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Brands Hatch test provides pointers ahead of unpredictable season

Our media man Simon Melluish was at Brands Hatch to cast an eye over the testing action…

As the dust settled on a busy semi-exclusive test at Brands Hatch yesterday (11 March) team bosses could be seen frantically doing their sums while looking over the shoulders of some of their counterparts in a bid to find out where they stand in terms of performance.

It has been a frenetic pre-season of BTCC testing with the majority of teams hitting the track earlier and harder than in recent campaigns.

Next week’s season launch at Donington Park (18 March) is the only official test of the off-season, so up until this point it has been team data and a good old fashioned stopwatch that has given the paddock pointers ahead of the new campaign.

Some 14 BTCC cars were out on track at Brands Hatch, whilst MG and Power Maxed Racing ran at Oulton Park and Team BMR continued its three-day programme at Croft. Many hundreds of kilometres were completed over the course of the day, including qualifying simulations and longer runs, but still the question of who is quickest remains.

Reigning champion Andrew Jordan has been fast at a number of tests so far and that trend continued yesterday when he was the first car to be unofficially clocked under the 49 second barrier. At least two of the three eBay Motors BMWs also dipped under that marker and United Autosports reported similar times, although again it has to be said that none of these times can be officially confirmed.

Honda Yuasa Racing continued its development and set-up of the new Civic Tourer and seemingly produced a similar time to those above, if not a fraction slower, during a qualifying run.

The biggest surprise was arguably that of Adam Morgan’s brand new WIX Racing Mercedes A Class, which produced an extremely impressive three-lap qualifying run. All three tours were timed at less than 49s with Morgan’s best at around the 48.5s mark. It is always extremely difficult to gage of course due to teams being allowed to run different weight and boost during unofficial testing, but the run from Morgan was enough to raise an eyebrow or two.

There were a number of other teams that enjoyed productive outings, gaining valuable mileage and working on that all-important set-up ahead of the opening round at the same venue later this month.

We assessed Motorbase during one its long runs, where both Fabrizio Giovanardi and Jack Clarke were getting to grips with the heavily updated Ford Focus. Next door and Dave Newsham was making good progress in his AmD Focus, despite a brief off in the afternoon. We weren’t able to obtain a qualifying simulation time from the Fords, which was also the case with a number of others.

As previously noted, United Autosports produced good lap times in their pair of Toyotas and there were another two Avensis’ pounding faultlessly around the 1.2 mile Indy Circuit.

Tom Ingram looks every bit a BTCC driver and the interaction between him and the Speedworks team would have you believing they’ve been working together for years. Like so many, however, including that of Simon Belcher in the Handy Motorsport machine, Ingram’s ultimate pace remains an unknown quantity.

So back to those team bosses doing their sums… ‘The MGs were very quick at Oulton last week’ one said to me as he added Jason Plato and company to his equations. Plato himself told me last week that he was happy to go ‘under the radar’ in pre-season, but we all know that won’t be the case when the real action gets underway.

There has also been positive noise coming from the Rob Austin camp, with times said to be tumbling in the updated Audi A4. Another team boss said to me that ’15 or 16 drivers could win it this year,’ which in itself is both incredible and hugely exciting.

So what conclusions did we come to ahead of next week’s official test and the season that follows?

Well even those ‘in the know’ are not really sure, which has to be a mouth-watering prospect for fans who’ll be flocking to Brands Hatch or settling down to watch the action on ITV in a few weeks time. What we can be sure of, however, is that the 2014 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship looks set to be another unpredictable, competitive and compelling drama for us all to enjoy.

See you at Donington Park for the Season Launch!

PHOTO CREDIT: Jakob Ebrey Photography

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