only 14 drivers...

CotC said...

Hello

I just gonna drop you a lina about STCC!

STCC is a huge event in Sweden, many of the drivers have raced in England, Richard Göransson, Robert Dahlgren and Robin Rudholm, have all raced in F3UK for example, Tommy Kristofferson have several years in european Rallycross, Fredrik Ekblom has race din WTCC.

This year Seat will return too, but Opel has withdrawn. so there is

Mercedes,Audi,Volvo,Seat,BMW,Alfa,Honda,Chevrolet and Peugeot that's 9 diffrent makes in 22 drivers,

I also inform you that STCC is this year gonna be sent Live on Swedish Television and on the internet(www.svt.se/play)

I'm a little biased also because I'm assistent Clerk of the course on onw of the tracks...

/Ass. CotC