Nearly half of the 2015 grid has been filled already, however all eyes are now on who will take the final seat at West Surrey Racing, Chris Ashby investigates.
The best way to describe the current situation at quadruple 2014 champions West Surrey Racing is that it can be likened to a game of musical chairs, the big question now is who is going to be left without a seat when the music stops….
Moving from Triple Eight Racing, Sam Tordoff was the first to announce he had joined the BMW outfit last month. Then came the sensational announcement on the opening day of the Autosport Show International that three-time World Touring Car champion Andy Priaulx would return to the series after 13 years and become the second signing for Dick Bennetts.
Having clinched every championship they were eligible to win in 2014, many could question why the team would elect to field a different trio of drivers for the coming season. The main reason stems from the departure of title sponsors eBay Motors, who called time on their five year partnership after achieving their target of being crowned champions in the series.
The financial backing that eBay brought with them now has to be filled and has also opened the door for stellar names such as Tordoff and Priaulx to join the Sunbury-based outfit. It has however left one man with his future uncertain, 2014 champion Colin Turkington.
It is almost like déjà vu for Turkington, who found himself in a similar position in 2010 when RAC elected to pull out of the series after he was crowned champion. The Northern Irishman has openly admitted that he is working hard to secure a budget and return to the team to defend his title although he has been in discussions with others teams in the paddock.
With fans hoping that Turkington will remain with the team, his confirmation would leave Dick Bennetts fielding one of the strongest BTCC teams for a number of years.
Turkington told BTCC Crazy at last weeks Autosport Show: “At the moment, as crazy as it seems I have no plans for this year. The main goal for me is to be driving in 2015 and I’m currently assessing all the options not only in BTCC but other championships.
“As a driver, when you don’t have a job you have to tell everybody to see what else is out there. I’ve said all along that I want to defend the championship and naturally I would currently be in a position to do that had eBay not pulled out of the series.
“I’m working hard to bring in new partners and I will be aiming to put myself in the best position on the grid but also ensure it works from a financial side.
“I’ve talked to a few others team in the BTCC and there are a few competitive seats that are still available.”
Rob Collard is another option for WSR however the Hampshire-based racer has admitted he can’t commit to anything until Turkington has confirmed his plans for 2015.
With much of his budget in place, Collard said: “I really don’t know if I will be back with West Surrey Racing this year.
“I’d love to say it is 50-50 but it is probably 75-25 at the moment. It all hinges around where Colin ends up, if he moves teams or has a year out then that may put me in a more favorable position. Currently though I’m feeling very vulnerable in terms of my future.”
The third driver at West Surrey Racing last year, Nick Foster, has already ruled out a fifth successive season with the team after announcing his retirement from the series earlier this month.
Despite Turkington and Collard being the favourites to claim the seat, there is one driver that has kept the rumour mill ticking over iand has been linked on several occasions to the team, Jason Plato. So far the all-time record race winner has yet to announce his plans although he is said to be assessing ‘several different programmes’ in the series.
Since his contract ended at MG, Plato has been linked with Team BMR, Motorbase Performance, Ciceley Racing and even building a new car. With whatever deal is made, the 47-year-old has always stated that it has to work from a commercial standpoint and it is no wonder that many people have also touted West Surrey Racing to provide the latest chapter in his career. Again though, as with most things at the moment – it is all speculation.
Several other drivers have thrown their ‘hat in the ring’ to drive for Dick Bennetts however only time will tell who exactly it will be.
One thing that can be guaranteed is that at the very least two of three drivers from 2014 will not be driving for WSR in 2015.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Sayle Photography