17th February 2015

When John Morris blasted his Volkswagen Golf over the line at Mallory Park, 4.9 seconds clear of the Audis of Martin Brundle and Stirling Moss in March 1981, there was little to get excited about. It was a win in the then-titled British Saloon Car Championship, witnessed by a relatively small number of people and a stray packet of crisps. It was only half the field as Morris won the up to 1600cc race, the larger-engined cars having their own race as was the norm at Mallory and the Foster’s configuration of Oulton Park.

Wind the clock forward to 2014 and Volkswagens won again, or rather one did, thanks to Aron Smith’s wins at Oulton Park and Snetterton. And now, in mid-February as I type, Volkswagens could, should, be the cars to watch in 2015. Two of the BTCC’s biggest beasts, Colin Turkington and Jason Plato, square up in the Volkswagen CCs. These two titans in Warren Scott’s Volkswagens will be fascinating, won’t it?

Plato first of all: he is one of a limited number of drivers who makes his car look better than it is. Give JP a car good enough for the top six and he’ll get it on to the podium and his ultra-competitive racer’s instinct means that he will get that Volkswagen doing things others perhaps could not. He’s good to watch no matter what he drives and I can’t help but feel that his presence will be good for the team as he’ll kick the squad higher up the order and make sure success comes. Remember, the Jason Plato brand isn’t in the BTCC to come 15th.

But Turkington in a Volkswagen? Now this will be really interesting. We all, on ITV’s coverage of the BTCC last year, kept using the phrase “World-class” about Turkington and for good reason. He’s quick, smooth, error-free and strung together a superb attack on the championship last year. But…. Double champion as he is, both titles came in BMWs run by WSR. Now, put him in a different squad with which he has little rapport and, most crucially, the Volkswagens are front-wheel drive. What sort of impact will that have? Colin has made his name as a rear-wheel specialist and his last FWD crown came back in 2001 when he won the Ford Fiesta Championship. And while he was doing that, one J Plato won the BTCC crown the same year.

So, put these two in the same team and same car, a team neither of them knows and a car that neither has raced and light the blue touch paper. It could be argued that it is a dream scenario as it will add so much to the season: who gets up to speed faster with the new situation will be one thing, but the battle of reputations and pride would be enthralling as front-wheel drive master squares up against reigning champion and rear-wheel drive ace. Each will be keen to assert himself as top dog in the team and the internecine fight will be truly fascinating.

Don’t ignore Aron Smith either: he is the man in the team with the wins to his name in the Volkswagen CC but along come two star names into his orbit: he’ll be keen to prove he is every bit as quick as Turkington and Plato…with whom he fell out a few years back at Knockhill. Anyone want the job of staff relations officer here?

And then add in the engineering side with some staff defecting from Triple Eight to head to BMR. This will be a radically improved squad from last year – and it wasn’t a bad team in 2014. Can the 2015 champion come from BMR? Yes. We’ve never had an overall champion in a Volkswagen, but this could be the year.

Reminiscing about John Morris got me thinking about how the championship looked in five-ending years. In 2005, 11 cars did battle in the opener at Donington, Matt Neal being a winner as Colin Turkington (in an Astra) took pole in qualifying. Go back a decade and 1995 was a John Cleland year as his Vauxhall Cavalier defeated the best at the height of Super Touring. And 1985? Feeble. Hit by political turmoil and protest in its previous seasons, the BSCC (as it still was) limped to Silverstone where Frank Sytner took his first championship race victory in his wailing BMW 635CSi. At Oulton Park, though, something significant happened. Not only did Brian Chatfield’s aged Ford Capri lead early on (the Capri has stopped being competitive in 1982 and was later found to be as bent as a coathanger so was excluded), but the new Ford on the block took its first win. Andy Rouse debuted his XR4Ti, the American Merkur model, and won. And kept winning to take his fourth BTCC title. The XR4Ti would start the process for the Sierra Cosworth and a while new era for the BTCC, but back in 1985, not even the arrival in the championship of Barry Sheene sparked too much interest until he caused a major car-demolishing pile-up in the wet at Thruxton.

The buzz about the new season is noisy and deserved. Season Launch March 24th at Donington, all welcome. Tick, tock, tick, tock….

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