for opening round of 2009
The countdown has begun! There are now less than two weeks to go until Britain's premier motor racing series, the 2009 HiQ MSA British Touring Car Championship bursts into action at the world-famous Brands Hatch circuit in Kent on Sunday 5 April.
It is an event that traditionally marks the start of the UK's motor sport calendar and Brands Hatch, easily accessed off the M25 and M20 motorways, is gearing itself up for a crowd of tens of thousands on the day. Indeed, some 325,000 people across the UK watched the BTCC's ten race events trackside in 2008, such is the championship's appeal among die-hard enthusiasts and the general public alike.
Another huge draw is the fact that trackside admission for children aged 12 and under is free and all-day tickets for adults cost just £23.00 each. That includes access to the hugely popular Pit Lane Walkabout session when the crowds are invited into the Pit Lane to meet the BTCC's star drivers in between their three races on the day. Tickets can still be booked online at brandshatch.co.uk or by calling 0870 950 9000.
In addition, ITV4's cameras will be broadcasting live for over six hours from Brands Hatch, adding to the event's high profile stature as the ITV network's comprehensive coverage of the championship also hits the screens for 2009.
Italian superstar Fabrizio Giovanardi secured a second straight BTCC Drivers' crown at Brands Hatch last October and in 2009 the man from Modena is back - again with reigning champion team VX Racing and aiming to become the first driver since Andy Rouse in the early Eighties to make it three titles in a row. Giovanardi is arguably the world's greatest ever touring car driver, but that is no guarantee he will achieve a hat-trick of top honours.
The 42-year-old faces some mighty opposition as does his Vauxhall Vectra with at least another five highly competitive marques all represented on this year's starting grid, including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda and SEAT.
Of the 21 entered drivers, among Giovanardi's most likely challengers are his own team-mates Matt Neal (the 2005 and 2006 Champion) and youngster Andrew Jordan, Team RAC BMW duo Colin Turkington and Stephen Jelley, Gordon Shedden in his Team Dynamics Honda Civic, Airwaves BMW pairing Robert Collard and Jonathan Adam, Dan Eaves and Adam Jones in their Cartridge World Carbon Zero Racing SEAT Leons and Tom Chilton in the all-new Ford Focus ST entered by the Team Aon squad.
For the Airwaves BMW team, Brands Hatch is very much a home event for it is based just a stone's throw away in nearby Wrotham. The team ended last year on a major high with three podium results at Brands as well as the highest teams points score and will surely be hoping to begin its 2009 season where it left off in 2008. In the experienced Robert Collard and exciting new rookie Jonathan Adam - a proven champion in junior saloon car racing - much is expected of David Bartrum's enthusiastic squad this forthcoming season.
Adam is not the only driver making his BTCC debut at Brands Hatch - Liam McMillan, from Wisbech, Cambs and still aged only 18 is graduating to the big time with his family-run Maxtreme team in a SEAT Toledo he helped to build.