The drivers to watch among the 2023 BTCC supports
There's a refreshed look to the TOCA package this season as a mixture of familiar faces and new names are set for some intriguing fights at the front. Here are the leading lights to look out for
It's all change for 2023 with a very different feel to the British Touring Car Championship support series line-up. After over a decade with two series on the bill, Ginetta has departed. Instead, the Porsche Sprint Challenge GB Cayman series joins the support package on a full-time basis. Plus there are plenty of intriguing guest categories also due to appear.
But, even among the championships remaining on the TOCA undercard, there is still no shortage of change. Just a couple of the top 14 drivers from last year's Mini Challenge standings are continuing this season as a host of new names join the fray, while there has also been an influx of new faces in British Formula 4. With an intriguing Porsche Carrera Cup GB title battle also in prospect, there's lots to keep an eye on, starting at Donington Park this weekend.
Porsche Carrera Cup GB
Porsche GB Junior Smalley is targeting the title, while the likes of de Haan (l) will try to stop him
Photo by: Porsche
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.
There is certainly no shortage of possible contenders. Proven race winners Adam Smalley, Gus Burton and Theo Edgerton are all continuing, while Porsche Sprint Challenge Southern Europe champion Robert de Haan and Ginetta GT4 Supercup title winner James Kellett will also be ones to watch. Add in reigning Pro-Am champion – and overall winner of the Brands Hatch finale – Charles Rainford and Sprint Challenge GB conqueror Harry Foster, and it’s an intriguing mix of drivers set to be fighting at the front.
Of them all, it’s perhaps Smalley under the most pressure to land the title. Last season’s runner-up is in his second year as the Porsche GB Junior and, given his four most recent predecessors have all won a championship, he is seeking to continue that success – especially as Burton and Edgerton were fellow Junior finalists.
Asked if he feels any weight of expectation, Smalley replies: “Yes and no. There’s pressure to win the championship but, at the same token, I feel like I work better under pressure. That’s when I get the most out of myself and it helps push myself forward.”
While Smalley now has a year of experience of the Type 992 911 GT3 Cup machine, he has switched from Redline Racing to Team Parker Racing – the team that guided Kiern Jewiss to last season’s crown – for his sophomore campaign. Smalley tackled the PSCSE winter series to help him settle into his new surroundings.
“That was a great introduction to get to know the team,” says Smalley, who finished third in the PSCSE standings. “We’ve built that relationship nice and early and have got three race weekends under our belt – I feel like I’ve settled in well.”
Nevertheless, Smalley recognises the size of the challenge he faces this year.
“The competition looks tougher than ever,” he adds. “But, to be the best, you want to race the best. I know it’s not going to be easy and I’m just going to focus on myself. After finishing second in my debut season, there’s only one goal now and that’s to win the championship. I will be giving it everything in my power to make that dream a reality.”
Burton grew ever stronger during the course of last year
Photo by: Porsche
But Century Motorsport driver Burton will be among those attempting to give Smalley nightmares. Having won the 2021 British GT4 title with Century, the team and driver stepped into the Carrera Cup for the first time last year and achieved some impressive results. In fact, over the second half of last season, Burton was outscored only by Jewiss, but a few mistakes early on left him fourth in the final standings.
“Last year, I didn’t realise until now how much of the deep end we, as a team, were throwing ourselves into,” admits Burton, who will also be tackling the Porsche Supercup this year with Fach Auto Tech. “It was a new car and new championship, and a very niche car to drive – it’s not a car you can just hop in and be fast straight away. We learned a lot last year, and had some really great results, but it was very volatile.
“Now, it’s nice to come back for pre-season testing feeling at home and knowing what we have to work on from last year. I’m very confident we’ve got all the experience to bring home a championship.”
But Burton reckons de Haan will present stiff opposition after he “obliterated” the PSCSE competition to win four of the six races with the Richardson Racing squad that claimed last year’s GB teams’ title. Elsewhere, Edgerton has swapped JTR for Redline Racing for his second season, while Burton is looking forward to using his team-mates, including Kellett, to help push him forward this year. With so many key contenders, all the ingredients are in place for another gripping season.
