BTCC at Donington Park – April 2019

For a long time now, the Formula 1 Championship has hogged most of the limelight and the headlines as far as motor sport goes.  And yet, there’s only one race from the series held in the UK, for which tickets are exceedingly pricey, and following a change in media rights agreed a couple of years ago, the races are no longer broadcast live on free-to-view tv channels any more. It’s where the big money is, but it is not necessarily where you will find the most exciting racing, or even the best spectator days out. There are all manner of other race championships that take place in the UK in a season, moving around the major circuits in the country. One that has refound form and popularity in recent years after a period in the relative doldrums is the BTCC, or British Touring Car Championship, to give it the full title. I recall the epic battles of the 1980s, with Ford Sierra Cosworths and BMW M3s fighting it at every race, and then in the early 1990s when a field of cars which looked like your everyday family saloon –  Mondeo, Vectra, Primera, Accord, Laguna and the like – would do battle (sometimes quite literally as collisions were all part of the event, it seemed!) providing a thrilling spectacle. Alfa Romeo won the title in 1994 with their 155 driven by Gabriele Tarquini, and wen I took delivery of its bigger brother, the 164, early the following year, it came with a sticker in the rear window proudly reminding everyone of this fact. The last few years have seen a real renaissance in this now 62 year old series, with a large entry field, a mix of manufacturer supported and privateer cars. Along with a couple of friends, I went to the now-closed Rockingham circuit in August 2017 on practice day and thoroughly enjoyed it. Plans were declared even on the day that we would go to at least one event in 2018, but sadly diary congestion meant these came to naught. It was something we planned not to allow to happen in 2019, with Donington selected as the venue to attend. This is an excellent spectator circuit, and with it being only the second race in the championship, it was likely we see some of the new cars and driver combinations as they were getting use to each other. As the weekend drew nearer, so the weather forecast looked increasingly worrying. Donington can be a very cold and bleak place, and the prospect of heavy rain made me wonder whether the plan would have to be abandoned. Whilst my diary was only ever going to permit attendance on the Saturday, practice day, my friend Andy had been talking of camping so he could see race day as well, but the forecast just looked too grim for that to have any appeal even for him. With steady rain in prospect all day, and temperatures that were massively down on the glorious sunshine of the preceding Easter weekend, we decided we would give it a go, and with warm clothes and a thick coat each, made an early start to take in a day of activities.


This, the 62nd season of the BTCC, is the ninth in which the cars have had to conform to the Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) technical specification. Whilst the outlines of the cars may looks similar to the models that you can buy from your local showroom, everything underneath is quite different, and these are highly optimised machines designed to cope with not just the challenges of the track but also the different conditions that could be experienced thanks to the vaguaries of the British weather. There are five different manufacturer supported cars in 2019, with two different teams entering the all-new BMW 330i based on the new shape G20 model, and Toyota’s new Corolla also being a newcomer to the series, along with the Subaru Levorg GT, Honda Civic Type R and Vauxhall Astra which featured last year. Thirteen privateer team entries feature a wide variety of cars, some of which are now “obsolete” models, such as the MG6, VW CC and previous generation Honda Civic Type R as well as the Audi S3, Ford Focus RS, BMW 125i and the Mercedes A Class. There are 30 drivers competing, some of whom are old hands, such as Jason Plato – driving an Astra this ear – Matt Neal and Colin Turkington as well as some more recent additions to the list and this was the second round of the 2019 season.

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The cars went out several times during the day, with untimed practice in the morning and qualifying in the afternoon. In the morning, the track started out very wet, but it gradually dried out, so tyre choice was always going to be important, and there was constant and frantic activity with most of the cars doing a couple of laps, then coming in for a tyre change before going out again. It turned out that the teams were all using the opportunity to scrub in every set of tyres that they had, slicks and wet weather tyres, not sure which they were going to need when the time on the clock would really matter. We got a vantage point at the end of the pit garages where we could see one of the Honda privateer teams hard at work in one of the sessions.

