I think it is fair to say that when your children come into your life and start growing up, you start to pay attention to things that you never thought that you would do. The hour before bed time, the parts of the weekend before 8am and of course the great debate about what we are having for dinner. All of those things were relatively unfamiliar prior to the children’s arrival. However, the happier things that you start to notice are your kid’s hobbies, and as they take more of an interest, you tend to do the same almost by default.
I am an avid sports fan. Football, cricket, darts, rugby, baseball, golf, tennis; you name it, I will probably gladly watch it. The one thing that I have sort of had a love/hate relationship with over the years has been motorsport – that is until around April 2018, and I have to credit Olly with my new found sporting passion.
Regular readers of the blog will know that Olly has been into cars from pretty much the time when he started talking. One of his first words was car, and by the time he was 3, he could pretty much name every car badge that you could see on the road. We couldn’t go into a supermarket without coming away with a die cast car (we must have something approaching 500 of the things in the house) and one of his favourite films still is Disney Cars.
I still wasn’t convinced, but we had a bit of an epiphany in April 2018, when I took Olly and his Grandad to the Donington Park race day of the then Dunlop British Touring Car Championship (now the Kwik-Fit British Touring Car Championship). After spending just one day there, we were both hooked, and the pair of us have been BTCC mad ever since.
I therefore decided to pen this blog post about our most recent visit to see the BTCC at Oulton Park. Now, I understand that some of you may be in the same boat I was 18 months ago – I hadn’t a clue what it involved, or indeed who was in it. I will try to explain it reasonably simply.
It is nothing like Formula 1. That was the biggest draw for me. The love/hate relationship I had with F1 stemmed mainly from the fact that it always seemed like a sport I was never going to get to see live, due to the costs involved. I’ve seen top level international cricket, golf, gymnastics and athletics live, and I’ve seen countless domestic live sports around the country, but F1 always seemed like a pipe dream – my feeling was that I will never get to one. Plus everything seems so inaccessible about F1 – you pay your money (a lot), and then you watch everything from miles away, save for the privileged few super rich who can swan around the pit lane like they own it.
BTCC is nothing like that. One of the reasons why I wanted to write this up, is that it is genuinely a cracking family day out, and it is an entire day’s entertainment. I wasn’t a motorsports fan before I went; now I am.
The format is that there are 30 drivers competing in this years’ championship, and they all drive for one of 19 teams. Some teams have 2 drivers, others just have 1. Some of the drivers are independent, and don’t belong to a specific manufacturer. They compete in a series of race meetings that are held on racetracks around Britain, and there are 10 meetings in total, held over weekends between April and September. As far as the BTCC goes, there are practice sessions and a qualifying event on the Saturday of each race meeting, and then on the Sunday, there are three points races at different times of the day. The Saturday qualifying determines the starting positions of the first Sunday race, and then it is the results of that first race that determine positions for the second. The third race is also determined by the finishing positions in the preceding race, but the top 15 drivers go into a draw and the positions are determined more randomly by the luck of the draw. There are one or two factors that come into play, such as success ballast being added to better performing drivers/cars, but you get your head around that later.
Our most recent visit to the BTCC took us to a brand new track for us; Oulton Park in Cheshire. Olly and Freddie (thanks mommy!) had very kindly bought me a ticket to the Sunday of the meeting, and with the weather set fine, Olly and I headed out early on the morning of 30thJune 2019 to make our way up the M6 to Tarporley, Cheshire.
Affordable ticket prices
I should mention the tickets at this point; one of the fantastic things about BTCC from a family perspective, is that only my ticket cost us money. The entry price for adults to the event on a Sunday was £28.00 at Oulton Park, and this price point is similar at the other tracks used around the country. Children up to the age of 12 are admitted free of charge with an accompanying adult, and most tracks state that an adult can bring up to 5 children accompanied. There are specially priced tickets for teenagers aged 13-15, and then it is only when a child reaches 16 years of age that they then have to have an adult ticket.
These tickets allow you entry to the circuit, and then you can go anywhere that is permitted for standard spectator access to watch the action. At most circuits this also includes access to the infield and paddock access (the place where all of the cars can be viewed in their garages), although some do charge extra for this access. Car parking is free, and the only other additional charge you may wish to purchase is tickets to sit in one of the grandstands, but this depends on the individual. Personally, I’ve not yet felt the need to do this. Most spectators come prepared with camping chairs and picnic blankets, and I prefer to get as close to the racing as we can.
