The Autosport international show rolled in its traditional venue of the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham in the UK, once again providing fans the opportunity to get up close and personal with the cars, drivers and people behind many different championships.
There were a number of headline events for fans to enjoy, from the Live Action Arena where a huge variety of cars would complete demonstrations in one of the largest indoor areas in Europe, to driver forums and team and driver announcements ahead of the start of the 2020 race season.
For fans, the two biggest events taking place were on the main stage, where Lando Norris, fresh from being voted the F1 fan favourite driver of 2019 was on stage to answer questions and engage with fans on Saturday morning. Sunday would see Charles Leclerc take to the stage, Leclerc recently signing a new contract which will see the affable young driver stay with Ferrari until 2024.
Friday saw a slew of announcements with the main highlight being the Ford M-Sport World Rally Team unveiling their new livery and team for the 2020 WRC season. M-Sport having confirmed Esapekka Lappi as the lead driver along with Teemu Sunninen & young hopeful Gus Greensmith. M-Sport will field the youngest ever driver line-up in WRC, with a combined age of 76 years old for the teams three drivers.
Recently signed Bentley factory driver for the intercontinental GT Challenge, Seb Morris also took the Autosport stage to address his ambitions for the 2020 season as one of Britain’s rising stars in the world of GT racing.
Team parker Racing publically took the wraps off its new programme as the Bentley GT3 driver development team for the 2020 season. Team Parker also formalised its GT3 British GT driving line-up of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern, who have been competing with Team Parker Racing for the past 3 years in the GT4 category. Jones & Malvern are proven talents in the British GT championship having being crowned 2018 GT4 PRO/AM champions, though due to a run of bad luck in 2019, they were unable to defend their championship in 2019.
Throughout the weekend, there were a number of unveilings for the BTCC. BTC Racing confirmed Tom Chilton will join the team for 2020 along with Michael Crees in a third car alongside 2019 championship challenger Josh Cook, the news sees Chris Smiley displaced from the team for the 2020 season.
Trade price cars sees a brand new driver line-up for 2020 with ex-Team Hard driver Bobby Thompson joining the squad for 2020 alongside 2019 Mini Challenge champion & 2008 British GT champion James Gornall. 2019 driver Jake Hill sets off for pastures new at AMD Tuning, while fellow 2019 driver Mark Blundell called time on his racing career, after a return to racing in 2020 saw Blundell involved in a number of on-track incidents.
2017 BTCC champion Ash Sutton joins Lasertools Racing for the 2020 season alongside Aiden Moffatt in the teams pair of Infiniti’s. The team took the opportunity to unveil their car and a new sponsor in the form of RCIB insurance, with one of the new Infiniti’s also taking centre stage on the BTCC’s stand over the weekend.
Excelr8 confirmed at the tail end of 2019 their switch to a brand new car for 2020, in the form of the Hyundai i30N Fastback, it marks the first time the Korean brand has competed in the BTCC. The team had confirmed 2019 driver Rob Smith in post for 2020, with the teams second driver confirmed on Saturday as ex-BMR Subaru driver Senna Proctor.
Team Hard meanwhile prior to Autosport confirmed that they will retain Ginetta Supercup ace Carl Boardley for 2020, Boardley meanwhile will switch to an ex-WSR BMW 125 in lieu of the aging VW Passat CC. Mike Bushell meanwhile rejoins Team Hard for the 2020 season after a brief stint with AMD/Cobra Sport, subbing for Sam Tordoff who will not race in BTCC for the 2020 season.
Ciceley Motorsport unveiled an un-changed squad for 2020. Adam Morgan & Dan Rowbottom, the latter racing under the Cataclean banner once again will continue to campaign the aging, but still competitive Mercedes A-Class.
The first public appearance of the first hybrid BTCC car is expected to take place on the 7th & 8th of July, which will likely see the car run demonstration laps as well.
On Saturday, I took the opportunity to catch up with Micky Butler from Goodyear Tyres, 2019 runner-up Dan Cammish & BTCC stalwart Jason Plato to give a flavour of what we can expect from the championship in 2020.
Speaking with Micky Butler from Goodyear tyres, the change to Goodyear’s will not see a paradigm shift in performance, at least not in the short term. Butler explained that whilst there have been some very mild tweaks to the tyres, there was no wish to radically revise the tyres as the outgoing tyre provides a level playing field and works well.
Where Butler went onto explain is that Goodyear is looking forward to the new BTCC Hybrid regulations and is diligently working on the tyres those new cars will use. Butler explained “the (new) Hybrid’s will place more load on the tyres, especially under braking” due to expected increased straightline performance, and an expected weight increase compared to the current BTCC machinery, for Butler and the guys and girls at Goodyear, it is an exciting time to relish the upcoming challenge of developing the new tyres for the hybrid BTCC cars.
Dan Cammish, 2019 BTCC runner-up outlined his thoughts and hopes for the 2020 season, having lost the championship just a couple of laps from the close of the final race of the championship, Dan described it in his own words as “gutting.” On the 2020 season, Dan states “the truth is at the moment we have a good chance” and “I see no reason at all why we won’t come into the last round with a chance of winning” as far as the championship is concerned.
In regards to the changeover to the Goodyear tyres for 2020, Cammish feels that there won’t be any significant change in performance caused by the tyres and it won’t see the grid being mixed up. Though Cammish feels that with two weekends where the teams have to use all three tyre compounds, this will present an opportunity to capitalise, stating “the tracks where there’s lots of natural grip tends to suit our car” something which will suit Honda, particularly at the recently re-surfaced Silverstone National & International rounds.
Jason Plato reflecting on the 2019 season felt that the car had good pace in the opening half of 2019, with the Vauxhall Astra coming good in the second half of the season , Plato stating “in the second half of the year I really started to understand and get the car to where I wanted it.” Plato meanwhile was bullish about his intentions for the 2020 season, in that is to go in and win the championship.
When asked about what changes had been done to the car for the 2020 season, Plato was candid in his response about what developments had been done to the car, but did go on to say “we’ve been working on the engine, installation, cooling package and just trying to maximise everything.” though Plato did feel that “ultimately we are at a disadvantage because we’ve got the Toca engine” Plato expanded that generally the disadvantage of the Toca spec engine, compared to the factory Honda, BMW & Ford engines equates to about half a second a lap, more at some tracks than others, citing Knockhill & Oulton Park as tricky circuits.
In regards to the change to Goodyear tyres, Plato felt that the change would make zero difference.
The closing piece of news, and probably the most impactive on the championship moving forward is the BTCC engine tender for the new regulations has been opened for the new 2022 regulations. As per the current rules, TOCA will supply a cost-effective engine to customer teams which is developed by a technical partner. The current TOCA engine is built by Swindon Powertrain, with the new tender opening up, Swindon, along with a number of others have until January 20th to submit expressions of interest to build the next TOCA spec engine. It is already confirmed that Cosworth will develop the 2022 regulation hybrid system, though there is no word yet as to who has submitted an expression towards being the next TOCA engine supplier.
With a number of big announcements being made at Autosport and with a few teams still to confirm their 2020 drivers and cars, there is no doubt in anyone’s minds that the BTCC is shaping up for another stellar year in 2020, and with lots to look forward to in regards to the new regulations in the next year.