The most hotly anticipated British Touring Car Championship in years kicks off at Brands Hatch this weekend. With a grid bursting with new entrants, familiar faces and an unprecidented seven former champions, here are the ten drivers most likely to set the BTCC alight.
1 Andrew Jordan, Pirtek Racing Honda Civic; Age 24; Wins 10
Reigning champion is sticking with the same car and family-run team as he hunts for a double. A real young charger who is getting better all the time and has now added an intelligent approach to his outright pace. Will be in the title fight.
2 Gordon Shedden, Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer; Age 35; Wins 34
Like team-mate Matt Neal, the 2012 title-winner is ditching the hatchback Civic for the Tourer version and could struggle early on. Has unquestioned pace and is a spectacular overtaker, but often lacks the fortune of his rivals. Still has the credentials to claim another crown.
3 Jason Plato, KX Momentum MG6; Age 46 Wins 82
The wily old fox of the BTCC, Plato’s like Marmite. Fans love him or hate him, but there’s always action when he is around. The MG6 is a well-sorted car run by former champions Triple Eight. If it can get on top of reliability, then Plato should star again this year.
4 Matt Neal, Honda Yuasa Racing Honda Civic Tourer; Age 47 Wins 52
Neal has been in BTCC for more than 20 years and has three titles, and he uses that experience well to make sure he banks points. Maybe lacks the outright speed of team-mate Shedden, but uses his brain better than anyone else on the grid. Expect him to have an influence on the title result.
5 Colin Turkington, eBay Motors BMW 125i M Sport; Age 31; Wins 24
The Northern Irishman’s silky smooth style suits the rear-wheel-drive BMW, and he is one of the most technical drivers out there, working well with his team to get the most from the car. He has a habit of seeing the flag too, which is not easy in the rough and tumble of the BTCC.
6 Fabrizio Giovanardi, Airwaves Racing Ford Focus; Age 47; Wins 24
Popular Italian returns to the BTCC after a three-year break, and his skills are well-known. He has collected nine different European tin-top titles in his career, but another one in the UK could be a long shot. Will win races, but the team needs to be at the top of its game.
7 Alain Menu, Chrome Edition Restart Racing Volkswagen CC; Age 50; Wins 36
Another returning champion, Menu is in the top six of the all-time winners list. A known quantity, but that can’t be said for the team. Car is built by experts RML, but the Restart Racing squad is unproven at this level and it needs time to gain relevant experience.
8 Rob Austin, Fast Exocet Audi A4; Age 33; Wins 1
The new fans’ favourite in the BTCC in his Audi A4, which he has jokingly nicknamed ‘Sherman’. Took a win at Rockingham last year, and is very excited about the winter developments to the self-run rear-wheel-drive machine, which has been rapid in testing.
9 Adam Morgan, Wix Racing Mercedes A-class; Age 25; Wins 0
One-make racing graduate Morgan shone in a Toyota Avensis last season, but has undertaken an ambitious programme to build a Mercedes in 2014. The car has been setting some very impressive pre-season lap times and, if it is reliable, race wins are not out of the question.