Porsche Sprint Challenge GB
Coates is among the drivers joining the Cayman ranks this year
Photo by: Porsche
The Porsche Sprint Challenge GB has not exactly been a roaring success since its launch amid the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Now, with it securing a full-time switch to the British Touring Car support bill for this year, and grids finally nudging 20 cars, it appears to be on an upward trajectory.
Matt Armstrong (Team Parker Racing) and Steve Roberts (Redline Racing) were race winners last year when the series primarily featured at British GT events, and are likely to be frontrunners again in 2023. But they are joined by a host of newcomers attracted by the chance to race/stay on the TOCA bill.
Ginetta Junior graduate Joe Warhurst (Parker), Ginetta GT4 Supercup stalwart Reece Somerfield (Breakell Racing) and Ginetta GT5 Challenge runner-up Will Jenkins (Century Motorsport) will all now race the Caymans, while established BTCC supports competitor Max Coates and fellow ex-Mini man Ethan Hammerton are also jumping across with Graves Motorsport.
Given Coates’s title-contending experience, you can expect him to be in the mix, despite him and Graves still getting to grips with the Porsche.
“It’s very different to the Clio and Mini that have been my stablemates for the last seven years,” Coates says. “The bit I’m learning and adapting to is the ABS – that’s probably the biggest thing and trusting it.
“The team has run rear-wheel-drive cars before; we’ve bolted on a set-up we think is somewhere near and are tweaking it from there. Every session, we’re improving – we’re all learning, but learning is exciting.”
And it will be exciting to see how the season plays out as the series seemingly comes of age.
British Formula 4
Sharp is the highest-ranked of last year's F4 drivers continuing for another season
Photo by: JEP
Last year, British Formula 4 was all about one driver. Alex Dunne delivered the most crushing display since the category adopted its current guise in 2015, winning almost three times as many races as the next most successful driver. But there’s a feeling that this season’s championship won’t be quite so straightforward.
Many of the 2022 field have moved to pastures new, but an influx of racers ensures that this year’s grid will still feature over 20 cars, with the potential for a few intriguing late additions.
Of the 2022 crop confirmed as continuing, Rodin Carlin’s Louis Sharp was the highest-placed – he finished an impressive fourth in the standings, despite missing the opening round because he did not turn 15 until May. The Kiwi admits that his performance – including two wins and taking a podium on his first weekend – “definitely exceeded my expectations”.
“It was my first time racing overseas, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” he adds. “We also came over really late, so I only had two test days in the car before the season started, so we were really underprepared. Obviously, to miss the first round as well didn’t help us! For us to still finish fourth in the championship, considering everything, that was really cool.”
Given his lack of preparation and late arrival, there was little pressure on Sharp last year. But that’s different this time around as he enters the season as one of the title favourites – not that he’s letting this faze him.
“Obviously, being a second-year, there are some expectations and some added pressure, but I’m not really thinking about that too much,” Sharp says. “I’m just focusing on developing myself and getting better as a driver.”
Hitech quartet will be looking to continue Dunne's success from 2022
Photo by: JEP
But Sharp is not the only sophomore eyeing title glory. Unlike Sharp – who is firmly established in the Rodin Carlin set-up and had already received the backing of new team owner and fellow Antipodean David Dicker – Daniel Guinchard had a more “stressful” winter. He arrived in F4 last year after winning two British karting titles and securing the support of Mercedes. Yet things did not work out for the Argenti driver and he finished ninth in the points table with six podiums. Having lost his Mercedes junior status, Guinchard has now jumped ship to Chris Dittmann Racing and is relishing his “fresh start”.
“After everything ended last year, which was very unfortunate, I’ve had endless amounts of support and so many people wanting to help me try and find a drive,” he says. “Now we have, I’m really pleased and excited and I just want to get racing. It’s a fresh start with a fresh team in new surroundings – it’s a nice, happy environment and we’re all really pleased with how testing has gone.”
