Twenty one confirmed entries have been received for this year's HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship.
Britain's favourite motor racing series, that will receive increased television coverage across the ITV network, is today staging its annual Media Day launch at the Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire where 2009's 'runners and riders' have been officially unveiled.
Leading the list is Italian superstar Fabrizio Giovanardi who, having won the last two BTCC crowns, will be aiming to become the first driver since Andy Rouse in the early Eighties to make it three titles in a row. But with a wealth of other top line touring car names such as Neal, Turkington, Chilton and Shedden - among others - also on the grid, he faces a monumental task if he is to achieve this historic feat.
Meanwhile, three of the drivers entered - Jonathan Adam, Liam McMillan and Martin Johnson - will make their BTCC debuts as will four new teams, namely Tempus Sport, Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing, Boulevard Team Racing and Maxtreme.
Adam's inclusion is of particular excitement - he has previously won both the BTCC's supporting Renault Clio and SEAT Cupra titles and joins the front-running Motorbase squad just as it has attracted major title sponsorship from Wrigley's 'Airwaves' brand. McMillan (Maxtreme) will line up for his first BTCC race - at the season's opening round at Brands Hatch, Kent on 5 April - still aged only 18.
There are also some notable returns; Arena International, the team that previously ran Honda's factory effort in the 2002 and 2003 seasons, is back with its new, self-developed Ford Focus ST under the Team Aon banner. So, too, is Dan Eaves - the only man in BTCC history to win all three races in a day (at Thruxton in 2005) as well as experienced 'veteran' David Pinkney who, at 56, will be the oldest driver on the grid.
In addition, there have been a number of exciting new announcements surrounding the championship that will add further intrigue and excitement for teams, sponsors, drivers and watching media and fans alike. These include:
In the second year of its current three-year agreement with the BTCC, the ITV network has confirmed it will again increase the duration of both its live and highlights coverage of each of the championship's ten rounds (see separate media release)
The BTCC's title sponsor, leading 'fast fit' vehicle service HiQ has confirmed it will significantly increase its marketing activity based around the championship. A high-visibility BTCC-orientated theme will be seen in some 200 stores across the UK and it will use its involvement with the championship to create an enhanced online experience for the public via its website www.hiqonline.co.uk
An enhanced Manufacturers'/Constructors' championship, eligible for manufacturers and/or teams who have designed, built and developed their own cars (see separate media release)
In 2009, the BTCC will become the first motor racing championship in the world to introduce regulations enforcing a limit on the CO2 emission levels of its competing cars
BTCC Series Director Alan Gow commented: "Of course the current economic climate is also putting our sport through a very tough time, for everyone and at all levels. So it makes the entry of 21 cars, which is only a couple down on last years average grid size, particularly pleasing and impressive. I'm immensely proud of every entrant we have this year... there wouldn't be a single team that didn't go through a huge effort to put together their BTCC programme. In my book, that already makes them all 'winners'.
"Yet the competitiveness and professionalism of the BTCC in 2009 remain the envy of many other high profile forms of our sport. With six different marques represented, the variety on our grid is awesome. We also welcome four new teams into our paddock - among them Tempus Sport which will field the very latest specification Chevrolet Lacetti - plus big new team title sponsors such as Airwaves and also Aon with its very exciting Ford Focus project.
"Should Fabrizio Giovanardi achieve an unbroken run of three titles he will have thoroughly deserved it for the opposition is mighty - similarly if anyone stops him for they will have beaten arguably one of the very best touring car drivers the world has ever seen.
"In recent times the BTCC has proved itself as sound career choice for young drivers and I greatly look forward to seeing new talent, such as Liam MacMillan, Jonathan Adam and Andrew Jordan - who has now joined reigning champion outfit VX Racing - pushing to make a name for themselves.
"Access for our millions of fans - many of them families - will be further enhanced thanks to our tremendous TV partner ITV, and a similarly hugely enthusiastic title sponsor in HiQ. As well, our venues will continue to provide free trackside admission for children at all ten rounds on our calendar.
"Our pioneering new CO2 emissions programme is music to the ears of potential new manufacturers and teams and, in an ever 'greener' world, also important to companies assessing where next to market their brand within a major sporting environment.
"2009's BTCC will do what the championship does best - provide one of the most exciting, dramatic and unpredictable sporting spectacles anywhere in the UK while also delivering exceptional value-for-money entertainment for the public."
Juergen Titz, Retail Director, HiQ, commented: "We are proud to be sponsoring Britain's premier motor racing series for a second year, and we are looking forward to another season of thrills and spills. We feel that our first year of sponsorship was a great success, but we want to do more to raise our profile, whilst communicating with the people that matter - the fans.
"Sponsoring the BTCC is a huge thing for HiQ. It has already played a huge part in our recent successes, and has helped us attract so many quality franchise partners when we launched our accelerated national franchise plan. Our new franchisees are embracing the series and they all appreciate the host of opportunities that exist through our association with the BTCC."
OFFICIAL ENTRY LIST: 2009 HiQ MSA BRITISH TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP
No. Driver (NAT), Hometown, Team/Car, Spec1. Fabrizio Giovanardi (ITA), Sassuolo, Modena, Italy, VX Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, S2000 *
4. Colin Turkington (GBR), Portadown, Co. Armagh, Team RAC/BMW 320si E90, S2000
5. Matt Neal (GBR), Shenstone, Worcs., VX Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, S2000 *9. Adam Jones (GBR), Solihull, W Midlands, Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing/SEAT Leon, S2000 10. Tom Chilton (GBR), Reigate, Surrey/Poole, Dorset, Team Aon/Ford Focus ST, S2000 *
11. Robert Collard (GBR), Eversley, Hants., Airwaves BMW/BMW 320si E90, S2000
12 Jonathan Adam (GBR), Kinghorn, Fife, Airwaves BMW/BMW 320si E90, S2000
15. Martyn Bell (GBR), Barrow-in-Humber, N Lincs., Sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed
Motorsport/Honda Integra, BTC17. Harry Vaulkhard (GBR), Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Tempus Sport/Chevrolet Lacetti, S2000
18. TBA, Tempus Sport/Chevrolet Lacetti, S2000
20. TBA, Team Aon/Ford Focus ST, S2000 *
27. Liam McMillan (GBR), Wisbech, Cambs., Maxtreme/SEAT Toledo, S2000
28. Jason Hughes (GBR), Ormskirk, Lancs., KWR Sport/MG ZS, BTC
29. Paul O'Neill (GBR), Widnes, Lancs./Northants., Sunshine.co.uk with Tech-Speed
Motorsport/Honda Integra, BTC44. Stephen Jelley (GBR), Siltby, nr Loughborough, Leics., Team RAC/BMW 320si E90, S2000
50. John George (GBR), Castel, Guernsey,TH Motorsport Racing with JAG/Honda Integra, BTC52. Gordon Shedden (GBR), Dalgety Bay, Fife, Team Dynamics/Honda Civic, S2000 *
55. Dave Pinkney (GBR) Harpenden, Herts., Team Dynamics/Honda Civic, S2000 *
63. Martin Johnson (GBR), Alreford, Lincs., Boulevard Team Racing/Vauxall Astra Coupe, BTC
77. Andrew Jordan (GBR), Lichfield, Staffs., VX Racing/Vauxhall Vectra, S2000 *
85. Dan Eaves (GBR), Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucs.Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing,SEAT Leon, S2000
* Eligible for Manufacturers'/Constructors' ChampionshipS2000 = Super 2000 (2004-present)BTC = British Touring Car (2001-06)