It was a day I wish I hadn’t witnessed. I’ve only ever known the British Touring Car Championship for its buzz, bustle and brilliance; the fan-fuelled razzle-dazzle that signals the arrival of our most popular motor sporting circus. Yet here I was, my footsteps echoing through the vast complex of Silverstone’s ‘Wing’, a facility designed to thrive as it throngs but now left soulless in the absence of any public attendance.

As with most sporting events, the Coronovirus pandemic (COVID-19) has put a halt to proceedings at least until May, with the first three events postponed – Donington Park (March 28/29), Brands Hatch (April 11/12) and Silverstone (April 25/26).

And the hiatus facing every part of daily life overwhelmed any headline performances on track, or welcomed additions / returns off it. Nevertheless, for when normality returns, organisers, teams and drivers set-about showcasing the product of months of intense investment and effort. It should have been a fitting foreword for the drama yet to come, instead I now fear that not all will return for the opening chapter as budgets get recast and sponsors reset their priorities.

So let’s start where we hope to continue and showcase 20 of our favourite images from the day.

* * *

    Tom Ingram and The Speedworks team have an immense task ahead of them. Now branded as Toyota Gazoo Racing UK with Ginsters (how I love a Moroccan Vegetable Pasty), this is the season that matters. It’s year-2 for the Corolla and Ingram needs to deliver. He doesn’t only need to win races, he needs to secure the title too. He certainly did the job in front of the empty grandstands – topping this pre-season test – but it’ll only ever matter when they’re filled.

    Jake Hill was the early pace-setter, leading the morning’s time sheets and finishing P2 overall. Now elevated to the top seat in Mark Blundell’s & Shaun Hollamby’s rebranded team, Hill looks primed and ready to make the most of the opportunity he’s long waited for. The FK2 Civic might be a little old in the tooth but it’s still a race-winner, at least for now before the hybrid era kicks-in.

    You can see the effort that has gone into assembling the grid of 2020. New cars and tyres being joined by familiar faces, old friends and a serial champion on a mission; a great mix of all the right ingredients for a fantastic season of racing.

    And it wasn’t just the drivers who were keen to showcase that they’re ready for action. The teams were clearly up for it too.

    There’s a striking new livery for Team BMW and the promise of one of the closest of all title battles. Colin Turkington knows that he can become a record-breaker as he tries for his fifth drivers’ championship. But teammate Andrew Jordan might just carry the edge as he seeks to reclaim the crown he once held as an independent.

    The Honda works pairing of Dan Cammish & Matt Neal have endured two of their toughest seasons in BMW’s shadow. Cammish knows that last year’s brake failure at the Brands Hatch finale cost him his maiden touring car title (ironically it was his first mechanical DNF in his two years with the team), but he also knows that he did all the right things along the way. If ever he needed to prove that he is a worthy successor to Gordon Shedden, then this is the time to do it.

    And despite his pre-season biking injuries, Neal looked sure and ready, both in and out of the car. Age might be slowly creeping-up on him but it’s not yet making any in-roads on his pace or determination to race faster and harder than ever.

    James Gornall might be new to the BTCC but he’s not new to winning. A former champion in British GT, and last year’s P1 in Mini Challenge UK, he brings a level of speed and experience that might just see a few upsets in the battle for Jack Sears Trophy honours.

    Senna Proctor lacks Gornall’s pedigree but despite a difficult year with the Subaru, oozes a similar level of pace and character. This year sees the former race winner switch to the Excelr8 squad and the new Hyundai i30N Fastback. There’s a lot of sorting-out still to happen with the car but he looked back to his previous Power Maxed form at Silverstone and I can easily see him fast-forwarding back into regular points scoring positions.

    Rory Butcher is back with Motorbase and looking sharp in Racing Red. The team have built new Focus ST chassis’ for 2020 and last year’s Independent’s champion can be keenly expected to defend his crown.

    But ready to go head-to-head with Butcher is Ash Sutton in the equally very new Laser Tools Racing Infiniti Q50. As a talent, Sutton is perhaps the most natural and exciting of all on the grid, but he needs his car to deliver as well as he can, and the evidence from Tuesday is that the team needs a lot more time to dial-in both its speed and reliability.

    Mat Jackson is undoubtedly the finest of all touring car drivers to have never won the title. Would this have changed had he gone to Honda instead of Dan Cammish? We’ll never know, but what we do know is that at last he’s back where he belongs and back in a car that is capable of returning him to the podium. Was he fast at Silverstone? No. Did he hit too many high kerbs? Hell yeah. Will he be champion in 2020? I think it’s going to be between Jordan and Cammish but will I ever bet against him? Hell no.

    Another crowd-pleasing kerb-hopper settling into a new home is Michael Crees. Creesy lived life with a smile in 2019 but from now on it’s going to have to get serious. BTC Racing have a very fast car with the Type R FK8 and in Josh Cook & Tom Chilton, he has two exceptional teammates. Put this together and you have a team that will expect more than midfield points from his budget.

    Jack Goff was a winner with Team Hard at Silverstone in 2019, but that’s only because he’s better than his car. Sadly, he couldn’t work miracles this time around.

    Sam Osborne has a different type of challenge; the car is bang-on, and so is his teammate (Jake Hill). His season will be defined not by what he does but by how he does it. He had a torrid 2019 with the MG and needs to use 2020 to learn the gritty realities of how to rise through the pack. Do it right and we’ll see much more of him.

    It’s not just Team BMW and Motorbase who can shout loud and proud about their liveries. Daniel Rowbottom sees his Mercedes A Class transformed into a Carlube Triple R Racing silver dream machine, whilst the Excelr8 squad have found the brightness in blue to create (in my opinion) the standout design of the year.

    Holding it all together: Drivers come, drivers go, and then there are some who just keep everything going and together. Left to Right: Dick Bennetts, DavidBartrum.

* * *

Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff).