There is a certain image of a racing driver that the public seem to take to their hearts. Think of the likes of former world champion James Hunt or larger-than-life saloon car wizard Gerry Marshall.
They drove hard, they played hard and they partied hard. They were the kings of the bar-room banter, because they spent a large amount of their time in the bar…
But that image has been banished to the history books, and modern-day racers are supposed to be corporate PR-spewing, highly trained athletes. They need to be on top of their game all of the time.
The 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship has firmly laid the ghosts of the past to rest by being the first series in the United Kingdom to introduce a zero-tolerance policy on alcohol for drivers and senior officials. Other championships have random breath testing, but in the BTCC it is now mandatory.
While there is some leeway in the UK's legal drink-driving limit, there is none in the BTCC. A reading of more than 0.01 microgrammes of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of breath will mean a driver is excluded from taking part in the race meeting.
It is a sensible move, but one that series boss Alan Gow says wasn’t based on any suspicions of competitors having raced while over the limit. He says it is merely a precaution.
“This was a bit of a personal crusade for me, as I have long thought that the sport does not carry out enough alcohol testing. It is a particular hobby horse of mine,” says Gow. “It was just a responsible thing to do. I thought to myself ‘why aren’t we doing this already?’”
Rob Austin Racing Audi A4 driver Hunter Abbott, who joined the category this season, is backed by breath-testing firm AlcoSense, which will provide the kit for the championship.
Drivers will be tested on Saturday and Sunday morning, and can be re-tested at any point during the day if the officials suspect that someone has taken alcohol. This also extends to all of the senior officials who operate the meeting.
Gow adds: “It is running across the officials as well because if we want the driving to be at the highest standard possible, and we expect that from the competitors, then the officials need to be at the highest standard as well.”
So the British Touring Car Championship has set another new standard in UK motorsport.
While the move hasn’t been universally welcomed – with some drivers privately admitting that a Friday night tipple has been one of their more favoured parts of the weekend – it will certainly stamp out any element of uncertainty and send out a great message to fans.
It is, after all, in everyone’s interests.