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Opinion

The legendary guest on the BTCC's support bill

OPINION: It may not always have gone exactly to plan and they may not be to everyone's liking, but there was some brilliant racing from the Legends when they supported the British Touring Car Championship at Croft and took advantage of being a guest on UK motorsport's biggest stage

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From the moment it was first announced that the Legends Cars would be making three guest appearances on the British Touring Car support bill this year, there was plenty of excitement. The five-eighths scale imitations of 1930s American machines have a reputation for producing some dramatic racing and seemed like the perfect fit for BTCC events, particularly in the absence of the action-packed Ginetta Junior contests.

Interest built further when it was confirmed a mini Elite Cup championship would be fought over the three BTCC meetings. Yet the Brands Hatch opener in May was a little disappointing. Tricky wet conditions and a stop/start weekend did not truly showcase what the Legends were capable of.

But the brilliant sight of Jack Parker, Robert Barrable and Matt Isherwood circulating as one in the second heat at Croft last weekend certainly demonstrated Legends racing at its finest. No inch was given and it was impossible to predict which of the trio would ultimately prevail.

Now, it is important to acknowledge it was far from smooth sailing. Saturday’s first final finished behind the safety car after a lengthy recovery job at the hairpin, while the second heat on Sunday was red-flagged with cars scattered and stranded in various places and oil on the track. And then the final did not happen at all, earlier delays being compounded by Callum Davis destroying the barriers in the preceding Porsche Sprint Challenge GB race. But the other three thrashes provided action aplenty and will live long in the memory.

Barrable certainly enjoyed his part in the heat-two thriller. “It was good, hard, fair racing,” he says. “Going two-wide through the Esses is not for the faint-hearted!”

And, for the drivers, racing on the BTCC bill gives them a chance to put on a show in front of packed trackside crowds and large live TV audiences.

“Look at the number of people here – the spectator banks are full,” Barrable continues. “We come here for the racing – if the crowds are enjoying it, then that’s an added bonus.”

Barrable was one of the Croft stars and enjoyed racing in front of the crowds

Barrable was one of the Croft stars and enjoyed racing in front of the crowds

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

While many did enjoy it, there is not universal praise. Legends are not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea and some purists might argue they better resemble short-oval action than traditional circuit racing. The random grid draws are also a black mark for some. But these cars are all about entertainment – and the packed field full of quality drivers at the weekend, by my book, delivered that in spades.

Appearing alongside the BTCC also brings plenty of benefits for the series.

“It’s great – the reaction has been fantastic,” says championship owner Phil Cooper, who has noticed a surge of interest since the Brands BTCC debut. “We’ve had lots and lots of new followers all of a sudden! People have been phoning up asking, ‘How much does it cost, how can I get into it?’”

In these times of economic uncertainty, when many series organisers are scrabbling to boost some incredibly thin fields, the sight of a packed 30-car grid is a welcome one

And that interest is already leading to tangible results. “Simon Griffiths [a Caterham racer] saw Brands and said, ‘I’ve got to do it’,” says Cooper. “He couldn’t buy a car but did an arrive-and-drive deal.” Griffiths even got a podium for his efforts, having finished second in that safety car disrupted final.

There is no disputing the benefits to a club series of the attention that being on the BTCC package brings. And it is not just Legends in the spotlight this year – the Mini 7 Racing Club produced some fantastic battles at Thruxton, the pocket rockets exactly the sort of guest series you would want around the Hampshire speedbowl. The Radical Cup UK has also made two appearances and the top-tier of Caterham’s ladder is due to join the fray at Silverstone next month.

Yes, there are also a few drawbacks to the TOCA slots, as shown by the Croft Legends finale being cancelled as the BTCC and its established supports understandably take priority – although that was a situation exacerbated by the Yorkshire venue’s mandated afternoon starts on Sundays creating little room for officials to manoeuvre.

The Mini 7 Racing Club provided some tremendous action when it was a BTCC guest at Thruxton

The Mini 7 Racing Club provided some tremendous action when it was a BTCC guest at Thruxton

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

And the good news for club categories is there will be more opportunities next year. With a proposed new junior series not arriving on the TOCA bill until 2025, there will again be guest championships at BTCC events. No decisions have yet been made on which series will get the nod, but Cooper is keen for the Legends to get another go.

But we are jumping ahead of ourselves. Before talk of next year, there is still one more Elite Cup outing in 2023, at Knockhill next weekend. The Scottish circuit is another ideally suited to the mini machines and, with the title on the line and no shortage of contenders in the mix, it should be another entertaining event.

In these times of economic uncertainty, when many series organisers are scrabbling to boost some incredibly thin fields, the sight of a packed 30-car grid is a welcome one. Regardless of whether you are a huge Legends fan or are far more ambivalent towards them, it is a much-needed feel-good story that should be celebrated. Even if things do not always quite go to plan.

At a time when many organisers are struggling with small grids, the Legends Elite Cup's  popularity should be celebrated

At a time when many organisers are struggling with small grids, the Legends Elite Cup's popularity should be celebrated

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

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