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What we did not get much of was access to the pit garages. Perhaps because of the cold, many of them were closed off at the back, and those that were not had barriers across them meaning that the best you could do was get a peak through a small gap, not ideal for the photographer. Some even had signs on them saying “invited guests only”. The guys at Team BMW did spot us taking photos and invited us right in for a closer look at their new cars and to talk briefly to a couple of the mechanics, which was appreciated.

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With only one small covered grandstand on site, which was reserved for VIPs (and pretty empty!) we were unsure where to got to watch qualifying, but managed to get a great vantage point on the balcony of the hotel/hospitality unit just by the entrance to the pits and start/finish line. We’d been up there early in the morning, but the area was not really supposed to be in use, and when others had spotted us, the security guard – reluctantly had asked that we leave – but by standing further along the balcony, we could only be seen from across the track, and she was happy to let us watch qualifying from there as long as we wanted, which was really nice. This is where the limitations of my camera became apparent, as it is really set up for static shots, so there are only a few, and not particularly good, pics of the cars on track, generally taking as they were slowing to come in the pits, but they serve as an illustration of some of what we saw and enjoyed.

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There are a series of support races which go with the BTCC, meaning that whether you go on practice day or race day,  you will get to see all manner of different types of car in action, and with drivers ranging from the enthusiastic but young (in some cases too young even to hold a road car licence, we learned), you will see everything from some rather cold and over-exuberant racing to smooth and competent race prowess.


I’d seen the Ginetta G40 cars in action at the Oulton Park the previous weekend and here they were again. There are actually two different Championships here, which is one reason why there seemed to be examples of this small sports car all over the place. The 2019 Michelin Ginetta Junior Championship is a multi-event, one make motor racing championship held across England and Scotland, featuring a mix of professional motor racing teams and privately funded drivers, aged between 14 and 17, competing in Ginetta G40s that conform to the technical regulations for the championship. It forms part of the extensive program of support categories built up around the British Touring Car Championship centrepiece. This is the thirteenth Ginetta Junior Championship, and the first with new title sponsor Michelin. Like all motorsport,  you need deep pockets, or some serious sponsorship to take part, as with races taking place from the first at Brands Hatch three weeks before this one, to the season finale also at Brands on 13 October transport and logistics will be a significant addition to the cost of the car, the tyres and repairing any damage.

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The 2019 Michelin Ginetta GT4 Supercup is also a multi-event, one make GT motor racing championship held across England and Scotland, also featuring a mix of professional motor racing teams and privately funded drivers, but they compete in the larger and more potent Ginetta G55s that conform to the technical regulations for the championship. 2019 is the ninth Ginetta GT4 Supercup, having rebranded from the Ginetta G50 Cup, which ran between 2008 and 2010. The season commenced on 1 April at Brands Hatch – on the circuit’s Indy configuration – and concludes on 30 September at the same venue, utilising the Grand Prix circuit, after twenty-two races held at eight meetings, all in support of the 2019 British Touring Car Championship.

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The 2019 F4 British Championship is a multi-event, Formula 4 open-wheel single seater motor racing championship held across the UK, featuring a mix of professional motor racing teams and privately funded drivers, competing in Formula 4 cars that conform to the technical regulations for the championship. This, the third season, following on from the British Formula Ford Championship, is the fifth year that the cars conform to the FIA’s Formula 4 regulations. The season commenced on 6 April at Brands Hatch – on the circuit’s Indy configuration – and will conclude on 13 October at the same venue, utilising the Grand Prix circuit, after thirty races to be held at ten meetings, all in support of the 2019 British Touring Car Championship. The Rookie Cup continues with the top prize being free entry into the 2020 season.


