2000 season preview

British trio James Thomspon, Jason Plato and Anthony Reid will be vying to become the nation's first British Touring Car Champion for half a decade

2000 season preview

The opening round of the BTCC kicks-off with this weekend's season opener at Brands Hatch.

Thompson, who drives for Honda, will be among the favourites for this year's event.

He said: "Hopefully I have enough speed, guile and experience to win the championship. Honda has put a lot into the BTCC and it certainly deserves the top reward."

However, Plato has other ideas.

"They [Thompson and Honda] aren't going to have it all their own way. I firmly believe we have the winning car," said the former Renault driver.

The BTCC's foreign legion will also be out to stop the Brit pack, with three former champions looking to double their title tally in 2000 and three other overseas stars gunning for their first championship.

The Ford Mondeo team has two ex-champions with Switzerland's Alain Menu (1997) and Sweden's Rickard Rydell (1998) teaming up for the first time.

Honda has former Formula One driver Gabriele Tarquini, who took the series by storm to land the title in 1994.

Alongside the Italian and Thompson in the Accord squad will be BTCC newcomer Tom Kristensen, the Dane joining the British series after finishing third in the German equivalent last
year.

Vauxhall's spectacular Frenchman Yvan Muller, a five times Ice Racing champion in his homeland, won his first BTCC race last season and plans an all-out assault on the title this year.

Like Plato, Muller will have to watch an attack from his other team-mate, Belgian Vincent Radermecker.

Also worth keeping an eye on will be Stourbridge's Matt Neal, the reigning Michelin Cup for Independents champion.

He caused a stir last year by winning a race outright, a rare feat for an Independent driver without the might of manufacturer support. Was quickest in two of the pre-season official tests.

Neal's Nissan Primera will be strong again this season and the Midlander could threaten an upset as the season progresses.

TV viewers and spectators at the circuits will witness a new innovation to BTCC racing this year with the introduction of Class B.

The category, for cars less technologically developed than the Super Tourers of the main championship, will provide a fascinating race within a race, as the ten-strong field fights for its own title.

James Kaye and Mark Lemmer are among the leading Class B entrants, alongside former one-make saloon car champion Alan Morrison, and saloon specialists Robert Collard and Marc Nordon, both run by former Audi BTCC driver and race-winner John Bintcliffe.

Another change to the championship for 2000 brings the introduction of success ballast - designed to help keep the BTCC racing close and action-packed and prevent domination by any one team.

The top-three finishers in each race will have weight added to their cars for the entire duration of the following meeting. A race-winner receives 40kg, second place gets 30kg and third 20kg (to a maximum of 40kg).

New rules also mean sole BTCC tyre supplier Michelin will have an effect on the outcome of the championship.

Tyre warmers are banned, giving drivers less grip in the early stages of the race, and there are no intermediate tyres in 2000, only slick or wet-weather rubber, making tyre choice in greasy conditions critical.

Both rounds one and two will be held on the famous 2.62-mile Grand Prix layout at Brands Hatch this Sunday.

The races will be braodcast live and will be attended by Hollywood star Jason Priestley.

The actor, who races in the USA, is taking time out from his West End appearance in the play Side Man to attend as a VIP guest of BTCC organisers TOCA.

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