One of the areas Guinchard has focused on is improving his single-lap pace, especially since the more powerful second-generation F4 cars are not the “easiest to race because of the wash you get when following”. With a change in qualifying format this year – the second race now features a fully, rather than partially, reversed grid – the dynamic of the weekends will also be different.
Other drivers to have sampled the series for a few events last year include Guinchard’s CDR team-mate Jack Sherwood – the GB4 race winner admits to having lost weight over the winter after working on his fitness – James Higgins (Fortec) and Argenti pair Jaden Pariat and Isaac Barashi. But the squad of newcomers from Hitech, including Ginetta Junior runner-up Will Macintyre and fellow Ginetta frontrunner Kanato Le, along with Australian FFord star Jimmy Piszcyk and karting champion Gabriel Stilp, will be tough to beat. Given the success Dunne enjoyed with the team last year, it will be looking to replicate that with its new recruits as they take on Sharp, Guinchard and co.
Zelos has adopted a fresh approach after tricky 2022 campaign
Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images
It’s all change in the Mini Challenge this season with just two drivers who finished in the top 14 in last year’s standings currently confirmed as continuing. And one of those, Joe Tanner, has so far only entered the first few rounds.
The other remaining frontrunner is 2021 champion Dan Zelos, who endured a tricky campaign last year. Eighth in the points with just three podiums were not the results Zelos was looking for, and there has been plenty of soul-searching during the winter.
“Last year was really tough mentally – I felt I was putting myself under immense pressure to get the budget together for touring cars,” he says. “We were quite unlucky with punctures and bush failures and engine issues through the season, while in my previous three seasons in the Mini Challenge I didn’t have a single mechanical failure! After that happens a few times, it does affect your confidence.”
Zelos admits those difficulties were costing him a tenth here and there, which made all the difference among last year’s competitive grid.
“I took a few months completely off social media and away from racing after the season finished,” he continues. “I realised I hadn’t enjoyed my racing and I’d never said that before.”
Therefore, Zelos has adopted a fresh approach this year, and is focusing on Minis rather than worrying about his next step. He says he has regained his confidence and is looking forward to the new campaign, again driving for Excelr8. But, just because Zelos is the only established frontrunner, he is not anticipating a walkover.
“I’m not expecting to have it easy and there’s a few drivers really coming of age from last year,” he adds. “I know what the Mini Challenge is like, and it will still be five or 10 cars battling for P1.”
Picking out Zelos’s likely rivals is tricky. Team-mates Bradley Gravett – son of 1990 BTCC champion Robb – and Josh Porter are possible contenders, while former MX-5 driver Sam Smith (Hybrid Tune) and dominant Cooper title winner Nelson King (Graves Motorsport) are also ones to watch.
The guest series that are set to star
Legends will run three-event Elite Cup across its BTCC guest slots
Photo by: Steve Jones
Ginetta’s decision to end its long presence at British Touring Car events has opened the door to a plethora of club series to get a chance to perform on a bigger stage.
First of the guests to appear is the new Legends Elite Cup category, a three-event contest across the pocket rockets’ Brands Hatch Indy, Croft and Knockhill appearances. With a title on the line from these 18 contests, expect excitement and frenetic action.
Also joining the bill for two events this year is the revamped Radical Cup UK series, combining the old Challenge and SR1 Cup divisions. James Lay starred at the opener, winning all three races, and others will be seeking to steal the limelight at the Snetterton and Oulton Park BTCC fixtures.
The Mini 7 Racing Club, meanwhile, has already made a few TOCA appearances in recent years and has provided some fantastic racing. These classic Minis are perfectly suited to the slipstreaming mecca that is Thruxton, so expect more of the same in June. Rounding out the quartet of guests is the top-level Caterham Seven UK series, which is set to provide close battles at Silverstone.
Mini 7 Racing Club will provide some close racing
Photo by: Mick Walker
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