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The BTCC supporting stars aiming to strike gold in 2024

Three of the regular British Touring Car Championship support series also begin their seasons this weekend and there are plenty of potential title contenders to follow. Here are the storylines to follow across the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, British Formula 4 and Mini Challenge series

2024 British F4 Deagen Fairclough JEP

The British Touring Car Championship's supporting series always provide plenty of intrigue and another exciting and unpredictable year is seemingly in store. 

Among the headlines is a quality line-up in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB, where a trio of BTCC race winners have returned to for 2024, while the ever-exciting Deagen Fairclough is among the favourites for British Formula 4 glory, and Dan Zelos will be seeking an unprecedented third Mini Challenge JCW title.

A raft of club categories will also be making guest appearances again this year - with the Legends Cars Elite Cup and Radical Cup UK on duty at Donington Park this weekend - while a heavily upgraded Cayman will feature in the fourth of the regular supports, the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB, when it roars into action at Snetterton next month.

Here is a rundown of some of the key themes and drivers to watch out for this year.

BTCC aces descend on Porsches

Lloyd returns to Porsche racing after a spell as Porsche GB’s junior scholar in 2012

Lloyd returns to Porsche racing after a spell as Porsche GB’s junior scholar in 2012

Photo by: Porsche/JEP

Autosport’s Porsche Carrera Cup GB season preview last year began with the words: “There have been some incredibly close Porsche Carrera Cup GB title battles over the years and the 2023 contest could be another to add to that list.” Yet that’s not how it played out. Instead, Adam Smalley steamrollered his way to glory, and several of his expected rivals departed the series after tough starts to their campaigns.

But there are even more signs that things really could be very close this time around. For example, an influx of British Touring Car race winners has ensured plenty of interest in the championship for 2024. Dan Lloyd, George Gamble and Stephen Jelley have all been Porsche frontrunners in the past and have been tempted to return to one-make competition for this year.

“I’m mega excited to be back here – it feels like I’m coming back to my roots; I think a lot of people forget I did a lot of Porsche and GT racing,” says Lloyd, who was fourth in the standings in 2013 and has joined up with Toro Verde for 2024.

“It looks like an exciting year for the championship as well – really competitive with a lot of Pros, and it creates that bit of buzz with a few of us going to it [from the BTCC]. It’s nice to be in a one-make series, where it’s all down to me. It comes with a bit of pressure but it’s pressure I’m happy to have.”

Lloyd points out that a lack of dry pre-season testing means he goes into the campaign “a little bit on the back foot” as he readjusts to GT machinery after eight years in tin-tops.

“My focus is to get some points banked at Donington Park and learn as much as I can and go from there,” he states. “I’m certainly not going to underestimate the competition.”

That competition does not just include BTCC returnees, as plenty of other talented drivers have been attracted onto this year’s grid. Joining Gamble at Century Motorsport – which won last season’s teams’ title – is 2021 British GT4 champion Will Burns, back racing after a year on the sidelines following the birth of his daughter. After enjoying success with Century in the past, he is looking forward to the new challenge.

On his return to racing, Burns is part of Century’s line-up alongside Gamble

On his return to racing, Burns is part of Century’s line-up alongside Gamble

Photo by: Porsche/JEP

“I’m just trying to get up to speed with a completely different car to what I’m used to,” says Burns. “British GT has got ABS so they tell you to smash the brakes as hard as you can and, if you do that in the Cup car, you flatspot all your tyres. It’s a very niche driving style you need but, each lap that goes by, it will start clicking.”

Other eye-catching names on the grid include 2021 British Formula 4 conqueror and GB3 frontrunner Matthew Rees (one of Jelley’s Team Parker Racing stablemates), while Formula Ford ace Andrew Rackstraw is dovetailing his single-seater exploits with a Porsche campaign at JTR.

He is joined by new Porsche GB Junior James Wallis and, given Smalley continued a long run of triumphs for scholarship winners, the former GT Cup and British GT racer certainly cannot be discounted.

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But, while there are so many new and returning names in this year’s mix, there are still a few familiar faces from last season, too. Josh Malin was one of the surprise performers on his way to third in the standings, despite only joining from the third round after replacing Gus Burton at Century.

“I went to Thruxton, which is my local track, and just thought, ‘I’m back in the car, heck let’s go and enjoy it’, and I finished second and third in my first rounds back after 10 months!” Malin recalls. “It was quite a shock but also quite humbling because of all the support I had.

“Had I been told I would have finished third doing three-quarters of the season, I would have thought you’re having a laugh. It’s given me good confidence going into this year and, hopefully, I can replicate those results.”

The 2020 Ginetta GT5 Challenge title winner is now planning a full season with Dino Zamparelli’s new Race Drive squad, and is seeking to claim that elusive first win and launch a championship charge.

“The competition, as always, is going to be incredibly strong so I’m prepared for a big championship fight,” says Malin, who points out that, while Race Drive may be a new team, it has plenty of Porsche experience among its engineering ranks.

Malin (centre) is eager to impress after a promising campaign in 2023

Malin (centre) is eager to impress after a promising campaign in 2023

Photo by: Porsche/JEP

Joining Malin at the operation is Harry Foster, who will be seeking to build upon his maiden series race win in the penultimate 2023 round at Silverstone.

Predicting who will end the year on top is incredibly tricky – even the Pro-Am ranks feature the likes of Walter Hayes Trophy winner Oliver White and former W Series driver Abbie Eaton – but all the ingredients certainly seem to be in place for a genuinely close fight after last season’s battle somewhat fizzled out.

The 2023 surprise package seeking consistency in F4

One of the most memorable sights of British Formula 4 last year was Deagen Fairclough rocketing up the order in the opening laps of races. The Fiesta Junior graduate threw caution to the wind with some of his moves and gained quite a reputation. After securing his place on the grid by winning ROKiT’s sim racing shootout, he was eager to show he deserved to be in the series. But even Fairclough admits he was “too eager” at times.