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This is the costly one! The 2019 Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain is a multi-event, one-make motor racing championship held across England and Scotland and like the other series, features a mix of professional motor racing teams and privately funded drivers, competing in Porsche 911 GT3 cars that conform to the technical regulations for the championship. The 2019 season is the 17th Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain season, and it commenced on 6 April at Brands Hatch – on the circuit’s Indy configuration – and will finish on 13 October at the same venue, utilising the Grand Prix circuit, after sixteen races at eight meetings. Fourteen of the races will be held in support of the 2018 British Touring Car Championship, with a round in support of the World Endurance Championship at Silverstone.

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The 2019 Renault UK Clio Cup is another of the  multi-event, one make motor racing championship held across England, featuring a mix of professional motor racing teams and privately funded drivers competing in the Clio Renaultsport 200 Turbo EDC that conforms to the technical regulations for the championship. Organised by the British Automobile Racing Club, it forms part of the extensive program of support categories built up around the British Touring Car Championship. This is the 24th and final Renault Clio Cup United Kingdom season and the 44th of UK motorsport undertaken by Renault and Renault Sport.

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Final series taking place here was a round of the MINI Challenge. With factory back by MINI UK, this is another series which has been running for several years, and which will appear at 8 different events during 2019, primarily supporting the British GT3 series. There are various sub categories within the series, for Cooper and JCW cars, and strict regulations on mechanicals and tyres to try to ensure that victory goes to the driver with the best skill rather than the deepest pockets.

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There was a line of Porsche models on display at the end of the pit complex, which gave us the chance to compare and contrast differing generations of the iconic 911 model, with the latest 992 version that has just gone on sale, being one of the cars on show.

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Parked next to it was a 991R. Based on GT3 RS version of the 991.2 model, this was unveiled at the 2016 Geneva Show. Production was limited to 991 units worldwide and to get one, you had to have been told about it by Porsche before the public launch, and “qualified” by the number and type of Porsches you had previously purchased. Needless to say, demand massively outstripped supply and despite Porsche’s best efforts to prevent it, cars were soon changing hands for a lot more than the initial asking price. The 911R  has an overall weight of 1,370 kg (3,020 lb), a high-revving 4.0  litre six-cylinder naturally aspirated engine from the 991 GT3 RS, with a six-speed manual transmission, while air conditioning and audio systems are removable options to save weight.  The car accelerates from 0–60 mph in 3.7 seconds and has a top speed of 320 km/h (200 mph). This one had a sale sticker on it, and you could have had pretty much all the other models alongside it for the same money.

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Rather less subtle was this 997 GT3 RS, a tempting proposition at half the price of that 911R.  The 911 GT3 RS was first announced in early 2006 as a homologation version of the GT3 RSR racing car for competition events like Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The drivetrain of the RS is based on the 911 GT3, except for the addition of a lightweight flywheel and closer gear ratios for further improved response under acceleration. Unlike the GT3, the RS is built on the body and chassis of the 911 Carrera 4 and Turbo, and accordingly has a wider rear track for better cornering characteristics on the track.
Visually, the RS is distinguished by its distinctive colour scheme – bright orange or green with black accents, which traces its roots to the iconic Carrera RS of 1973. The plastic rear deck lid is topped by a wide carbon-fibre rear wing. The front airdam has been fitted with an aero splitter to improve front downforce and provide more cooling air through the radiator. The European version of the RS is fitted with lightweight plexiglass rear windows and a factory-installed roll cage. Production of the first generation 997 GT3 RS ended in 2009, with worldwide production estimated to be under 2,000 vehicles. In August 2009, Porsche announced the second generation of the 997 GT3 RS with an enlarged 3.8-litre engine having a power output of 450 PS (444 hp), a modified suspension, dynamic engine mounts, new titanium sport exhaust, and modified lightweight bodywork. In April 2011, Porsche announced the third generation of the 997 GT3 RS with an enlarged 4.0-litre engine having a power output of 500 PS (493 hp), Porsche designed the GT3 RS 4.0 using lightweight components such as bucket seats, carbon-fibre bonnet and front wings, and poly carbonate plastic rear windows for weight reduction, while using suspension components from the racing version. Other characteristics include low centre of gravity, a large rear wing and an aerodynamically optimised body. The lateral front air deflection vanes, a first on a production Porsche, increase downforce on the front axle. Aided by a steeply inclined rear wing, aerodynamic forces exert an additional 190 kg, enhancing the 911 GT3 RS 4.0’s grip to the tarmac. The GT3 RS 4.0 weighs 1,360 kg.

