First published in Motor Racing UK Magazine in 2019

By Mick Palmer

The drivers in TCT/TCR UK who are looking at using it as a stepping stone to further their careers have been picking up lessons that will serve them well in the coming years as they progress through the ranks. The goal isn’t specifically the BTCC for all of the drivers – TCR in Europe and on the world stage are goals that have been mentioned along with GT racing and a desire to see the current category build a solid foundation for the future.

In the case of the BTCC it is rare to see a new driver enter the championship with the tools needed fresh out of the box. There are various routes that lead to the championship from hot rods to club racing and into accepted single make feeder series such as the Clio Cup, Porsche Cup and various Ginetta series. Although they hone racecraft they are all beasts that don’t fully prepare drivers for the extra workload and the technicalities that top level touring car racing brings. The TCT series was developed with this in mind.

Lewis Kent takes his first TCR UK win – Photo: Palmer/MRUK

The current crop of young drivers in the series are taking invaluable lessons from the championship. Henry Neal pointed out how the learning curve is high and beneficial with safety cars compared to other series after an incident at Croft that saw him exit stage left: “Basically what happened was on lap one, the car bogged down at the start which let Turks (James Turkington) get by and the safety car comes out. Then what happens is I’m asleep, the pressures go a lot lower because you’re not putting as much heat into them. On the first lap of the restart I’ve just taken too much kerb going into the chicane and the tyres, not up to the right pressures, have ripped or damaged. When I’ve gotten to the braking point (at Tower corner) the tyre has just gone bang and I’ve gone straight on. It’s a lesson learned, I should have given the tyres one more lap, it’s a positive I can take from it, I won’t be doing that again!”

In the same restart leader Lewis Kent and Turkington commented about preparation and and reaction to restarts at this level, Kent said: “From my point of view it wasn’t too bad, I got a little bit of a gap and I pulled away, I’ve never really done one before (from the lead) so I think I sussed it, I’ve been watching a lot of videos to learn that one too!”

James Turkington moved from a Supercopa to TCR machine – Photo: Palmer/MRUK

Turkington – following – had this to say: “The restart caught me by surprise a bit when Lewis really backed it up and I was like, ‘we’re ready to go here.’ and he was really close to the safety car on both occasions. I was happy with them I was able to go with him and the rest of the pack behind, but it’s a different experience to the other car. We never even thought we’d be doing TCR this year, we’ve ended up here by default from doing the first round in the TCT in our own car, the Supercopa, and TCR was never on our radar, there’s 12 years difference between those cars and it’s a huge gap to bridge, we’ve only had two meetings and a test at Donington and there’s so much to learn every time you get in the seat.”

Weight penalties are also a huge thing to deal with. Kent noted the difference that it makes, and the work that goes into preparing the car with the team. “We’ve dealt with the weight before,” Kent said. “The team have an absolute perfect set up, it’s dialled in and we’re happy with the car, but it’s still something you have to adjust too.”

Henry Neal was being prepared for a BTCC future – Photo: Palmer/MRUK

Learning how to manage brakes and tyres at this level is also in important facet of the series. You can test a car all you want but until you’re in the heat of battle, learning to balance attacking and preservation over an extended period is something that can only be picked up with experience. Turkington spoke about how you have to learn to adjust to that having “overcooked the front brakes and tyres” in a battle with Audi racer Alex Day where he managed to squeeze his way past in a one-on-one competition, it is information that is essential for a driver wanting to take a step up to top level competition

Day is open about the on benefits of running in TCT and what he hopes it will lead to in the future.The HMS racer has found himself having to react to problematic situations on track in his NGTC Audi ‘Sherman’ that was famously campaigned by Rob Austin. It has been a fairly high pressured scenario that the 19-year-old Colchester racer has found himself in as engine problems persisted across a couple of rounds. The patience and trust that is built up between team and driver is something that can be tested and the former Junior Saloon Car driver has remained outwardly upbeat even after losing out on completing a number of rounds with repeated problems. At Croft both races were lost to the issue, but Day is learning a lesson in adversity, and how to react.

Alex Day running in an ex-Rob Austin BTCC machine – Photo: Palmer/MRUK

“I was recovering from that and getting ready to attack when it started backfiring in the Esses,” he explained. “It started coughing in Sunny In and Out, I got on the radio and said that it was backfiring again and they told me to do a reset, to turn the thing on and off. So I turned it off coming down the straight, it was still in gear so I had to slow it right down through the first corner because it turned off the power steering, then I stopped, had a full reset, it had a cough again. Up till then it was quite strong, but we’re still trying to get on top of this backfire, we’ve changed many, many things and it still hasn’t sorted it.”

The demeanour that he exudes is one of positivity. Situations such as this could have a real negative effect for drivers making a step up, and the chance to experience these things at this level will certainly mean that those using TCT as a stepping stone to higher levels will move on with a maturity that might be absent from racing in other championships.

Henry Neal took the 2019 TCT crown in a 2012 BTCC Honda – Photo: Palmer/MRUK

Where Day goes next is dependent on many things, but he’s in no rush to jump up just yet. “We’ll see what comes,” he says. “It’s very much a funding dependent thing. Touring cars are rather expensive, which isn’t to say this is cheap. We want to see what we can do this year and get a bit more funding for next year, if it’s touring cars or sticking with this.”

 The Touring Car Challenge and TCR UK are a viable addition to the British motor racing community. At a time where there are questions over whether there are too many series for drivers to choose from in Britain, it should seem obvious that there is room for this sub BTCC/British GT series. No, it is not a cheap option. There are many series’ that bank on that sales pitch, but for those wanting to make the jump to professional national racing the TCT/TCR tie-up makes perfect sense. For those who don’t want to run around at the rear of the BTCC field and want to race quality touring car machinery, there are plenty of machines waiting around in garages up and down the country already, there is no excuse for them not to get involved.   

 I’ll leave the last words with Alex Day who succinctly says: “ They’re still finding the balance between the touring cars and TCR cars, which isn’t easy, but we’re getting close to it. If we can get more cars on this grid then this will be an awesome championship.”

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