A BTCC team looking for a step forward. By Matt James
o and look at the speed trap figures from the last five meetings of the British Touring Car Championship in 2015. Go and look at the sector times. Go and look at the bare results.
Motorbase Performance dominated, and therefore it would be the logical choice as a favourite for the 2016 BTCC silverware. And about time too: after 10 years in the top flight of tin-tops, there have been 18 victories. For a team at the forefront of the category, that is a relatively meagre return.
But that flourish of four wins over the latter period of 2015 set tongues wagging. And it wasn’t just the wins: it was the way they were accomplished. Despite only contesting half a season due to budget constraints, the cars simply flew.
Lead driver Mat Jackson was able to dominate. Looking on jealously was 2013 champion Andrew Jordan. Saddled with a less-than-competitive MG6 GT, he could only stare up the road at the Ecoboost-powered Ford with astonishment. But Jordan has put that right by signing for the Kent-based team, alongside Jackson, for the 2016 campaign.
Others up and down the pitlane are suggesting that Motorbase Performance will have its rocket ship ‘turned down’ by officials. The team, naturally, feels that the strong speed at the end of 2015 should not lead to any dent in its prospects for 2016 – but there are other factors that could drop it back in to the competitive pack.
Team manager Oly Collins explains: “We feel we should be as competitive as we were last season. We built the car to the regulations and the engine was put through the cylinder head flow test [the checks designed to keep the engines equal]. We were performing within the regulations. We had a car that was strong in the corners and one which hardly ran with any excess of success ballast, because we were latecomers to the championship.”
Despite the protestations from others, the prospects for Motorbase are good this year, but the thorn in everyone’s side will be the raft of new control parts from RML. They include new subframes, wishbones, power steering, uprights and hubs, which will alter the handling of the cars.
But with Jordan and Jackson at the controls, Collins is confident the learning process can be done quickly: “If you look at it, we have the best of both worlds in terms of our driver line-up. We have Mat, who has been with the Ngtc-spec Ford Focus since its inception halfway through 2012 and that means he knows the car inside out. Then we have AJ, who has been successful in other NGTC chassis and who can bring his expertise. That should help us get on top of it quickly.”
The team has been out back-tobacking the old kit with the new kit, bolting on settings that would work on the 2015-spec car and seeing how they react with the new RML parts. The initial running was positive.
“The change in the parts is going to be a big thing, and I think it is going to shake up the order – more than we have seen in the recent seasons,” adds Collins. “It is going be the hardest season to win for a long time.”
Despite the challenges that are ahead, new recruit Jordan is already fizzing with enthusiasm for the year ahead. The former MG man decided on the switch late last year, and there were several solid reasons behind his choice.
“Firstly, wherever you go, you want the car to be quick – that is number one,” says the 26-year-old Pirtek-backed driver. “And the car was fast last season. Then, sponsors are important and you want to go where you know they will be looked after.
“But, with Motorbase, you get an extraordinary passion to win. You get the impression that [team principal] David Bartrum would move a mountain to conquer the BTCC. He would be shouting it from the rooftops if he did, and that was a very important factor for me.
“When I won the title back in 2013, it was with my family [Eurotech] team and we were so dedicated to winning. Whether that meant spending a few extra hours in the workshop at the end of a working day, or spending a little bit more money, then we would. I can see that passion at Motorbase already.
“I know this might sound like PR guff, but it isn’t: I feel so at home at Motorbase already. The team works hard and is prepared to go the extra mile. People say it is a risk to join a team that has yet to win the championship, but I turn that around – the team are hungrier to win than any other out there.”
And Jackson too, a stalwart of the squad with six seasons already under his belt, is confident of a consistent challenge in 2016. “We have been together for such a long time that I know how the team works and they know how I work, so that is going to be a huge boost for me,” he explains. “There have been some changes in the staffing line-up and I will have a new engineer this year [Piers Phillips has left and Carl Owen has joined from Team BMR].
“Last year was frustrating because we had to sit out the first part, but the flipside was that when we did arrive, the car was immense. We are desperate to carry that over, but the new parts will make it tough. Having said that, there is a desire and passion within the team. We are in a good place, and this year does represent a great chance for us.” ■
GT racing in Britain is currently big business, and few championships reflect the current growth spurt as well as the GT Cup.
Sure, British GT is also in rude health with sell-out grids, but that’s perhaps to be expected. It is Britain’s top flight sportscar championship. It’s where the professionals and those that aspire to the international stage flock to get themselves noticed.
But there’s another side to GT racing other than the pursuit of a career – these drivers are simply the pure enthusiasts.
Many don’t pretend to be, or even want to be, professional racing drivers. They just love their cars and their motorsport, and are prepared to invest time and great amounts of cash in enjoying their hobby.
GT cars – GT3 in particular – are not cheap. Some cost upwards of £400,000, and that’s before you’ve even thrown spare tyres, fuel or running costs at them. To entice drivers and teams to run in a club-level championship can be a tough ask, especially with the bright lights of British GT not far away.
But what the GT Cup has done so well in recent years is find its niche. It doesn’t pretend to be a professional driver-only, career-focused championship. Instead, it has established itself as the best of both worlds – a well-run and customerfocused series, but with just enough of a professional element to also make it a perfect stepping stone on to bigger things.
Last season the championship featured 100 drivers and an average grid size of 25 cars and that is