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Joining these was the GTS version of the current 718 Cayman model.

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We did also come across some other recent Porsche models parked up inside the circuit, including another example of the new 992 generation.

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Ginetta cars have a showroom in the building complex that houses the main offices. Although there were people in there, it was locked, clearly set out ready for invited guests to enjoy the tempting looking buffet lunch that was being set out, so we could look from the outside, which was a shame, as we spotted the Akula parked up and the picture here had to be taken through the window. Ginetta took almost everyone by surprise when they unveiled this £340,000 hypercar at the 2019 Geneva Show. This is definitely new territory for Ginetta but when you think about it, there is some logic behind the car. After all, Ginetta is racing against Toyota in LMP1, they built the first LMP3 car with the blessing of the Le Mans organisers, and their  GT4 car is very successful globally as is their junior racing series, all of which means they have all the design and technical capability for a project like this. And Ginetta boss, Lawrence Tomlinson discreetly contacted the circle of enthusiasts he knows and came up with a handful of orders from serial Ferrari-Lamborghini-McLaren buyers who know a good driver’s car when they see one. This quickly expanded to 14 as word spread, accounting for 60% of the 20 units to be made in its first production year (2020). The Akula is a low, aggressively styled but essentially practical front/mid-engined coupé. It has a bespoke, all-carbonfibre tub chassis built alongside the company’s race cars and clad with carbonfibre body panels. It is shaped for an aerodynamic performance normally not possible in road cars and powered by an extremely light and compact Ginetta-designed 90deg V8 engine of just over 6.0 litres, producing around 600bhp and 520lb ft of torque. The gearbox is a unique Ginetta-developed creation, a six-speed sequential paddle-shift unit with the diff connected to the engine (and multi-plate clutch) by a short carbonfibre tailshaft. The engine, dry sumped and fuelled by Ginetta’s own throttle bodies, has its block milled entirely from billet aluminium for extreme lightness and strength. The very compact unit is normally aspirated for instant throttle response. Ginetta’s codename for it was BB6 (the ‘6’ standing for 600bhp) and Tomlinson admits he’s already considered a BB10. With the engine in place, the car weighs just 1150kg, undercutting mid-engined rivals by at least 150kg and the heaviest by 350kg. The new supercar is bigger than any previous Ginetta road car, a shade longer than the latest Porsche GT3 at 4640mm, about 100mm wider and nearly 200mm longer in the wheelbase. Although officially described as front/mid-engined, the car is closer than most rear/mid-engined rivals to having its engine in the true centre of the car (the tiny V8 is so far back that its drive pulleys sit directly beneath the windscreen wipers) and the 49% front, 51% rear weight distribution proves the fact. This layout leaves sufficient space to house a carbonfibre front structure that both provides FIA GT3 levels of crash protection and light but rigid mounting for the double-wishbone front suspension, whose coil-over units are anchored in the centre of the car and connected by pushrods. A similar system is used at the rear (pushrod-operated double wishbones mounted on a carbonfibre subframe) but there’s also space for a remarkably large boot, well able to house two sets of golf clubs. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres are substantial without being outrageous: 275/35 ZR19s in front and 305/30 ZR20s behind, and all running on own-design centre-lock Ginetta alloy wheels. Brakes are Alcon carbon discs.  Tomlinson won Le Mans GT2 class in a front/mid-engined Panoz (and now owns the winning car) but demurs at suggestions that sentiment might have played a part in the layout of his new supercar. It’s just the right way of doing things, he insists. Having the engine so far back allows an optimised aero package. It also allows the front wishbones to be long, unimpeded by an engine, which in turn helps keep the tyres flat on the road as the ride height changes when aero loads build at speed. For a road car, the new Ginetta promises a phenomenal aerodynamic performance. The company has already spent many hours in the Williams wind tunnel developing aerodynamics whose efficiency is clearly all-important in styling that bristles with planes and ducts and aerofoils, plus a high rear deck dominated by a huge wing (with the same aerofoil shape as the Ginetta LMP1 car) and an underbody diffuser that would do justice to many an pure racer. A pair of business-like slash-cut exhausts prevent pipework interrupting underbody airflow. The same goes for the downforce, which amounts to an extraordinary 376kg at 100mph, well ahead of cars in the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 bracket, and within 5% of Ginetta’s own current LMP3 car. None of this talk of lightness and extreme aero should obscure the fact that this is very much a practical road car. The “sensible” doors are sized for easy ingress/egress, and he’s passionate about their panel fit. The boot can wallow 675 litres of luggage, all sight lines are designed for easy visibility in traffic and the car will come with niceties such as automatic headlights, a reversing camera, an electronic parking brake, parking sensors, sat-nav, ABS and traction control, climate control, heated screens and full connectivity. Door handles and inside switchgear will be milled from billet aluminium. Ginetta’s comprehensive warranty means the company will take charge of the cars for their first two years “virtually anywhere in the world”. Owners will be able to configure their cars in almost any colour and trim combination and every owner will get a race-style car fitting: the seats are moulded into the tub for lightness, so the steering column and pedal box move to suit individual drivers, with seat shapes alterable by inserts or bespoke padding. Production will begin late this year and first deliveries are scheduled for January 2020. Anyone joining Tomlinson’s supercar club now won’t get a car until well into next year, but the group will always be exclusive. For a company that currently makes around 300 cars a year, mostly racers, 50 a year is plenty.

