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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The BTCC supporting stars aiming to strike gold in 2024

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The British Touring Automobile Championship’s supporting sequence all the time present loads of intrigue and one other thrilling and unpredictable yr is seemingly in retailer. 

Among the many headlines is a top quality line-up within the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, the place a trio of BTCC race winners have returned to for 2024, whereas the ever-exciting Deagen Fairclough is among the many favourites for British System 4 glory, and Dan Zelos might be in search of an unprecedented third Mini Problem JCW title.

A raft of membership classes can even be making visitor appearances once more this yr – with the Legends Vehicles Elite Cup and Radical Cup UK on responsibility at Donington Park this weekend – whereas a closely upgraded Cayman will function within the fourth of the common helps, the Porsche Dash Problem GB, when it roars into motion at Snetterton subsequent month.

Here’s a rundown of among the key themes and drivers to be careful for this yr.

BTCC aces descend on Porsches

Lloyd returns to Porsche racing after a spell as Porsche GB’s junior scholar in 2012

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Picture by: Porsche/JEP

Autosport’s Porsche Carrera Cup GB season preview final yr started with the phrases: “There have been some extremely shut Porsche Carrera Cup GB title battles over time and the 2023 contest may very well be one other so as to add to that listing.” But that’s not the way it performed out. As an alternative, Adam Smalley steamrollered his option to glory, and a number of other of his anticipated rivals departed the sequence after robust begins to their campaigns.

However there are much more indicators that issues actually may very well be very shut this time round. For instance, an inflow of British Touring Automobile race winners has ensured loads of curiosity within the championship for 2024. Dan Lloyd, George Gamble and Stephen Jelley have all been Porsche frontrunners previously and have been tempted to return to one-make competitors for this yr.

“I’m mega excited to be again right here – it appears like I’m coming again to my roots; I feel lots of people overlook I did lots of Porsche and GT racing,” says Lloyd, who was fourth within the standings in 2013 and has joined up with Toro Verde for 2024.

“It seems to be like an thrilling yr for the championship as properly – actually aggressive with lots of Professionals, and it creates that little bit of buzz with just a few of us going to it [from the BTCC]. It’s good to be in a one-make sequence, the place it’s all all the way down to me. It comes with a little bit of stress but it surely’s stress I’m completely satisfied to have.”

Lloyd factors out {that a} lack of dry pre-season testing means he goes into the marketing campaign “somewhat bit on the again foot” as he readjusts to GT equipment after eight years in tin-tops.

“My focus is to get some factors banked at Donington Park and be taught as a lot as I can and go from there,” he states. “I’m definitely not going to underestimate the competitors.”

That competitors doesn’t simply embrace BTCC returnees, as loads of different gifted drivers have been attracted onto this yr’s grid. Becoming a member of Gamble at Century Motorsport – which received final season’s groups’ title – is 2021 British GT4 champion Will Burns, again racing after a yr on the sidelines following the beginning of his daughter. After having fun with success with Century previously, he’s trying ahead to the brand new problem.

On his return to racing, Burns is part of Century’s line-up alongside Gamble

On his return to racing, Burns is a part of Century’s line-up alongside Gamble

Picture by: Porsche/JEP

“I’m simply attempting to stand up to hurry with a very totally different automobile to what I’m used to,” says Burns. “British GT has obtained ABS so that they let you know to smash the brakes as exhausting as you possibly can and, for those who try this within the Cup automobile, you flatspot all of your tyres. It’s a really area of interest driving fashion you want however, every lap that goes by, it can begin clicking.”

Different eye-catching names on the grid embrace 2021 British System 4 conqueror and GB3 frontrunner Matthew Rees (one among Jelley’s Staff Parker Racing stablemates), whereas System Ford ace Andrew Rackstraw is dovetailing his single-seater exploits with a Porsche marketing campaign at JTR.

He’s joined by new Porsche GB Junior James Wallis and, given Smalley continued a long term of triumphs for scholarship winners, the previous GT Cup and British GT racer definitely can’t be discounted.

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However, whereas there are such a lot of new and returning names on this yr’s combine, there are nonetheless just a few acquainted faces from final season, too. Josh Malin was one of many shock performers on his option to third within the standings, regardless of solely becoming a member of from the third spherical after changing Gus Burton at Century.

