HMS Racing’s Rob Austin threw-down the gauntlet at Donington Park earlier this week by launching his new Alfa Romeo Giulietta to P1 in the official test session for the championship’s Season Launch.

After the assembled grid of 2018 paraded in the pit lane, all eyes switched to the timing screens and the on-track action to see who would emerge to claim the first bragging rights.

Austin has looked ever more rapid and confident throughout the pre-season but as most who know will tell, the real test of pace and stamina can only be proven after next weekend’s opening rounds at Brands Hatch. There’s much to lose in the BTCC by showing your hand too early, yet clearly, much for the hardened fans to applaud as Austin delivered the hope of a great new era for the Italian marque.

Elsewhere, it was the trio of works BMWs that made the most of WSR’s proven pace and reliability to remind us of their title credentials and ambitions. Andrew Jordan showed-off another loud and proud Pirtek livery whilst Rob Collard explored every inch of tarmac and kerb in a display of enduring and dogged determination.

But as so often has been the case, it was Colin Turkington, the quietly spoken Ulsterman, who emerged the one to watch; easing himself into P3 with an unflinching series of laps, so sending-out the message that the man wearing #2 has every intention of trading-up at the end of the year.

Here are twenty of our favourite images from the day; there’ll be plenty more as the season gets underway.

  • The 32-car line-up this season promises plenty of close racing, as shown by the top 16 cars during this week’s test session being separated by less than a second. Left to Right: Tom Ingram is primed to take on the works teams in 2018. Andrew Jordan rises over Coppice in his Pirtek Racing BMW.

  • Left to Right: Alan Hyde (the voice of British Touring Cars) inspects the Donington pit lane. Meanwhile, photographers take to the grid for that all important back-to-school shot (Photo: Hills Speed Images).

  • Chris Smiley stood out in his new BTC Norlin Racing Civic Type-R. His team mate, James Nash, is back in the BTCC and ready to chase down that elusive title. Smiley set a time just over 0.5 seconds off the quickest time of the day.

  • Colin Turkington set the 3rd fastest time of the day, despite Donington not being a BMW circuit. (Photo on right: Phil Laughton Photography)

  • The action wasn’t all on track. Here Dick Bennetts talks hoses with Andrew Jordan (Left), and Dan Cammish demonstrates his power advantage over team mate Matt Neal.(Right).

  • And back in the top 10, Jack Goff looks sharp and focused in his new Wix Racing Civic Type-R (Left), while 0.6 sec quicker on the day was Josh Cook in his Power Maxed Racing Astra (Right) with its new TAG Industries livery.

  • Left to Right: Josh Price was lighting up the pit lane in his new Autoglym-backed Subaru Levorg GT, although none of the Subarus were lighting up the timing screens with Ash Sutton fastest in 20th (1.150 seconds down) and Plato in 29th. (Right) Matt Simpson was loving every minute with his old car run by a new team.

  • Left to Right: Matt Neal worked on his setup throughout the day, with both of the new-shape Civic Type-Rs setting midfield times in 13th and 14th. (Right) Rob Collard was back on the pace in his BMW, although some seven-tenths down on team mate Turkington.

  • Left to Right: Senna Proctor launching his Astra over the Donington kerbs and loving every minute of his time back on track. (Right) But nobody was loving it quite as much as Rob Austin, who topped the timing sheets in the final hour with his Duo Motorsport Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

  • Left to Right: Did we mention there’s a new Ford F250 TOCA safety truck? (Right) Tom Boardman is back in the BTCC, teaming up with Rory Butcher in the MG.

* * *

Images: Steve Hindle(The Black Stuff), Mike Hills (Hill Speed Images), Phil Laughton (Phil Laughton Photography)..