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As we arrived just as the first cars were warming up ready to go out on track for untimed practice, the public car park was pretty empty, with nothing to distract us as we made our way into the circuit. It had filled up considerable when we decided that it was time to head back to somewhere warmer, but a quick look around the rows of cars parked up produced only three that made it into my photographic record. And here they are.

First up was an Abarth 595. It was the only one I could see in the parking area, which is a bit of a surprise, as Abarth Owners often pop up at events like this even when there is no official Club organised presence of meet. This was a recent Series 4 car in the popular Trofeo Grey colour.

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Considerably rarer was this Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane. This two-door, four seat drophead coupé was produced from 1946 to 1953 and  was based on the Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster saloon. The chassis featured independent front suspension using torsion bars and a live rear axle with leaf springs. A Girling hydro-mechanical braking system was fitted, with the front drums hydraulically operated while those at the rear used rod and cable. Early models of the Hurricane were fitted with a 70 bhp 1991 cc six cylinder, overhead valve engine, carried over from the pre-war 16 hp model but from 1949 this was enlarged to a 75 bhp 2309 cc by increasing the cylinder bore from 65 to 70 mm. There was a choice of four speed synchromesh or pre-selector gearbox. The four seat, two door body was made of steel and aluminium panel fitted over a wood and aluminium frame. The doors were rear hinged, an arrangement that got the name of suicide doors. Changes during the model life were minimal: however, the bonnet line was slightly lowered for 1948 when the car also acquired stoneguards on the leading edges of its rear wings. At launch, the car cost £1151 on the UK market. 2606 of them were made, but like all Armstrong Siddeley cars, they are a rare spot these days.

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And final car to attract my camera was another Porsche, this time a 911 GT2 RS.

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This was a good day out. The biting wind did challenge us at times, but another warming cup of coffee alleviated its worst effects and I can certainly recall events where I have been both colder and wetter. Some covered seat at the circuit would certainly be welcome, but the variety of race classes, some great viewing points and the drama of the racing itself all made for great entertainment. Whilst I am going to struggle to fit another of the BTCC events into my 2019 calendar, the series is well worth watching on tv and I will be looking  to attend in person as soon as I can.

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