“I went to Thruxton, which is my native observe, and simply thought, ‘I’m again within the automobile, heck let’s go and revel in it’, and I completed second and third in my first rounds again after 10 months!” Malin remembers. “It was fairly a shock but additionally fairly humbling due to all of the assist I had.

“Had I been informed I’d have completed third doing three-quarters of the season, I’d have thought you’re having amusing. It’s given me good confidence going into this yr and, hopefully, I can replicate these outcomes.”

The 2020 Ginetta GT5 Problem title winner is now planning a full season with Dino Zamparelli’s new Race Drive squad, and is in search of to say that elusive first win and launch a championship cost.

“The competitors, as all the time, goes to be extremely robust so I’m ready for a giant championship combat,” says Malin, who factors out that, whereas Race Drive could also be a brand new workforce, it has loads of Porsche expertise amongst its engineering ranks.

Malin (centre) is eager to impress after a promising campaign in 2023

Malin (centre) is raring to impress after a promising marketing campaign in 2023

Picture by: Porsche/JEP

Becoming a member of Malin on the operation is Harry Foster, who might be in search of to construct upon his maiden sequence race win within the penultimate 2023 spherical at Silverstone.

Predicting who will finish the yr on high is extremely difficult – even the Professional-Am ranks function the likes of Walter Hayes Trophy winner Oliver White and former W Sequence driver Abbie Eaton – however all of the substances definitely appear to be in place for a genuinely shut combat after final season’s battle considerably fizzled out.

The 2023 shock bundle in search of consistency in F4

One of the vital memorable sights of British System 4 final yr was Deagen Fairclough rocketing up the order within the opening laps of races. The Fiesta Junior graduate threw warning to the wind with a few of his strikes and gained fairly a popularity. After securing his place on the grid by successful ROKiT’s sim racing shootout, he was keen to indicate he deserved to be within the sequence. However even Fairclough admits he was “too keen” at instances.

“I feel I used to be somewhat bit reckless in the beginning!” he says. “We may have doubtlessly obtained the title final yr if I had the fitting mindset.”

Fairclough says he has discovered loads from a marketing campaign wherein he took three wins and 5 additional podiums, regardless of being the only real JHR Developments driver for among the yr – a troublesome job for a rookie going up in opposition to four-car squads and their mountains of knowledge. He now feels that he’s “extra chilled” after becoming a member of the powerhouse Hitech GP workforce for this season.

“I don’t need to give an excessive amount of away!” he smiles when requested about what he has modified for 2024. “But it surely’s simply staying constant and never having these DNFs is so essential. At Snetterton, we had a DNF and we had unfavourable factors from it. We have been solely third within the championship on the finish, so if we had just a few extra factors, we may have been within the combat.

“But it surely was my debut yr in single-seaters. I’d gone from rubbing doorways to having to depart house in every single place. However now I’ve executed a full season, I’ve executed the UAE championship, there’s a lot I’ve discovered and I’m feeling one of the best I’ve ever felt to enter a season of racing.”

Fairclough is among the F4 title favourites after some swashbuckling displays last season

Fairclough is among the many F4 title favourites after some swashbuckling shows final season

Picture by: JEP

There may be definitely no denying that Fairclough is among the favourites this time round, and he’s decided to copy Alex Dunne’s victorious 2022 marketing campaign with Hitech.

“The title is unquestionably the aim – I’m not likely aiming for something much less,” he states. “We’re right here to interrupt information.”

Fairclough is prone to face loads of opposition from inside his personal workforce this yr. Mika Abrahams is one other sophomore F4 racer and joins after an enhancing marketing campaign with Fortec wherein he grew stronger after being too younger to contest the opening three occasions. In the meantime, Reza Seewooruthun was one among simply 5 drivers to triumph in Ginetta Junior final season.

Rodin Motorsport can be prone to pose a serious menace, with all 4 of its racers having loads of F4 expertise. Early F1 Academy factors chief Abbi Pulling will return to the British championship for the rounds that don’t conflict, whereas Jack Sherwood strikes throughout from Chris Dittmann Racing and Alex Ninovic swaps from the Spanish sequence, wherein the Australian was tenth within the 2023 standings.