So, back to our day. It took us around an hour and a half to make our way up the motorway, the wonderful speed restrictions on the M6 are always welcomed. We also needed to make a quick pit stop of our own – I’d forgotten the essential Sharpie pen…more on this later!
We arrived at the circuit at around 10am on the Sunday morning. The gates opened at 7am, and there were already an incredible number of people at the park already. We were parked overlooking the Hill Top straight, which gave us a magnificent view of both the straight and also the first corner of the circuit, Old Hall Corner. One of the quirks of Oulton Park, I had read, was that due to its countryside nature and in particular its proximity to some local churches, racing is not permitted to begin at the track until after midday, but there was still lots to see and do.
After parking the car, we then made our way alongside the track and walked across the footbridge into the infield. One of our favourite places to be is in and around the paddock area, and we remembered the first time we went last year thinking how cool it was that we could get so close to the cars, literally within touching distance. We did however have another reason to hurry onto the infield, because at 10:30am, you were allowed to take part in the pit lane walkabout. We had never managed to do this before, as the queues had always been huge, but this time we were determined. We shuffled our way towards the front, and just about managed to squeeze in.
Meeting driver Dan Rowbottom
It is a fantastic thing to do. You get to stroll around the pit lane, and all of the drivers are sat outside their garages, in front of their cars, happy to sign autographs and pose for photos. We have our favourite driver, Dan Rowbottom, who drives for the Cataclean Racing with Ciceley Motorsports team. We made a beeline for Dan’s garage, and Olly was delighted to meet him once more – he had his programmes signed, and Dan also signed a poster for him too. We also had a snap a quick photograph before we moved on. Dan really is a top bloke, always makes time for the fans and is really friendly too. More about Dan later!
We got around as many of the drivers as we could; we also met Stephen Jelley from Team Parker Racing, but unfortunately as it had taken us so long to get onto the pit lane, we were soon ushered out so that the teams could begin preparing for the first race. Luckily, we managed to find another couple of drivers who were not based in the pit lane, Rob Smith and Sam Osborne of Excelr8 Motorsport, who were more than happy to also pose for photos and sign autographs. It is certainly a big draw for me with the BTCC at how accessible and down to earth the drivers make themselves. Clearly there is a time and a place, and you have to work out when not to approach the drivers, but they are generally more than happy to mix with fans.
Another thing which surprised us at first is how close you can get to the BTCC team garages. Fans are literally able to walk between the team trucks and the pit garages, and you can see a fair amount of the behind the scenes work that goes into getting the cars out onto the track. Olly is literally in car heaven whenever we do this, and he loves being in and around the team mechanics and the tyres and tools.
We milled around the rest of the paddock, and there is tons more to see. I haven’t mentioned the fact that there are also a series of supporting races that also go on in between the BTCC action, and they are all engaged in their own championships. This season, we also have on the bill;
Renault UK Clio Cup, Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain, Millers Oils Ginetta GT4 SuperCup Championship, Michelin Ginetta Junior Championship and F4 British Championship.
All of the cars for these events can be found in the paddock, as well as all of the drivers and crew, and watching the mechanics and engineers working on the cars before the racing action is really interesting.
We still had some time to explore before the first BTCC race of the day, and the infield area is packed with stalls and stands to look around. Olly enjoyed looking round some of the manufacturers stand, and he was able to have a go at changing a wheel on a small Porsche Carrera, and he also got to sit in a few bigger ones too! He was delighted to find a replica of BTCC championship leader Colin Turkington’s BMW 3 Series at the BMW stand, and we had a good look round all of the merchandise stalls too.
Finally at 12:20pm it was time for the racing action to begin. We made our way to a spot next to the start/finish straight, and we were delighted to find that we were opposite Dan Rowbottom (Rowbo) as he sat on the grid. The grid is always very busy prior to the races, with VIP guests and hospitality patrons able to wander freely around the cars. Olly is absolutely dying to do that one day!
