It’s not often you get the chance to sit alongside one of the UK’s leading touring car drivers for a hot lap in his car, but that’s exactly what the eBay Motors BTCC team arranged for us at Palmer Sport! Having driven a variety of cars through the day, we had no reason to believe the BTCC car would be much different, but trust us, it was.
Most of you, will watch the BTCC on ITV4, and even though you know the drivers are incredibly skilled – you’re probably still sat on your couch thinking “Is it really that difficult?”
That’s a question we set out to answer, and in simple terms – yes, it’s pretty darn challenging! We’ll start with the car itself, a little bit different to the stock 3 series which leaves the factory..
Firstly, you’ve got the driving position to contend with. The eBay Motors BMW 3 series seating position is totally different to a stock 3 series, having been moved further back to help with weight distribution, and lowered to improve the center of gravity. That makes it far harder to get a sense of how big the car is, and where to position it – so next time you see Tom Onslow-Cole give someone a little tap when overtaking, it might not be intentional.. okay this is touring cars so it probably is!
While we’re still talking about the driving conditions, you’ve then got to throw temperature into the mix. On a damp, drizzly day (Thruxton anyone?) it’s not a problem, but when you’ve got an air temperature not too far off 30 degrees, no air con and an incredibly hot engine a couple feet away, it’s a whole different ball game. Add into the mix a helmet, triple layer fireproof race suit, nomex gloves and race boots, plus nomex underwear and balaclava, you can only imagine how incredibly hot it gets in the car. Even sat on the grid it’s intense, so you can see why racing drivers need to be so fit. That’s all before the engine turns over..
Now onto the driving – we’ll start by saying it’s not quite as smooth and calm as you might think… Pulling away isn’t exactly an easy affair with a racing clutch, and unless you’re launching off the start line you don’t really want to kill the clutch, so it requires three blokes to give it a good old shove! Tom’s one of the best drivers on the grid and the eBay Motors BMW 3 Series is a championship winner, so he was able to give us a really good demonstration of what it takes to be at the front of the pack.
In the car, you won’t find a fully electronic paddleshift ‘box, it’s a totally manual affair, with a good old fashion lever sticking out of the floor to change – completed by a golf ball on the top. Acceleration in the car is pretty mind blowing – when you compare it to a standard 3 series you’ll leave them for dead (as you’d expect) but braking is even more impressive.
Coming into corners Tom stamps on the middle peddle and you’re thrown into your harness, followed by some incredibly aggressive down shifts before turning in, feeling the weight transfer and pulling away again. It’s far more physical to drive than you would ever imagine, plus you’ve got to remember that the brake pedal you’ve got in your road car is designed to be easy to use so you’ve got far less feel. In the eBay Motors BMW on the other hand, it’s designed to give drivers Tom, Rob and Nick a lot more feel and as such you’ll find it’s much heavier. The grip in the car was phenomenal considering Tom only had a short straight to warm up the tyres, the further around the lap we went the more he could push the car.
Before we round this article off, we can’t help but mention the biggest difference to your road car; noise. Everything that isn’t needed is stripped out, which includes all of the insulation. Even with a helmet on the car is incredibly loud – one of the reasons you see drivers with ear plugs. As well as the roar from the engine, you’ve also got the squeaking of the brakes, screeching of the tyres and crunching of the gearbox.
Onboard cameras can be incredibly deceiving – if you see Tom working away at the wheel and think it’s an easy task, believe us, it isn’t…
Check out a video from the day below.
A huge thank you goes out to everyone at the eBay Motors BTCC team and WSR, as well as Palmer Sport for putting on a phenomenal day!