However James Higgins – sixth final yr in British F4 with Fortec – is maybe almost definitely to spearhead Rodin’s line-up. Initially, he was eager to graduate to GB3 for this yr however was persuaded to take a full F4 title tilt.

“Though final yr didn’t go the way in which we needed it to, I feel I nonetheless confirmed what I may do,” says Higgins, who took 4 poles and two wins. “I assumed, ‘job’s executed, we’ll transfer on.’ But it surely fully wasn’t.

“Transferring up too rapidly generally is a dangerous factor. I’m not studying something new – I do know the tracks, I do know the automobile and now I do know the workforce – so there’s no actual excuses for those who have a look at it that manner, so we will certainly attempt to get the title.”

Higgins is another promising returnee hoping to make his mark at Rodin

Higgins is one other promising returnee hoping to make his mark at Rodin

Picture by: JEP

Others to be careful for embrace Mercedes junior Yuanpu Cui at Argenti Motorsport, whereas it can even be fascinating to comply with the progress of Maxwell Dodds at Virtuosi. The previous Ginetta Junior racer has spent two years on the sidelines and solely secured his F4 seat on the eve of the season, however wish to spring a shock as he will get up to the mark. As will new squad Xcel Motorsport and its lead driver Zack Scoular.

In any case, Fairclough was not anticipated to carry out so impressively final yr, so who is aware of which contender may emerge as an surprising star of British F4’s newest line-up?

Zelos aiming for extra in Mini Problem

The Mini Problem was all about one driver final yr. Dan Zelos returned to kind in spectacular fashion and blitzed the opposition en path to his second sequence title. Now, having once more been unable to make the development to British Touring Vehicles, he has elected to stay within the sequence and attempt to accumulate extra silverware.

But it surely has been a tough low season for Excelr8 Motorsport’s reserve BTCC racer. In direction of the tip of final yr, a detailed member of the family was recognized with Parkinson’s, and Zelos will now be in search of to boost cash and consciousness for the Parkinson’s UK charity at BTCC occasions.

“It places issues into perspective,” he says of the shock information. “For us to look elsewhere with a lot happening didn’t really feel proper. We’ve had lots of good instances with Excelr8 however there wasn’t a seat obtainable within the BTCC; the following finest place to be is to proceed as their reserve driver and compete within the Mini Problem.”

But, regardless of being a confirmed Mini grasp, Zelos says “there’s all the time issues you possibly can be taught from each season – you possibly can by no means be excellent” as he embarks on a sixth marketing campaign racing the JCWs. He’s undoubtedly one of many favourites for the title, however is anticipating a far more durable problem, particularly from inside his workforce.

“Final yr I used to be the standout driver in Excelr8,” states Zelos. “This yr I can see that it’s going to be very totally different. We’ve obtained some actually fast rookies coming in – I’ve made a rod for my very own again by serving to them stand up to hurry!”

Zelos is aiming for a third Mini JCW title with Excelr8

Zelos is aiming for a 3rd Mini JCW title with Excelr8

Picture by: Matt Walker

Zelos expects Nelson King – third final yr with Graves Motorsport – and Dominic Wheatley to be aggressive, whereas reigning Cooper champion Tom Ovenden and Nathan Edwards (fifth among the many Coopers in 2023) may additionally determine strongly. However Zelos has been significantly impressed by Max Corridor to this point in testing.

“I feel he may be the shock at spherical one,” says Zelos, who additionally reckons NAPA-backed Jamie Osborne will pose a menace.

A brand new JCW Sport class has been launched for this yr and has attracted 5 drivers as an intermediate step between the Coopers and the JCWs, whereas a brand new grid-setting format has been launched, with qualifying now figuring out beginning locations for 2 of the three races. Contemplating Zelos was solely defeated as soon as in qualifying all yr in 2023, that’s maybe ominous information for the rivals trying to dethrone him.

After his dominance of 2023, can anybody stop Zelos this term?

After his dominance of 2023, can anyone cease Zelos this time period?

Picture by: Mark Chivers

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