Toyota Avensis touring car debuts ahead of BTCC season opener

Toyota Avensis BTCC – Click above for high-res image gallery

Touring car racing is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance as of late. DTM is growing from a German national series to a proper international championship, while the World Touring Car Championship is living up to its name by expanding outside Europe. V8 Supercars are as popular as ever Down Under, just as Super GT is in Japan. But arguably the most resurgent is the British Touring Car Championship.

Title-sponsored by Dunlop, this year's BTCC will feature no fewer than 27 competitors – and all-time high for the series – fielding 13 different models from 10 manufacturers, representing Audi, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Proton, Seat, Toyota, Vauxhall and Volkswagen. That could very well be higher and more varied participation than any other major racing series in the world.

When the BTCC launched its Next Generation Touring Car formula, it was Toyota's British subsidiary that kicked it off with the new Avensis racer, which has finally made its public debut at Silverstone – a little behind schedule, but still a week before the series gets under way at Brands Hatch. The car will be campaigned by Dynojet Racing and Speedworks, with Frank Wrathall, Jr. and Tony Hughes behind the wheel of each, respectively. The cars are built atop frames rolling right off the assembly line at Toyota's Burnaston plant, and powered by a turbochagred 2.0-liter four with over 300 horsepower. Check out the full press blast after the jump for more.

[Source: Toyota]
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With a week to go before the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship blasts into action at Brands Hatch, the two new Toyota Avensis 'Next Generation Touring Cars' broke cover for the first time yesterday. Resplendent in the liveries of privateer teams Dynojet Racing and Hughes Motorsport/Speedworks, the Avensis racers went on display to the media and public at Silverstone.

But the race to get to the grid for the 3 April opening rounds is only just beginning for the teams and their drivers, Frank Wrathall Jnr and Tony Hughes, for Frank's Dynojet Avensis has yet to turn a wheel in anger and, though Tony's car was successfully fired up for the first time yesterday, progress was hampered by a number of teething problems.

Despite the component delays which mean his car will not undergo shakedown tests until early next week, Wrathall was delighted with the reception it received at Silverstone: "The Toyota looks amazing," he said, "and we are all delighted with it. Yes, it is frustrating not to have done more testing, but the first few rounds were always going to be tough for us, so we will just get on with it and do the best, most competitive job that we can."

Hughes was able to cover only a handful of exploratory laps before power steering and fuel pump issues brought his shakedown run to a halt. "I am sure that when we get the Avensis running smoothly that it will perform as amazingly as it looks," said Tony. "This was literally my first time at the wheel and the suspension, the brakes and so on all felt good. I am hoping to get to know the car better in testing next week."

Both cars have been constructed by GPR Motorsport from bodyshells off the production line at Toyota's Burnaston, Derbyshire, plant. Wrathall's car will be powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged Toyota engine developed by engineering consultancy X CTech R, whose technicians hope the 300-plus bhp unit will prove to be one of the lightest and most powerful engines on the BTCC grid.

Scott Brownlee, Toyota GB's PR chief, said: "GPR Motorsport, Dynojet Racing, Hughes Motorsport and Speedworks are to be congratulated on readying the cars in time for this important public showing, and making such an amazing job of their presentation; the Toyotas were certainly drawing many admiring glances in the pit lane. The hard work is far from over, though, and we are right behind them as they battle to make it to the grid at Brands Hatch."

Lancashire-based Wrathall, 24, comes to the BTCC wearing the champion's crown from the Ginetta G50 Cup, but is keeping his hopes and expectations for the season well reined-in: "I'll be happy just to not look out of place, and to be as competitive as we can. The depth of quality of the field will make it very difficult for us, but I hope that over the course of the season we can show the car's potential and, most of all, enjoy ourselves along the way. We are pleased just to be a part of the BTCC: for such a small family team to be on this stage is a great achievement in itself."

Stockport driver Hughes is another Ginetta racer trying his hand at front-wheel drive motorsport for the first time this season.

Championship organiser TOCA yesterday confirmed that the BTCC will this year boast a record 27-car entry, with 10 different manufacturers represented. All 10 of the season's race days will receive at least seven hours of live HD-quality TV coverage on ITV4 and, for the first time, qualifying sessions are to be streamed live on the website.

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