A record entry list has been confirmed for the 2011 Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship which series bosses are calling the "most exciting" in 20 years.
The 10 makes and 13 models that will line up for the season opener at Brands Hatch on 2/3 April will beat the previous record from the BTCC's two-litre era set in 1993 and BTCC Director Alan Gow believes he has a championship package to make other series green with envy.
"This is certainly the most exciting period for a long time," Gow told Autoblog. "The most exciting time was when we introduced two-litre in the beginning, in 1991. We have evolved since then and this is its next evolution, so it is an exciting period.
"We've got a fantastic entry list, the biggest we've had for 20 years and with a greater diversity of cars."
Much rests on the success this year of the Next Generation Touring Car (NGTC) regulations that have slashed the cost of entering the Championship and which have led to entries from Audi, Proton and Toyota who will join the likes of BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, SEAT, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.
"It's never been so cheap to enter on a competitive basis as it is now and that is why we have got five cars in this year from new teams. They want to get in there at the earliest so they can develop their cars the quickest; it's a great opportunity for them," Gow said.
On top of the record entry, the Championship will receive increased coverage thanks to live broadcast of race days on ITV4 and for the first this year on ITV4 HD. With qualifying now being broadcast on ITV's, Gow believes media coverage of the championship reflects the BTCC's status as one of the UK's top national sporting attractions.
"We've got great TV coverage, something that other series are pig-sick about," Gow commented.
With the BTCC reaching bigger and bigger audiences, is there scope for developing an overseas audience and holding some races abroad?
"There's absolutely no reason for us to do that," said Gow emphatically. "I don't see the reasoning for taking a race offshore and away from our spectator base because inevitably if you raced at somewhere like Spa, you're going to have less spectators because they're not into BTCC. I struggle to see the reasoning for doing it – apart from the fact the drivers get to drive a nice circuit – but it's expensive for everyone else."
And if anyone needed convincing of the enduring popularity of the BTCC, the long queue of fans that waited patiently to enter Silverstone and watch the official test this week was testament to that.
Back to the championship's opening day of the season at Brands Hatch on 3 April and it will be the venue's short, Indy circuit on which the BTCC's first three races of 2011 will take place – supported by a further seven races from the Ginetta GT Supercup, Ginetta Junior, Porsche Carrera Cup, Formula Renault UK and Renault Clio Cup categories.
Admission is free for children aged 12 and under while adult race day tickets are reduced to £25 if booked by midday 30 March from the www.brandshatch.co.uk website or hotline 0843 453 9000.