Turbocharged 2012 BTCC lineup announced
The lineup for the 2012 Dunlop British Touring Car Championship has been announced, and with it comes the news that for the first time ever the entire field will use a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine.
It promises to be a record-breaking season in terms of spectator numbers, too: advanced ticket sales for the opening weekend at Brands Hatch are at their highest level ever, this far away from the race.
But with less than two weeks to go, we're not actually that far away; Jason Plato (above, left) and Matt Neal's handbags towards the end of last season really doesn't feel like it was six months ago.
Neal finally won the 2011 championship, but it took him until the final weekend of the season at Silverstone to secure it.
Defending champion Plato still had a slim chance of retaining his title going into the remaining three races, while Neal's teammate Gordon Shedden had his eyes on the prize too.
A thrilling two days saw Neal almost relinquish the trophy to Sheddon, but he clung on to take it for the third time in his career.
Plato had complained about the disparity between the turbocharged and naturally aspirated cars on the grid, with some tracks (like Silverstone) more suited to forced induction; Plato's car, a Chevrolet Cruze, was naturally aspirated.
But that's a problem that won't feature in this year's championship, with naturally aspirated cars eradicated from the pack. Plato has joined MG KX Momentum Racing, and will race in an MG6 (pictured).
Plato's team is one of seven whose cars adhere completely to the new 'Next Generation Touring Car' (NGTC) specification, designed to bring development costs down. NGTC cars include an Audi A4, Toyota Avensis, Honda Civic, Vauxhall Insignia and, naturally, a Proton Persona.
The remainder of the cars use an NGTC engine but slotted into a chassis that conforms to the older, S2000 regulations; the BTCC's organiser says that "NGTC regulations are leading to a rapid return of bigger, more aggressive looking machinery."
BTCC series director Alan Gow said: "The expanded line-up of NGTC-specification cars is only going to add to the spectacle with their more intimidating presence and flame-belching exhausts. It could well be that one of them wins this year's championship, but equally a very well-sorted S2000-turbo car could also take the title.
"But whoever takes away the ultimate prize – and one of the most famous trophies in global motor sport – we are guaranteed a fascinating fight and an extraordinary season ahead of us."
The championship is set to take place across 30 races over the course of ten weekends at nine different venues.
The races will be shown on ITV4 and ITV4 HD, as well as being streamed online at itv.com. ITV1 will show highlights, too.
The BTCC begins Saturday 31 March. Head over to the championship's official website for schedule, driver and ticket information.