The 2018 BTCC gets under way at Brands Hatch on Saturday and on the grid will be all-new Honda Civics – faster than last year’s car, they’re confident – based on the latest-generation (FK8) road car.
Five champions, 17 race winners on the 2018 BTCC grid
It’ll be faster because the new road car is faster, although I’ll come to why in a moment. Because, first, it’s worth bearing in mind that the BTCC’s rule-makers will try to limit whatever advantage a new car brings.
The BTCC runs to what they call New Generation Touring Car (NGTC) rules, aimed at equalising the field as much as possible. The rules state that you have to use a common front subframe, a common rear subframe and an FIA-approved roll-cage to a common design, although you can modify it to fit. There are other common parts, too, such as the brakes, transmission, turbo and intercooler, while even parts that are more open to interpretation are still very tightly controlled.
Some parts, after homologation by the regulators, are available for any of your rivals to see. And if it looks like you’ve gained a notable advantage then, well, there are technical committees and engine committees who might limit your turbocharger’s boost. And if you’re still winning after all of that, then there’s success ballast – applied and removed on a race-to-race basis – to slow you back down again. The only time you’ll actually see the latent, honest pace of a top BTCC car in a season is probably in the build-up to the first race.
Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? But this stuff works. The BTCC has run itself so successfully – and it’s mostly representatives from the teams who make the decisions – that it’s the most-watched British motorsport series going. Crowds average 40,000 and there’s live TV, the entry list is maxed out at 32 cars and sometimes qualifying grids are separated by less than a second from front to back.
And crucial, says Rodgers, is that “they look like road cars. As you know, they’re actually very far detached, but on the circuit they look [similar].”
They even start off as road cars. A new bodyshell rocks up at Team Dynamics HQ – an immaculate building in Droitwich – from where it’s sent off to be dipped. It’s not acid dipping like the old mega-money Super Touring days of the 1990s, where the car comes back so thin you could scrunch it up like a fuel receipt, but it gets rid of the galvanic coating. Then fabrication work on the cage begins. It has already been designed in-house because Team Dynamics gets CAD body data from Honda, and it has been FEA (finite element analysis) tested and approved by boffins at Autocar’s old friends’ place, MIRA proving ground.