The new Touring Car Racing category set for its NZ launch in 2020 is a good move says legendary British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) team owner and UK based Kiwi Dick Bennetts.
Speaking to Talkmotorsport this week, Bennetts said that “It may upset a few V8 fans but TCR could work very well attracting a lot of dealers back into the sport.
“They are a very quick category. We were in Spain and there were two Golf GTi TCRs’. They were only 1.5 seconds a lap slower than our cars and that’s on a 1min 24 sec lap.”
First introduced by former World Touring Car Championship manager Marcello Lotti in 2014 as a cost-effective touring car racing alternative, TCR cars are based on four or five door production motor cars powered by a 2.0 litre turbocharged engine. Most of the production vehicle is retained (bodyshell, suspension layout) while the cars have upgraded brakes and aerodynamics for racing.
All race cars are then subject to Balance of Performance (BoP) which makes adjustments for the differences in speed of different marque, ensuring there is close racing.
Bennetts team, West Surrey Racing (WSR), are this season running in the BTCC with the brand-new BMW 330i M Sport representing Team BMW and BMW Pirtek Racing.
Last weekend at the opening round at Brands Hatch, all three cars finished all three races with one race win to BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan.
Originally from Dunedin, Bennetts headed to the UK in the late 1960s as an engineering graduate, eventually working with drivers’ such as Niki Lauda and Stefan Johansson. He was to establish West Surrey Racing (WSR) in 1981, winning the British Formula 3 title that season with British driver Jonathon Palmer.
The team was to go on and win five more F3 titles with Palmer, Ayrton Senna, Mauricio Gugelmin, Mike Hakkinen and Rubens Barricello before WSR switched to running a team in the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) in 1996.
WSR had been chosen by Ford to run in the BTCC as a manufacturing team with Kiwi driver Paul Radisich and Brit Steve Robertson. Still running in the BTCC today, the team has switched to Honda in 1999, MG in 2001 and then to BMW in 2007, which it still races successfully today.
Ironically while the TCR category is taking off around the rest of the world, it is not making any headway in the UK.
“This is because we have the BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) and it is well established,” commented Bennetts.
“The BTCC has a huge following. Each round has live TV and free-to-air to the whole country so it gets the coverage. For example last Sunday at Brands Hatch we had three races on the Sunday. 35,000 fans turned out in the damp and fog to see 30-cars on the grid.
“The support package is great as well. The Ginetta Juniors have 20-25 grid of 14-17-year-old kids racing! The Ginetta V6s’ have 350hp and can have similar lap times to us at some circuits.
TOCA, formally trading as BARC (TOCA) Ltd, is an organiser of motorsport events in the United Kingdom and its race meeting have the following categories known as the TOKA Package:
– British Touring Car Championship
– British Formula Ford Championship
– Ginetta GT Supercup
– Ginetta Junior Championship
– Porsche Carrera Cup GB
– Renault Clio Cup United Kingdom
“While having three races in one day is great for live TV, for us it is very demanding. At some circuits we cannot even start the engine until lunch-time due to noise restrictions.
“We have 27 personnel at the track for three cars. We only have one to two hours between races and you need people to fix problems quickly. It’s all OK if there are no dramas but this doesn’t necessarily happen.
“We carry a lot of spares which is a high costs but one you have to do if a manufacturer is supporting your team. Last year we even had a spare chassis, easily a $40k investment which we didn’t use in the end. This year we don’t have one, but to win you have to spend and have spares and people on board ready for anything to happen.”
Bennetts acknowledges that the TCR provides a cheaper form of racing for teams.
“Our cars are low volume so expensive to build whereas the TCR manufacturers are producing many more. It (TCR) should be like the BTCC and provide some close racing. At Silverstone last season we had 29 cars all within 1 second (of each other) on a minute lap. Strategy is the key along with reliability!”
MotorSport New Zealand announced recently that it has reached an agreement with WSC Ltd, the global rights holders of TCR, to introduce a national series in New Zealand in 2020.
Since its inception in 2015, the TCR concept has quickly grown in popularity with four major TCR regional series such as TCR Europe, TCR Asia, etc, plus 15 national series utilising the TCR regulations as their main rulebook.
Last year, the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) replaced the FIA World Touring Car Championship, and TCR also has its own category in the global 24H Series of 24-hour endurance races. Closer to home, the newly-created TCR Australia commences its first season of racing in May this year.