“I think I was a little bit reckless at the start!” he says. “We could have potentially got the title last year if I had the right mindset.”

Fairclough says he has learned plenty from a campaign in which he took three wins and five further podiums, despite being the sole JHR Developments driver for some of the year – a tough task for a rookie going up against four-car squads and their mountains of data. He now feels that he is “more chilled” after joining the powerhouse Hitech GP team for this season.

“I don’t want to give too much away!” he smiles when asked about what he has changed for 2024. “But it’s just staying consistent and not having those DNFs is so crucial. At Snetterton, we had a DNF and we had negative points from it. We were only third in the championship at the end, so if we had a few more points, we could have been in the fight.

“But it was my debut year in single-seaters. I’d gone from rubbing doors to having to leave space everywhere. But now I’ve done a full season, I’ve done the UAE championship, there’s so much I’ve learned and I’m feeling the best I’ve ever felt to go into a season of racing.”

Fairclough is among the F4 title favourites after some swashbuckling displays last season

Fairclough is among the F4 title favourites after some swashbuckling displays last season

Photo by: JEP

There is certainly no denying that Fairclough is one of the favourites this time around, and he is determined to replicate Alex Dunne’s victorious 2022 campaign with Hitech.

“The title is definitely the goal – I’m not really aiming for anything less,” he states. “We’re here to break records.”

Fairclough is likely to face plenty of opposition from within his own team this year. Mika Abrahams is another sophomore F4 racer and joins after an improving campaign with Fortec in which he grew stronger after being too young to contest the opening three events. Meanwhile, Reza Seewooruthun was one of just five drivers to triumph in Ginetta Junior last season.

Rodin Motorsport is also likely to pose a major threat, with all four of its racers having plenty of F4 experience. Early F1 Academy points leader Abbi Pulling will return to the British championship for the rounds that do not clash, while Jack Sherwood moves across from Chris Dittmann Racing and Alex Ninovic swaps from the Spanish series, in which the Australian was 10th in the 2023 standings.

But James Higgins – sixth last year in British F4 with Fortec – is perhaps most likely to spearhead Rodin’s line-up. Originally, he was keen to graduate to GB3 for this year but was persuaded to take a full F4 title tilt.

“Although last year didn’t go the way we wanted it to, I think I still showed what I could do,” says Higgins, who took four poles and two wins. “I thought, ‘job’s done, we’ll move on.’ But it completely wasn’t.

“Moving up too quickly can be a bad thing. I’m not learning anything new – I know the tracks, I know the car and now I know the team – so there’s no real excuses if you look at it that way, so we will definitely try to get the title.”

Higgins is another promising returnee hoping to make his mark at Rodin

Higgins is another promising returnee hoping to make his mark at Rodin

Photo by: JEP

Others to watch out for include Mercedes junior Yuanpu Cui at Argenti Motorsport, while it will also be fascinating to follow the progress of Maxwell Dodds at Virtuosi. The former Ginetta Junior racer has spent two years on the sidelines and only secured his F4 seat on the eve of the season, but would like to spring a surprise as he gets up to speed. As will new squad Xcel Motorsport and its lead driver Zack Scoular.

After all, Fairclough was not expected to perform so impressively last year, so who knows which contender could emerge as an unexpected star of British F4’s latest line-up?

Zelos aiming for more in Mini Challenge

The Mini Challenge was all about one driver last year. Dan Zelos returned to form in spectacular style and blitzed the opposition en route to his second series title. Now, having again been unable to make the progression to British Touring Cars, he has elected to remain in the series and try to collect more silverware.

But it has been a difficult off-season for Excelr8 Motorsport’s reserve BTCC racer. Towards the end of last year, a close family member was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and Zelos will now be seeking to raise money and awareness for the Parkinson’s UK charity at BTCC events.

“It puts things into perspective,” he says of the shock news. “For us to look elsewhere with so much going on didn’t feel right. We’ve had a lot of good times with Excelr8 but there wasn’t a seat available in the BTCC; the next best place to be is to continue as their reserve driver and compete in the Mini Challenge.”

Yet, despite being a proven Mini master, Zelos says “there’s always things you can learn from every season – you can never be perfect” as he embarks on a sixth campaign racing the JCWs. He is undoubtedly one of the favourites for the title, but is expecting a far tougher challenge, especially from within his team.

“Last year I was the standout driver in Excelr8,” states Zelos. “This year I can see that it’s going to be very different. We’ve got some really quick rookies coming in – I’ve made a rod for my own back by helping them get up to speed!”

Zelos is aiming for a third Mini JCW title with Excelr8

Zelos is aiming for a third Mini JCW title with Excelr8

Photo by: Matt Walker

Zelos expects Nelson King – third last year with Graves Motorsport – and Dominic Wheatley to be competitive, while reigning Cooper champion Tom Ovenden and Nathan Edwards (fifth among the Coopers in 2023) could also figure strongly. But Zelos has been particularly impressed by Max Hall so far in testing.

“I think he might be the surprise at round one,” says Zelos, who also reckons NAPA-backed Jamie Osborne will pose a threat.

A new JCW Sport class has been introduced for this year and has attracted five drivers as an intermediate step between the Coopers and the JCWs, while a new grid-setting format has been introduced, with qualifying now determining starting places for two of the three races. Considering Zelos was only defeated once in qualifying all year in 2023, that is perhaps ominous news for the rivals attempting to dethrone him.

After his dominance of 2023, can anybody stop Zelos this term?

After his dominance of 2023, can anybody stop Zelos this term?

Photo by: Mark Chivers

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