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New team joins BTCC with Cupras as Hard folds

A new team will join the British Touring Car Championship in 2024 after the folding of series stalwart Team Hard’s squad.

Restart Racing Cupra Leon

Restart Racing has acquired two of Team Hard’s Cupra Leons – the new-for-2023 chassis used this year by Bobby Thompson and Dan Lloyd – and will step up from the TCR UK championship with 2022 title winner Chris Smiley.

Northern Irishman Smiley is a one-time race winner in the BTCC, in which he has notched up 162 race starts.

His victory at Rockingham came in 2018 at the wheel of a BTC Racing Honda Civic Type R. BTC was founded by Bert Taylor and it is Taylor’s son Ben, who has engineered Smiley going back to 2016, who is team principal at Essex-based Restart as it makes the step up to the BTCC.

“It means a lot to get back into the BTCC,” Taylor Jr told Autosport.

“We’ve worked blooming hard to get it all to where we are. I did a bit of work with Chris at Excelr8 [in 2021, Smiley’s last BTCC season], then we went and did TCR and won that.

Insight: How a BTCC reunion yielded glory in Britain's 'other' tin-top series

“The BTCC is where are our hearts lie; we’ve done it for so many years and we can’t wait to get going.

“We’re getting the ball rolling now with some development for the cooling package; we’re full steam ahead, trying to take it to the next step.”

Smiley added: “This was the right time to get back into the BTCC – that was more important than anything, and everything fitted together nicely.

Restart Racing Cupra Leon

Photo by: Restart Racing

Restart Racing Cupra Leon

“Running in TCR, that gave us the platform to get back into the BTCC, where I raced for six seasons.

“We’ve already started doing quite a lot of updates to the car – there are a few little things in plan.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy because it’s not, but we’re ready for it.”

Smiley paid tribute to investor Pete Jones, with whom he and the Taylors have a long-standing relationship – Jones has been a backer of Excelr8 Motorsport in recent seasons, and his son worked on electronics and data at the Restart team with which Smiley won the TCR title, before joining Pirelli’s motorsport division.

“Pete started the ball rolling on this – he wanted us back and he’s become a fantastic friend,” said Smiley.

Despite running a six-car team, Hard owned only three TBL entrants’ licences in 2023. Two have gone to Restart, while Toyota team Speedworks Motorsport has made a net gain of one to cement speculation that it is planning an expansion to a four-car line-up of Corolla GT Sports next season.

Hard also used two TBLs owned by Aiden Moffat, and one belonging to Carl Boardley, who followed Smiley down the TCR UK route and won the 2023 title.

Moffat, who drove for the One Motorsport Honda team in 2023, is believed to be on the driver market for a seat with an established squad next season, but series insiders have suggested that his and Boardley’s TBLs will be in use.

Chris Smiley returns to the BTCC after winning the TCR UK title in 2022

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Chris Smiley returns to the BTCC after winning the TCR UK title in 2022

Of the 27-car TBL list, BTCC boss Alan Gow said: “Given the background of potentially having up to six entries affected within just the last three weeks, the quantity and quality of our 2024 entry further underlines the phenomenal strength and resilience of the BTCC.”

The other question relates to the fate of Thompson and Lloyd, Team Hard’s standout drivers from 2023.

Both benefited at Hard this season from the presence of leading lights from the old Team Dynamics, with veteran technical chief Barry Plowman engineering Thompson, Tom Hunt looking after Lloyd, and three-time champion Matt Neal in an advisory role.

Thompson said that this trio could move with him to an existing team in the series.

“At the moment I’m fully confident we’ll be there,” Thompson told Autosport. “I’m working very closely with the guys at Team Dynamics – Matt and Bazza.

“We’re just trying to make it happen, but nothing’s set in stone yet.”

Interview: The potential BTCC race winner trying to make it to the front

Neal added: “I like Bobby – we’re trying to help him out and see if we can source some sponsorship for him.

“There’s lots of things up in the air.”

Bobby Thompson, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils Cupra Leon

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Bobby Thompson, Autobrite Direct with Millers Oils Cupra Leon

Lloyd, who came within a mile of his fourth BTCC victory at Donington in August before driveshaft failure pitched him on the road, has a history with Smiley and the Taylors, but is understood not to be in the frame for the second Restart seat.

“Honestly I’m not sure,” said Lloyd. “I’ve known about it [the demise of Team Hard] for weeks and we’re looking at other options, but the budgets are so difficult.

“It’s tough, but I’m trying to piece things together.”

TBL list 2024

Alliance Racing: 4
Excelr8 Motorsport: 4
West Surrey Racing: 4
Speedworks Motorsport: 4
One Motorsport: 3
Power Maxed Racing: 3
Restart Racing: 2
Aiden Moffat Racing: 2
CBM Racing: 1

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