We were about to get underway, and the grid cleared of guests. We decided to stay in our spot for the first race, as we were really close to trackside. The cars did their formation lap, and we were underway! The races are set at 15 laps each, but this does increase if there are any safety car incidents (and BTCC races usually don’t pass by without the appearance of the safety car at least once!). Sure enough, there was an incident with BTCC veteran Matt Neal of the Halfords Yuasa Racing team, and one of his rear wheels flew off as he rounded the first corner of lap 6. The race was completed after 18 laps, with championship leader and race pole setter Colin Turkington of Team BMW leading from start to finish to win the race. Dan Cammish of Halfords Yuasa Racing came in second place and Andrew Jordan of BMW Pirtek Racing completed the podium in third. Our favourite, Rowbo, drove a good race, finishing 21st after moving up a couple of places from his starting grid position.
A prime spot by the podium
We hadn’t been far from the podium where we were viewing so at the end of the race, we made our way quickly towards the presentation podium and we got a prime spot at the front. The three drivers were presented with their trophies alongside the winning team and also the leading independent driver. Olly and I then got covered in champagne as the customary celebration took place after the national anthem!
We headed for lunch, and past experiences had taught us to bring a picnic along. There are lots of food outlets, but these are expensive options as is often the way at sporting events. They are fine for tea, coffee and soft drinks, but I would consider bringing your own food to keep the on-the-day costs to a minimum. In the meantime, the support races were well underway, and we saw plenty of good racing from the Ginetta’s, Porsche’s, Clio’s and Formula 4’s. Many drivers make the step up from one of these events into the BTCC when spaces become available, so you often see the up-and-coming drivers in these races.
We didn’t have long to wait for the next instalment of BTCC action, and so we changed viewing spot to just around the first corner at Avenue. We had the best of both worlds here, track to our left and the big screen to our right, so we could watch other parts of the race. The second race was filled with action too, and the first lap saw several collisions that ended up with three cars out of action. After the safety car came out and the track was cleared, we were back underway, and this race was really exciting as our favourite Rowbo was moving into contention for championship points (the first 15 drivers receive points)! At one point, Dan did move into 14th position ahead of Aiden Moffat of Laser Tools Racing, but Moffat regained his place with two laps left. Dan did hold off a strong challenge from Ash Sutton of Adrian Flux Subaru Racing but crossed the line in 15th place to record his first ever BTCC championship point! The top three were also notable, as it was the same podium as Race 1, with Jordan and Cammish exchanging places this time. Colin Turkington also had recorded his 50th race win, so that was a special moment.
We had to go and see Dan after his race points win, so we decided to forego some of the next support races to see if we could find him. After a bit of a wait, we finally spotted him and gave him our words of encouragement, which he was very grateful of. We also took the chance to meet a few more drivers – Olly wanted to add to his programme, and so we managed to find Nic Hamilton (brother of Lewis), the three BMW drivers, Josh Cook, Tom Chilton, Chris Smilry, Bobby Thompson and Jason Plato. All in all, we managed to obtain 16 of the drivers signatures – a job well done!
It was starting to get late now, and mindful of a motorway journey and about 30,000 fans trying to exit the circuit, we decided to depart just after the final BTCC race got underway. We still managed to catch a large first lap collision between Matt Neal and Jake Hill, which resulted in Neal exiting the race. We subsequently found out that the pair had a heated exchange at the end of the race, and that Hill, despite finishing the race in first position, was demoted down the order to 14th after receiving a time penalty due to the incident.
We managed to find our car, and we were away and out of the circuit in good time before 6:00pm. The racing programme was due to finish around 6:30pm, but I was mindful of it being a school night! The M6 was also kind, and we reached home in reasonable time after a quick bite to eat en route. Olly of course wanted to spend a bit of time showing his Mommy all of the freebies and posters he had managed to obtain, and he went to bed happy, having added his newest Rowbo poster to his wall.
The touring cars is really a fantastic day out. I see it as something that me and Olly do to enjoy together. Although we do other things, like go and watch our football team, this is just something we enjoy from start to finish. I think that at £28.00 a ticket and children going free, it represents great value for money, and it is no wonder that thousands of spectators turn out to each event in all weather.
We can’t wait for our next trip to see the BTCC in action, maybe we will see you there?