By Mick Palmer
As January closes in the world of TCR racing in the UK there has been a lot of activity surrounding the championship as it prepares for the 2023 season. With registration for 2022 opening late last year, the Christmas and New Year period has seen a raft of drivers and teams make a full season commitment to the burgeoning competition. All through January announcements have been rolling out of the offices of the organisers, to the point that it has been hard to keep up. In this handy little article we’ll bring you up to date with all of the happenings as we move into February, and even more reveals of who and what will be on the grid for the season opener at Snetterton in April.
THE SET UP
This year there’s a 15 race championship, at seven circuits, with the championship taking the headline slot at six of the seven BRSCC meetings. Snetterton, Croft, Oulton Park, Knockhill, Silverstone, Donington and the Brands Indy layout are on the calendar with the final round running with the Formula Ford Festival. Five events feature practice and qualifying on Saturday with two races on Sunday. The Knockhill triple header will kick off with a race on Saturday before the two on Sunday, and Oulton will see everything squeezed into a single Saturday meeting.
The entry list is growing – with a lot more teams and drivers to be revealed. So far 15 drivers have been confirmed – with the organisers stating at the Autosport Show that 25 full season entries were accepted within a month of registration opening, and the aim of hitting 30 cars on the grid coming close to being achieved.
This coming season will see a growth in the types of cars coming to the UK as the series begins to outstrip other TCR championships from around the world in terms of grid size, with some exiting new additions. Over the last five seasons series has been built around a core of Cupra Leon and Hyundai i30 N machines. The DW Astra of Darelle Wilson has flown the flag for that design since TCR UK launched in 2018 with a second machine appearing sporadically. Last season saw the return of the FK8 Honda Civic Type R for the first time since 2018 (the FK2 version appeared in 2018 and 19.) The inaugural title winning Golf GTI of Dan Lloyd came back into service last year as the model has grown again in popularity. A first full season was played out for a first generation Audi RS3 LMS, and the newer Hyundai Veloster, with the exotic Subaru WRX STI running for six of the seven rounds.
The variation grows in 2023. The arrival of an ex-Italian series Hyundai Elantra has been an eye catcher, and after a season with the new gen Leon in the competition at least a trio will be there for the kickoff. The new generation Audi RS3 LMS also has a trio of machines confirmed, but the most intriguing offering is the Honda Civic Type R FL5. Although not officially confirmed, the buzz that keeps emanating from Restart Racing is that the latest FL5 JAS built incarnation will be the car that Chris Smiley will be defending his crown with.
Smiley is confirmed for a defence of his title with Restart Racing- with the possibility of taking the car to some TCR events away from the UK championship. With a horde of entries yet to be confirmed Smiley still has to rank as one of the favourites for the outright crown again.
Scott Sumpton moves to Restart with Smiley, and has already been out in earnest in a Civic FK8 in preparation for the year. After what he deemed a ‘learning year’ with Essex and Kent in an i30 N in 2022 the aim is to move up the grid and score regular points.
Instead of replacing Sumpton for 2023 Essex and Kent are reducing to a single car attack of this year. Bradley Kent moves to the Hyundai Veloster campaigned by double champ brother Lewis in 2022. The team admitted that bringing in a new machine and running three cars was a stretch in 2022. Bradley had a tough season with nine DNF/DNS results and no wins after a storming debut year in 2021. The pairing of a winning car and driver should reap rewards for 2023.
Chameleon Motorsport are back with former JCW Mini team mates Neil Trotter and Lewis Brown. Trotter ran most of last season in a first generation Cupra Leon – squeezing a top 10 finish in his last appearance – before upgrading to the Competición Gen 2 Cupra for the last round where he was joined by Brown. Technical problems forced the team to withdraw from the Snetterton meeting. Trotter has eyes on the Diamond Trophy for drivers over 40 and Brown has to be a contender for race wins with his extensive TOCA package experience.
MPHR will return with Bradley Hutchison to build on their 2022 campaign with their 2017 incarnation of the Audi RS3 LMS. The former Mini racer rounded the last campaign off with a podium at the final round that allowed him to claim ninth in the championship. A series of improving results across the year- despite a damaging engine failure at Donington – are a basis for further expected improvements this term.
George Jaxon hits the track with JW Bird Motorsport in a Cupra. The former two wheel aficionado made the jump to TCR racing at the final round of the series last year. It could have been considered a baptism of fire – except it was so wet that it would have been doused. It’s impossible to rate the performance of a driver whose debut came in a race where the leading drivers questioned the running due to the conditions. Joining the newcomer will be Matthew Wilson who is taking on the championship for a second year in a row with the team. Having introduced the Cupra Leon Competición to the championship last term the former VW racer has a year of data to hand with, an eye on topping the 12th placed chamionship finish garnered last year.
Area Motorsport has announced a trio of partnerships for 2023 where the squad will look after two different versions of Hyundai machinery. Bruce Winfield – runner up in 2022 and third overall in 2023 – will take the challenge for the full season in the i30 N that he raced for the first time at Snetterton last term. After a year in a DSG Leon and most of a season in a sequential Leon the former Bike racer is considered a serious contender for the crown third time out. Joining him him for a second season in an i30 is teen surprise package Alex Ley. Winning three races while aged only 17 tipped the form book and that places a lot of pressure on the youngster to outdo that for 2023. The third Area machine is the FastR Elantra of Jamie Tonks. Unquestionably the most talked about machine of 2023 the Elantra will become a fan favourite for certain, but for Tonks it’s planned as being a piece of the puzzle to take him to th front. A fantastically consistent first year with a win at Oulton was a good starting point for Tonks, and 2023 will depend on getting the car sorted early in the season.
The Paul Sheard Racing truck is a familiar sight at race tracks up and down the country – especially in MX5 racing. With an air of professionalism that stands above most of their peers in that arena, the TCR UK championship marks a perfect place to take a step up. The squad will run three examples of the new generation Audi RS3 LMS, with all three drivers being possible dark horses. Joe Marshall-Birks and Gary Townsend both have experience with the Ginetta GT4 in recent years, with Marshall-Birks kicking his career off with Paul Sheard in 2018 in Mazda racing and Townsend carrying almost four decades of racing experience notched up. Stepping up from the JSCC is 16-year-old Oliver Cottam in a third machine from the team – with a year of higher level racing education as the aim.
Also emerging from the junior ranks is Jenson Brickley. The former stock car racer – who claimed the BRSCC Ford Fiesta Jr championship in 2021, and the senior ST240 crown last year – is making the jump with his family run team into TCR UK with a new gen Cupra Leon Competición. With a solid grounding over the last three seasons in circuit racing it is expected that Brickley will be a challenger for race wins in 2023.
Darron Lewis returns to TCR UK after spells in both the championship, and the preceding Touring Car Trophy. After appearing in NGTC machines with Team Hard in 2019 and 2021, Lewis made an appearance at the Donington round last term with an Audi RS3 LMS that will be his steed for this year, and an assault on the Diamond Trophy.
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