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Episode 33

What Makes The BTCC Special?

The British Touring Car Championship is the most illustrious UK-based racing series, but why is that the case? What makes the BTCC so special?

Last week we had a look at whether the MINI Challenge UK could be the perfect racing series for me, and whilst it may not be my personal preference, it’s certainly the first rung of a very successful racing ladder. For example, the winner of the 2019 MINI Challenge’s premier JCW class, James Gornall, has made the step up into the British Touring Car Championship for 2020. But why make that move? What precisely is it that makes the BTCC so popular with both drivers and fans alike? Here’s what I think.

When it comes to ‘what makes the BTCC so good,’ the answer does not solely lie in the present day. Many iconic moments of motor racing history have been made in British touring cars, from the famous Volvo 850 Estate to Ian Harvey and John Cleland’s ‘I’m going for first’ debacle, and moments like these create talking points that will have people coming back for more.

On the subject of ‘I’m going for first,’ the BTCC used to be commentated on by Murray Walker, almost undoubtedly the most famous voice in motorsport. For a national series to have the honour of being narrated by the voice of F1 certainly shows just how mainstream the series was in its heyday.

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Nothing can live in the past, however, and one of the main draws of the current BTCC is down to the sheer variety on the grid. BMW, Honda, Ford, Audi, Mercedes, VW, Infiniti, Hyundai and Toyota all have vehicles entered on the 2020 grid, whilst Vauxhall were due to race until COVID-related budget issues saw them pull out, although they are committed to returning in 2021. With the Astras included, that makes ten car manufacturers racing with cars that resemble production vehicles, meaning you could walk into a BMW dealership the day after Colin Turkington inevitably wins, and purchase your own 320i. Sure, the car won’t have any of the same internals, but they do look almost identical from the outside, and that’s what matters.

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Stemming from this, the cars are a mix of front- and rear-wheel drive, which can make for intriguing narratives in races, due to the competitive advantages each drivetrain possess. This means battles are more interesting as some cars have significant pace deficits to others in certain areas of the circuit, or even on some circuits as a whole.

Another important factor stems from its coverage. The British Touring Car Championship is broadcast live on free-to-air TV. Every television in the UK is able to tune in to ITV4, meaning there are no barriers to accessing the sport. The same certainly can’t be said for F1, as the only way to watch races live in the UK is by purchasing Sky Sports, which can cost many pounds a month, and therefore many are unable to enjoy the most high-profile motorsport on the planet.

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Finally, if you wish to witness the action in the flesh, this can also be easily arranged (although not at the minute, of course). Tickets for the BTCC are cheap, generally at around £30 for adults on the Sunday, making them significantly cheaper than theme park tickets, for example. What’s more, children under 12 can go for free, and 13-15-year olds also get heavily discounted prices. The national nature of the series also creates much less of a barrier to those who wish to attend multiple rounds, as locations are much closer to one another than in the DTM, for example, which crosses borders for some rounds of its championship.

These main contributing factors, along with others not mentioned in this article, all combine to ensure that the BTCC is one of if not the most followed national racing competition in the UK. I personally love it as all of the cars are fairly equally paced, yet they all find their speed through different methods, making overtaking relatively easy and battles fierce.

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