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BTCC 2012 – Who can stop Honda?

The 2012 British Touring Car Championship is all set up to be one of the most exciting and unpredictable seasons in recent memory as a raft of new teams’, drivers’ and cars appearing on the grid, alongside the established names.

The biggest news from the winter is that RML and Chevrolet have withdrawn from the BTCC to focus on their WTCC campaign, while MG have returned to the series in a full manufacturer position, with the project being run by multiple Champions Triple Eight.

With the introduction of the new NGTC regulations in the BTCC, as well as the S2000 Hybrid cars, the battle for the Championship is all set to go down to the wire, in typical BTCC tradition.

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Last years’ Champions, Honda Racing Team have remained and kept the same driver line up in Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden. Neal beat Shedden to the title in 2011 and will start the season as one of the favourites while Shedden cannot be discounted, as he has improved his Championship position in each of the last two seasons.

The car is new though, as the team move on from the S2000 hybrid Honda Civic and move to the full NGTC Civic. A mean looking car and quick out of the box, the team are yet to complete a race run without reliability problems and this could set the team back in the hunt for the titles.

The best of the non Honda drivers (and best of the naturally aspirated drivers) in 2011 was Jason Plato at the wheel of the Silverline Chevrolet Cruze. He secured more wins than any other driver in 2011 and took the Championship fight down to the final weekend.

2012 has seen him jump ship and join Triple Eight and the MG programme, with Andy Neate as team-mate. The lateness of the deal could mean that progress for Plato and the team could be compromised slightly but the team will get there. Neate joins the team from Team Aon, who have moved to pastures new, taking Tom Chilton and James Nash with them. Consistency will be the key for Neate as will the breakthrough podium finish.

Motorbase Performance has a new name but not a new car. No longer are they called Airwaves Racing but Redstone Racing, and they have expanded their driver line up to a three car assault with young Irish driver Aron Smith joining Mat Jackson and Liam Griffin in the team.

With Redstone Racing keeping the same package, the onus will be on them to make the early running before the NGTC team’s catch up with them and then start to move ahead. This season could offer Jackson his best opportunity yet to finish the season as the British Touring Car Champion.

Another outfit remaining with the same car but expanding their driver line up is the WSR run eBay Motors team. The team, who took Colin Turkington to the 2009 Championship, will continue to run their BMW 320si cars but with a new Neil Brown Engineering turbocharged engine.

WSR have also added a third car for Tom Onslow-Cole, who made his debut for the team in 2007. Onslow-Cole raced for Team Aon in 2011, having started off at AmD Milltek Racing. He joins existing drivers Rob Collard and Nick Foster.

eBay Motors could spring a few surprises with their turbocharged BMW’s, and with Collard and Onslow-Cole in their ranks they should secure race wins and have a chance of outright Championship glory.

Pirtek Racing have kept the same driver line up for the 2012 campaign but have switched cars. Andrew Jordan proved himself as a star of the future during the early part of the 2011 campaign and stayed in title contention for the title until the final few rounds while former Clio Cup racer Jeff Smith provided some moments of excitement for the fans.

2012 sees the team switch from the S2000 Vauxhall Vectra to a pair of NGTC Honda Civics, built by Team Dynamics. They start off on a level footing with the works outfit, with Jordan a contender for the title while Smith should secure podium finishes.

Top of the NGTC runners in 2011 was Dynojet’s Frank Wrathall. He returns with the updated Toyota Avensis and will look to continue his progress and secure that first outright victory, having secured the first points finish and the first podium for an NGTC car.

A lack of pre season testing could hamper the 2010 Ginetta G50 Champion’s progress but at the same time he has knowledge of the car and the larger tyres and brakes. He will be a contender for wins and podiums.

Speedworks Motorsport also return with their Toyota Avensis and an expanded driver line up as 2011 Ginetta GT Supercup Champion Adam Morgan joins Tony Hughes for 2012. Morgan faces a baptism of fire as he enters his third season of racing while Hughes will look to benefit from working with former double Champion James Thompson during the off season.

Rob Austin Racing return with their Audi A4’s and Austin himself is expecting big things in 2012. He drives one of the cars at Brands Hatch while the second will be driven by former Clio Cup and Porsche Carrera Cup GB driver Mark Hazell throughout the season, the first Welshman to enter for a full BTCC campaign in twenty-plus years.

Welch Motorsport will enter their first full campaign with their Proton Persona for Dan Welch, whilst Thorney Motorsport has entered a brace of NGTC Vauxhall Insignia’s for John Thorne and Rob Hedley, taking the total number of full NGTC entries in the 2012 BTCC to fourteen.

There are further entries from Tony Gilham and Team HARD, running the Honda Civic which Shedden raced to second overall in 2011, Lea Wood in the BINZ Racing Vauxhall Vectra, Team ES Racing with the ex-Triple Eight Vectras for Chris James and Dave Newsham and Ollie Jackson in the AmD VW Golf, meaning that twenty five drivers from fourteen different teams in nine different makes of car will look to emulate Matt Neal and be crowned Champion at the end of the season.

Who will come out on top come the final race at Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit in October?

The smart money has to be on one of the two Honda drivers, and their progress will depend on how quickly they can get to the bottom of their apparent reliability problems. MG will be up there with Plato but, like Honda, they need to unlock the true pace of the car and find reliability.

Could the potential issues for Honda and MG allow Ford or BMW to be crowned Champion in 2012? With Jackson, Collard and Onslow-Cole, any one of those three could upset the manufacturers and finish on top of the pile.

Brands Hatch this weekend will offer the first indications to how the season will pan out and Touring-Cars.Net will have full coverage of the opening weekend of the season.

Touring-Cars.Net 2012 BTCC Predictions:

Drivers Champion: Gordon Shedden
Manufacturers Champion: Honda Yuasa Racing Team
Teams Championship: Honda Yuasa Racing Team
Independents Championship: Mat Jackson
Independents Teams’ Championship: eBay Motors

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