Electrifying Racing: How the BTCC is set for a hybrid revolution
The 2022 season marks an electrifying new chapter in the series' history...
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The 2022 British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) is set to be a season like no other. While the main recipe won’t change and we can still expect to see up to 30 drivers battling around the best circuits in the UK with the finest margins deciding the title, one new ingredient is set to add a kick next season: hybrid power.
For the first time in the series’ history, the entire BTCC grid will feature a brand-new hybrid boost system developed by Cosworth, which will see drivers armed with a 40hp boost of electric power for 15 seconds a lap.
Arguably the biggest change to the championship’s DNA since reverse grids were introduced, the new hybrid era of touring car racing has the drivers, paddock and fanbase talking.
Team Dynamics, racing under the banner of Halfords Racing with Cataclean in 2021, is a stalwart of the national championship and has competed in a total of 28 BTCC seasons since 1992. The team has seen a number of changes to the series en route to eight Team’s titles, so who better to offer insight into what to expect in the next chapter of the BTCC story.
Team Owner and three time champion Matt Neal, fellow triple champion Gordon Shedden, and race-winner Daniel Rowbottom all agree that hybrid power will have a major influence on the series, on and off the track.
“The sport is pretty strategic as it is and this adds another level of complexity to that mix,” Shedden explains. “You will have to think about it more strategically and when you deploy, you will only have 15 seconds per lap and you will have to pick the right moments to use that boost or risk wasting it.”
Rowbottom, who in only his second season claimed his maiden BTCC race victory at Oulton Park in 2021, echoes his teammate’s view that those behind the wheel will have plenty more to think about during the three races per weekend.
“I think it will for sure change the way we drive, particularly using the hybrid as the new balance of performance instead of the current success ballast. To have additional power will be great, but so will everyone else, so it will become very complicated and very focused in a very short space of time.”
The BTCC also waves goodbye to the success ballast system in 2022, which would see drivers carry a representative amount of extra weight in the car depending on their championship position or race performance. In its place will be a similar system that affects the allowance of hybrid power across the race. In simple terms, the more successful a driver is, the less boost time they’ll have in their next race.
Beyond the direct impact on racing as a whole, both Shedden and Rowbottom believe that the influence of the hybrid system will vary depending on the specific traits of each circuit and whether the car is front- or rear-wheel drive (the Halfords Racing with Cataclean Honda Civic Type-Rs are the former).
“For us it will be circuits where there are slow corners or hairpins, like Snetterton,” Shedden believes. “But remember, out of these slow corners you can only deploy the boost when you are in 4th, 5th or 6th gear.
“So again it is going to be interesting to see if the front- and rear-wheel drive cars use the power boost from the hybrid system differently.”
Rowbottom believes that the power boost could be used at circuits with more elevation change, “Anywhere with a lot of climbs,” the 32 year-old suggests. “Somewhere like Oulton Park and Knockhill immediately spring to mind, but in reality it will change the way we drive at all circuits.”
Agreed in 2019, the new hybrid package will also be a challenge for the mechanics and team personnel according to Matt Neal, Team Owner.
“The development of the Cosworth system has been fairly tight-lipped,” he says. “None of the 15 teams are yet to actually receive a physical build of the hybrid kit, and the only on-track running has been completed by an independent operation involving Cosworth, M-Sport, and a host of drivers such as 2013 BTCC champion Andrew Jordan and three-time Le Mans winner Darren Turner.”
But that doesn’t stop the teams preparing for the new era. Behind the scenes, and alongside the rigors of a full touring car season, Team Dynamics has been working hard so that the team can hit the ground running in 2022.
“Whilst we haven’t yet received the physical hybrid kit, we have worked with the equipment digitally,” Neal explains. “We’ve worked with CAD (Computer Aided Design) for over a year along with 3D printing sample parts and running CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) to ensure that all the parts work correctly from an aero point of view.
“It’s quite a complex process, but we’re well ahead of the curve and can’t wait to get our hybrid kits to start the installation and then commence testing.”
Despite the legwork being put in ahead of the hybrid delivery landing on the doorstep of the team’s Droitwich Spa headquarters, Neal is adamant that from the first race of the season Team Dynamics will be up to speed with the system both as a racing component, and as a new operational structure.
“By the time we get to racing in 2022 we’ll have done a lot of testing and will be very familiar with the system so that won’t cause issues,” he shares, “But working practices will change to accommodate the hybrid system management along with the added safety requirements from an operational point of view.
“We’ll develop these processes over the off season in good time for when we start racing.”
Regardless of the challenges the team face to implement this brand-new system, or the now electrified strategy of the BTCC, Shedden, Rowbottom and Neal all agree that the racing will be quite the spectacle as teams and drivers work together to maximise the extra power.
“Personally I’m really excited for this new era of hybrid touring cars,” Shedden reveals. “I think it is going to make for some epic racing and bolster the Championship’s competitiveness even further.”
“I think once all the drivers have figured it out, we will use it as a push to pass, but equally push to defend,” Rowbottom muses. “One thing you can guarantee is that the BTCC will continue to be bumper to bumper for a very long time yet!”
“I think it will be a major positive as the deployment of the hybrid power will be controlled by the drivers,” Neal concludes.
“Drivers will have different strategies for both qualifying and racing, and this will bring opportunities for the teams that quickly upskill and get to grips with the system.”
The challenges of hybrid power on and off-track is echoed in the automotive world as the emphasis moves to more electric forms of mobility.
However, Halfords is already up to speed and offers a range of hybrid servicing options that are designed to ensure your hybrid remains road-ready.